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Uniting Europe through Innovation

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Digital health transformations have been shaping the healthcare landscape, presenting a need to support innovative startups and SMEs.

The pandemic has accelerated a global demand for health tech solutions that can address present-day demands of healthcare. The European Innovation Council, introduced by the European Commission fosters such innovations and has selected 18 outstanding companies from 13 different countries to join the European Pavilion at Arab Health 2022. In an interview with Stephane Ouaki, Head of Department - European Innovation Council, European Commission and Veronica Beneitez Piñero. Deputy Head of Unit - Transition and Business Acceleration Services - European Innovation Council – European Commission, we discussed the outcomes of supporting high-impact technologies in Europe and the importance of bringing European innovations to the forefront.

Can you tell us more about the European Innovation Council?

Stephane Ouaki: The European Innovation Council (EIC) is Europe’s flagship innovation programme to identify, develop and scale up breakthrough technologies and game changing innovations.

Since 2014, the EIC and its predecessors have supported a portfolio of more than 5500 start-ups and SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) with €3.8 billion to develop breakthrough technologies and innovations. 4 of those companies have become Unicorns (companies which value is higher than 1BEUR) and more than 100 have become centaurs (value higher than 100MEUR) after receiving our support.

Last March 2021, a fully-fledged European Innovation Council (the most ambitious innovation programme that Europe has ever taken) was launched with a budget of over €10 billion for the period 2021-2027 including the new EIC Fund arm to manage EIC investments through equity and “blended finance”: combining grant support with an equity investment of up to € 17,5 million. In 2021, the EIC Fund concluded more than 137 investments in EIC companies, out of a total of 159 companies recommended for equity support. This represents investments of over €600 million.

This is the second time you are participating in ArabHealth, why did you bring the European Pavilion to Arab Health?

Veronica Beneitez Piñero: The support of the European Innovation Council to European innovators goes far beyond funding and it aims at accelerating the growth of top deep tech companies. To leverage further business for European innovators and entrepreneurs, the EIC provides them with access to a range of tailor-made EIC Business Acceleration Services, among them, the participation in most important trade fairs with the EIC Overseas Trade Fairs Programme.

The overall objective of the Overseas Trade Fair (OTF) Programme is to support highly innovative EIC funded SMEs accessing overseas markets and allow them to leverage business opportunities outside the EU and further enhancing their growth potential.

Based on our portfolio of companies, we have selected the most important trade fairs around the globe so we could not miss ArabHealth, the largest gatehering of healthcare and trade professionals in the MENA (Middle East-North Africa) region.

International activities are essential to reinforcing our SMEs’ growth, enhance competitiveness and support their long-term sustainability and resilience. Therefore, despite the  difficulties arising from uncertainty and the current pandemic situation, we knew that being in ArabHealth was very important.

How do you select the startups/scaleups to be supported by the European Innovation Council?

Stephane Ouaki : In the case of startups and scaleups, we support companies that fit under our definition of SME (Small and Medium-sized enterprises), they have to have less than 250 employees and a tournover of less than 50M EUR.

All the EIC beneficiaries have followed a rigorous selection process by high-level experts that assure their technologies and soundness of their business proposition. The independent experts evaluate first in remote and then in a dragon’s den approach the excellence, impact, and level of risk/implementation capacity of the companies/projects presented. The competition is really tough, 5 to 10 per cent of the applicants get into the programme so we can assure that the companies finally selected, like the 18 that are showcasing their technologies in ArabHealth, are the very best.

What is the role of health in the EIC?

Veronica Beneitez Piñero: Health topic, including medtech, is the topic that receive largest investment support from the EIC. 28 per cent  of selected companies by the EIC Fund are related with health, followed by engineering and technology (23 per cent ), ICT (9 per cent), Energy (8 per cent) and Biotechnology (8 per cent).

The challenge in the European health and biotech economy is that few innovative start-ups or spin-outs grow into mid-sized companies. This is where the EIC has the potential to become a game-changer becoming the most effective catalyst of breakthrough science into disruptive innovation.

We support innovative ideas that help society find the path to new therapies, but we also seek an economic revolution in health technologies, making Europe the most innovative economy and an engine of creation and growth of market leading companies that can offer competitive solutions at global level.

 What can visitors find in the European Pavilion at Arab Health 2022?

Stephane Ouaki: At ArabHealth 2022, the European Pavilion is showcasing an extraordinary selection of 18 of the most innovative startups and scaleups in Europe and beyond. 18 companies gathering from 13 different countries, from Sweden to Spain and even Israel. They are heterogeneous on their technologies but all of them have at least 3 things in common:

  • They all have developed a high-level innovation.
  • They have a clear business plan for growth and expansion at global level.
  • And last but by no means least, all of them have been selected and have received funding and support from the European Innovation Council, what implies an outstanding level at European standards.

Any visitor of the pavilion can also ask about the European Innovation Council and the programme it implements. We will be happy to provide information.

What do you find more interesting about Arab Health 2022?

Veronica Beneitez Piñero: ArabHealth is the place to be to do the right contacts in the health sector at MENA region. This business exhibition allows visitors to engage with wealth of companies and network with countless healthcare and trade professionals around the region. Participants can easily discover, evaluate, and compare in just one venue a diverse range of cutting-edge products, attend workshops and improve knowledge and skills.

The numbers don’t lie and in our previous participation the satisfaction and business creation of our participating companies was very high (100 per cent of participants satisfy or highly satisfy) with plenty of meaningful contacts (454 – 5th highest number out of 15 trade fairs).

It is also fair to say that the organisation of Arab Health is of the highest quality, and Ross …its director and all his team have made us feel very welcome and supported during the whole organisation procedure. We would like to come back.

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