Federico Menna will be a guest at this year's Digitalk conference, which will be held on the 18th of May. You can find more info on the event and tickets here.
You take over as CEO after Willem Jonker, who was in the post for more than 10 years. What are your plans as CEO of EIT Digital?
EIT Digital is on a clear path to strengthen its position as Europe's largest European ecosystem for digital innovation, entrepreneurship and skills development. To achieve this goal, the management's strategy builds on several pillars: making existing services even more attractive for our members, diversifying our business offer - not least through enhanced focus on coordinating and participating in EU-funded projects, and growth of our ecosystem. We want to become more accessible to potential partners and the expansion of our footprint through the establishment of new offices across Europe is an important tool to achieve this.
With the Russian war raging in Ukraine and the topic dominating European politics, is it a good moment for EIT and European technology?
The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the tragic and barbaric war that ensued have brought so much sorrow and hurt to the Ukrainian people and are having such an impact on Europe in general, that everything else seems less relevant. In this context, it is specifically important to support the Ukrainian economy in these dire circumstances and the tech sector has so far been one of the most resilient ones. The EIT has taken a firm stance from the beginning, supporting Ukraine in the face of the Russian invasion, expanding its programs to ensure the refugee population can continue their educational and vocational progress in Europe and launching new grants that will promote business creation among young Ukrainians. EIT Digital is participating in one of the calls; moreover, Ukraine is one of the countries we are targeting with our own EIT Digital Venture Program.
What programs does EIT Digital have lined up for 2023 and who is eligible for them?
We have several programs in the pipeline. We just launched the sixth edition of the EIT Digital Venture Program, designed to support early-stage entrepreneurial teams from the Baltics, Eastern and Southern Europe in their journey to market. The Program is open to multidisciplinary teams of at least two individuals with an innovative business idea, PoC or prototype in the fields of Digital Tech, Digital Industry, Digital Wellbeing, Digital Finance and Digital Cities. Applications are open also for the EIT Digital Challenge, a competition for deep tech scaleups, fast-growing European companies that focus on sophisticated, hard-to-reproduce digital technologies. We will soon launch the 2023 call for proposals to our Innovation Factory, which provides financial support, mentoring and coaching services and support in attracting early-stage investors and pilot customers to early-stage digital deep tech startups.
What is your aim with initiatives like the Venture Program?
The goal of the Venture Program is supporting entrepreneurial teams based in 22 countries, in the Baltics, Southern and Eastern Europe, including Bulgaria. The pre-acceleration program teaches them how to turn their business idea into a startup and launch their product on to the market. Participants are coached, in particular, on how to develop their Minimum Viable Product (MVP), establish their startup company, and raise funds with investors. All teams receive an initial €5,000 tranche of support, to which €10,000 are added for those who complete the program and incorporate their startup. Finally, the first ten ventures to raise at least €50,000 in funding from private investors by the end of November will be entitled to an additional prize of €10,000, bringing EIT Digital's total support to €25,000. Several startups launched within the program, such as OMNIO in Bulgaria, Restimo in Poland, Revolab in Lithuania and Nereid in Greece, turned out to be success stories, raising investment and signing clients in a very short time since inception.
Do you consider focusing more on Eastern European countries?
We are already quite active in the region. Just consider that, besides supporting innovators with initiatives such as the Venture Program, we are the leading partner of the Digitaltech European Digital Innovation Hub (EDIH) which will have its headquarters at our offices in Budapest, Hungary. Also, Babeș-Bolyai University (UBB) in Cluj-Napoca, Romania has recently joined our EIT Digital Master School partners and will be providing cybersecurity courses; UBB will also host our soon to be established office in Romania. We are always working, of course, to expand and consolidate our footprint.
What are EIT's Digital plans for Bulgaria? Do you consider opening an office in the country?
Bulgaria is certainly one of the focus markets in our expansion strategy. As an EU member state, Bulgarian partners have always been eligible to participate in our activities. However, the Bulgarian innovation system is not yet as developed as in other countries, and we therefore want to put specific emphasis on better integrating the Bulgarian digital sector in our partnership. Whether we will do that through a representation office is under discussion, but we will make increasing use of opportunities like the DigiTalk conference to engage with Bulgarian stakeholders and make them better aware of all opportunities available at EIT Digital.
With VC markets in turmoil amid a paradigm shift in technology because of AI leaps, what is the best-case scenario for European technology?
European companies, in general, are attracting more and more VC funding and there are sectors, like climate tech, in which they are attracting even more capital than their US counterparts. However, we are seeing that in crucial fields like Artificial Intelligence, the American and Chinese innovation landscape is still significantly more dynamic and well-funded than the European one. On the other hand, Europe is a forerunner in trying to regulate the field, combining the attention for business impact and economic growth with the need to make sure that fundamental rights of citizens, like privacy or the right not to face discrimination due to algorithmic biases, are respected. The best-case scenario, therefore, is one in which careful regulation does not stifle, but on the contrary, encourages effective and socially conscious innovators.