Why Europe fails to leverage innovation

A guy has a great idea for a product or service that companies would very likely buy, certainly enough that the idea has money-making potential. He’s trying to get some financial backers. So he’s sitting in his local Starbucks on the wifi sending  some emails and his business plan. Someone asks if the next seat is free, to which our ideas man says yes. The two get chatting. Turns out the second guy has the money and the means to help the first guy. Next thing you know, the two are getting together and the ideas man is on the way to realizing his dream.

A view through rose-coloured specs or a reality? Well, an acquaintance of mine said something like this happened to him a year ago. He hasn’t made his fortune yet but with the resources he’s now got access to, he’s refined his original idea and is getting closer to his tipping point.

Naturally, this happened not in Europe but in the United States.

Indeed, I couldn’t imagine something like this happening anywhere in Europe. Not the UK (read Where are all the UK start-ups? by Tom Coates to see why not). Not in The Netherlands (heh! no Starbucks here!). Nowhere in this continent.

Not that there is any shortage of great ideas in Europe. There are plenty. What’s lacking is a framework or environment in which to develop ideas into some kind of commercial or business reality. I’d add ‘attitude’ as well.

Which is why an excellent article in the European Business Forum caught my attention today.

In Is Europe losing its innovative edge? by David Tebbutt, this thought-provoking feature suggests that Europe hasn’t lost the ability to innovate, but its edge is being threatened by other countries’ greater skills at bridging the commercialization gap. David argues that, without commercialization, innovation is meaningless.

The article then includes the top ten issues that Europe needs to address if innovation is to stand a chance of flourishing here:

  1. Fear of failure
  2. Fear of success
  3. Risk aversion
  4. The mirage of the single market
  5. The VCs’ lack of experience
  6. Shortage of funds
  7. Expertise is scattered
  8. Lack of openness
  9. Official ignorance
  10. Out of touch

Read David’s complete article for detailed commentary with each of these top ten issues and see if you agree or not. And note that the commentary and analysis of the European picture are the conclusions of venture capitalists, technology innovators, entrepreneurs, CEOs and early adopters who attended the Innovate!Europe conference in Zaragoza, Spain, in June.

If Europe is to keep up with the global Joneses, never mind actually excel, things have to change. How likely is that? Don’t hold your breath.

USA, you’ve little to worry about from Europe in this regard. (Pay attention, though, to places like India.)

5 thoughts on “Why Europe fails to leverage innovation

  1. Actually, I think you’d have to look to the Nordic region for the most innovative work in Europe when it comes to the net.
    We’ve also got such widespread highspeed broadband that people can actually put net innovation into practice.

  2. Hi Neville (great blog btw!) , being a Swede now living in Israel since 5 years and spending alot of time in China. I can only agree with that Europeans are not missing good ideas, however, I feel that Europeans are too afraid of to fail and are missing “guts” and the attitude to “do it your self”. There are of course a lot of great exceptions (one being the Skype guys – and my partner Morten Lund – early seed investor in skype and a Danish super creative investor).
    All the best,

  3. JB, the Nordic region is indeed a good example. Yet on a more general level, I don’t see Nordic being much different to the rest of Europe.
    Mark, isn’t Australia in the same boat?
    Net, Skype is an excellent example of what you actually can do in Europe. But this is an exception. Isn’t the climate in Israel better, too? Less fear of failure?

  4. Re Mark, isn’t Australia in the same boat?
    Well yes I think it maybe, or at least somewhere between the US and EU.
    We do have a funny type of attitude here to ‘real entrepreneurs’ ( although the media still calls business crooks entrepreneurs!!) but its changing. Australians like to ‘knock’ people who are successful through their own endeavours and this has bred an interesting attitude to giving it a go. As Australia is now a significant multicultural society this has worked very positively for a major shift in attitudes but there is still the anglo saxon hangover albeit gradually being diluted that gets in the way at times. I intend to talk to your piece on my next podcast at http://www.antipodeanpodcast.com, cheers

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