European Universities are simply among the very best in the world for research and IP contributions, especially in deep tech. Yet, until a few years ago, they were also quite modest in their commercial aspirations, certainly compared to the US. But a profound and exciting wind of change is blowing through Europe. A new generation of European entrepreneurs and academics are setting their sights at building world class global companies. Many are not willing to expat to the US to find success anymore. And they can count on a growing support ecosystem that is taking root here, e.g. the launch of CDL in the UK in 2019 (and in Paris next year), or new funds such as OSI (Oxford) and CIC (Cambridge) willing to support founders with the patient capital necessary for deep tech startups. And the world has taken notice, with many of the large North American and Asian funds now turning their attention to Europe, opening offices and/or announcing growth funds specific to Europe. Very exciting.
Historically, US research has often been more application-driven than European research, which could be a clue to understanding the US' success in commercialising research. I think the bridges between different communities are stronger in the US, especially between investors and the startup community. However, the European tech ecosystem has a lot to offer for deep tech. For example, Europe publishes more research papers related to artificial intelligence than either China or the US. At CERN, we are looking for investors interested in our AI solutions, so we invite them to look for opportunities on this side of the pond.
The growth of Europe's most dynamic tech hubs - London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Helsinki, Dublin and others - along with the accompanying inflow of investment, is driving a steady reorientation of talent, not only from Europe but from countries outside of Europe - including my native Israel - to help meet demand. Our business, which requires highly trained individuals in plant biology and plant science, also benefits from the pool of master’s and Ph.D candidates so plentiful in European markets.
I believe the academic and business sectors are currently fragmented and stuck in tunnel vision. We need to align both sectors to drive the development of our technology in the right direction and achieve global scale for our tech. Academia needs the freedom to do research; however, it needs to align training, researcher upskilling, and the ideas of innovation towards meeting future goals that are aligned with big competitive ambitions for Europe. Ideas that come out of academia need to be feasible for implementation in an industry setting, therefore we need to see each other as partners not as rivals. In many instances academia sees business as funders or as processors, not as partners to reshape the world. Simultaneously, businesses see academia as long-term vision R&D partners, and business goals are not aligned with academic collaboration. I believe the two should create a real partnership, through an agile work mindset with clear short- and long-term goals.
European universities and the tech industry are cooperating more and more. 'Deep tech' is not just a cool label, it is a viable investment model with its own logic: identify game-changing technologies, assemble diverse teams, build viable business models, and have lots of patience! This kind of entrepreneurship happens not only at the technical universities, such as Aalto University or TU Munich, but also at the traditional research universities in Paris or London. At Oxford, we are spinning off more than two new tech ventures every month, and we also have countless student-led startups, supported by university programmes such as at the Oxford Foundry. The boundaries between universities and the commercial world are increasingly blurred. Oxford Science Innovation is a private venture firm, yet it is entirely focused on the university’s spinoffs. And at the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL-Oxford), we are bringing together business mentors, scientists and students, all with a common goal of accelerating exceptional AI ventures that come from anywhere in the UK and beyond. The appetite for joint academic-industry initiatives is enormous, especially among young students and tech executives. Academics and policy makers are waking up to the opportunities too. There is still a lot to do, including reforming IP and tech transfer policies, rethinking incentives in academia, and even reimagining the role of universities within their local ecosystems. Yet the days of the ivory tower are rapidly receding as European universities and the tech industry learn to dance together.