Res Publica, Google, Visegrad Fund and the Financial Times have named 15 November 2016 Croatia’s Mate Rimac, the founder and chief executive of Rimac Automobili, a Croatian car manufacturer that develops and produces high-performance electric cars, as one of Central and Eastern Europe’s top 100 changemakers.
The event held at BIP Brussels brought together the New Europe 100 challengers and the EU policymakers to celebrate success and debate the digital and innovation agenda across Europe. The individuals and organisations involved, business innovators, political challengers, social entrepreneurs, and cultural animators leverage technology to transform the region and create impact at a pan-European or even global scale. Their stories offer important lessons on technology-driven innovation, entrepreneurship, and broader socio – economic transformation in Europe, which currently (as many other parts of the world do) urgently needs to reboot its economic and innovation performance.
The list of New Europe 100 was created as part of a campaign, which aims at promoting innovation in Central and Eastern Europe by distinguishing those who are the engine of positive changes. Candidates for the New Europe 100 list could have been people and teams that use new technologies in their industries, and their activities have a positive impact on the economy, science, culture and the local communities. 2016 produced a list of outstanding challengers, leading world-class innovation from Central and Eastern Europe, this list celebrates their achievements, tells their stories and establishes a community of people whose work may change the world.
Autonomous driving software for self-driving cars, telemedicine company supporting women during pregnancy, animated sign language messenger, self-driving car software, ‘iKnife’ scalpel that can tell surgeons if tissue is cancerous – these are only some of the 2016 finalists of the third edition of the New Europe (NE) 100 list.
NE100 challengers create apps, run social initiatives, invent projects of usefulness in many life’s and living domains and technologies useful for people in Europe and around the world in business, in society and politics, in science and in media and culture. They share creative approach both to their projects, and the region in which they work – Central and Eastern Europe.
“We want to tell a story of inspiring, creative and socially engaged innovators from Central and Eastern Europe. Our region can be proud of developers, business owners, scientists and cultural managers, who are now the driving force behind the innovation for the future” – says Wojciech Przybylski, president of the Res Publica foundation, initiator of the project.
The final one hundred was chosen from nominations submitted by Nominating Partners and general public. This year, the largest group of finalists represent individuals and teams working in business (54%), for society and in politics (29%). Other categories include science (10%), media and culture (7%).
“It is great to see there are more and more cases of successful and innovative businesses that were born in Central and Eastern Europe. It shows how immense potential exists in our region and how new technologies and digital economy became not just a challenge, but rather a great opportunity for outstanding scientists, ambitious entrepreneurs and creative activists to transform their plans and ideas into reality” – said Marta Poślad, Head of Public Policy & Government Relations CEE Google.
“The idea behind New Europe 100 was to show the potential and creativity of people from Central and Eastern Europe. It is also a networking platform, which helps challengers to meet and exchange. We believe this is the best way of supporting the advancement of fresh, innovative ideas, the progress of which benefits all of us in the region” – added Beata Jaczewska, Executive Director of the International Visegrad Fund.
New Europe 100 aims to continue supporting innovation in Central and Eastern Europe by identifying leaders of positive change. This year is the third edition of the project, organised by Res Publica, Google, the International Visegrad Fund and the Financial Times, in collaboration with many other institutions from Central and Eastern Europe. It’s about attracting central and eastern Europe’s brightest and best people as well as plus the organisations who are changing the region’s societies, politics or business environments and displaying innovation, entrepreneurialism and fresh approaches to prevailing problems.
The aim is to raise the profile of world-leading changemakers in emerging Europe and to build connections among those in the vanguard, says Financial Times.
Countries in Central and Eastern Europe are home to some of the world’s oldest universities, best inventions and it’s no surprise that efforts such as NE 100 are a potent focus on the value of nurturing progress and connectedness into the future. The American visionary inventor and entrepreneur, Thomas Edison, Eastern European born Nikola Tesla’s contemporary, once said “to have a great idea, have a lot of them”. The constant and abundant flow of ideas is a prerequisite for the emergence of technologies that can make a positive difference to society. As bastions of knowledge and learning, universities and research institutes are awash with curious minds that seek to develop creative solutions to present-day challenges. As hubs of creativity, universities and research organizations represent countless opportunities to forge intellectual potential into creative solutions. Hence Start-up companies and projects are a whole relatively new breed of economic promises that may hold solutions to quite a few problems today’s societies face, which include gainful employment in areas we hardly are able to dream of without our young innovators. Countries in Central and Eastern Europe have a strong academic tradition, are home to some of the world’s oldest universities dating back to 14th century. Countries in the region have a deep pool of talented and well-educated inventors and creators and a strong capacity for producing and expanding knowledge.
While, in general, Central and Eastern European countries have significantly boosted their innovative capacities, many within the business community are acutely aware that further progress is needed to ensure the region realises and benefits from its full innovative potential. Croatia, in particular has so much great talent and innovation drive in its people who, regretfully, due to either the lack of local support or the lack of investments in innovative ideas more often than not find themselves searching the world for a place outside of Croatia that will embrace and support their innovations. Start-up venture capital has been rather slow coming to Croatia, however, the World Bank did in 2015 announce some interesting movements in this area of development. The development objective of the World Bank Innovation and Entrepreneurship Venture Capital Project for Croatia is to strengthen risk capital financing for innovative small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups in Croatia. The project comprises of three components. The first component, pilot venture capital fund will consist of both public and private financing, in a ratio consistent with European Union (EU) state aid regulation. It will be established with the purpose of providing financing, in the form of equity or quasi equity instruments, to innovative SMEs (including startups) with the locus of activity in Croatia. The second component, seed co-investment fund will strengthen the early stage investing industry in Croatia by providing smaller amounts of risk capital financing alongside investors in the market such as angel investors and incubators. The third component, technical assistance consists of following four sub-components: (i) global advisory network; (ii) capacity building and networking; (iii) monitoring and evaluation; and (iv) project management and audit.
A push for faster burning of red tape in Croatia to facilitate and aid faster small to medium business growth is still on the agenda and has been for decades. But, with each new government we get promised it’ll all go away and business will thrive, investments will pour in, startups will rise like mushrooms after rain. I personally would like to see more entries from Croatia in the New Europe 100 competitions and in others like it but for that to occur the new Croatian government will need to take a hard look into the incentives and supports it provides for young innovators on a daily basis.
The new government in Croatia keeps saying it wants to stop the “brain-drain” from Croatia; it wants to stop or slow down emigration of young people in particular. It would do well to see that closer and more effective collaboration between academia and business can help stem the outflow of skilled labour from the country. The current “brain drain” experienced is making it increasingly difficult for universities and businesses to retain the high-calibre individuals they require to enhance their capacities to generate high-value technologies. The link between technological development and economic growth is now firmly established throughout the world and Croatia needs to do much more in retaining its talent. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.,Ps. (Syd)