Interview with EIC Advisory Board member Yousef Yousef: Europe needs hives
On 29/30 June 2020, the European Innovation Council organised an online EIC Corporate Day together with Dutch corporates Eneco, KPN, Rabobank and Unilever. Yousef Yousef, EIC Advisory Board Member and founder of LG Sonic gave the key-note speech. Afterwards he talked more about the future of innovation in Europe, the role of the EIC and the instrumental part the Corporate Day’s play in this aspect.
Yousef Yousef is an innovator at heart with an entrepreneurial mindset. From developing original technological solutions that are environment-friendly to setting up new businesses and coaching innovative start-ups into becoming scale-ups. His passion lies with green scale-ups. He is the proud CEO of LG Sonic, a leading example of what a green innovative SME can achieve. At LG Sonic, they reduce chemical cost by controlling algae and biofilm in different applications like surface water, industrial water, and maritime.
In your speech you discussed the future of innovation in Europe. Could you expand on these views?
When you look at where we are in Europe then you realize that we missed the boat on digital innovation: we do not have the Google, Facebooks and Ubers of the world. There is constant pressure to try to catch up with the digital innovation because it is profitable and easily scalable. Instead of trying to meet those expectations, we should be focusing on areas where Europe can truly add value.
Our value proposition is the highest in deep tech and sustainability. Europe has the potential to become the global leader in these areas – there is a lot of interest from both private and public, a large community of researchers are available as the top universities are here and there is a growing interest in people in becoming an entrepreneur. Additionally, China and US are “now” missing out on green businesses as it does not earn quick bucks and scaling up hardware is more difficult than software.
How would this path look like according to you?
Europe is already giving us direction with the European Green Deal. The opportunities are there, we just need to change our expectations about what type of companies are going to bring the change. Innovation in green businesses will not be led by a unicorn company who takes it all. Targets like energy transition, reduction of greenhouse gas, biodiversity, circular economy and other goals of the European Green Deal will not be met by a gigantic firm that dominates the market. Instead, these challenges will be solved by different small and large companies' cooperation together.
This collaboration among small green businesses can be compared to bees who are working in a hive. Beehives are ecosystems that pave the way towards sustainable solutions. Unlike a unicorn who is a magical creature that works alone, bees are real and extremely powerful in colonies. They make a difference in targets such as energy transition by focusing on solving one or two challenges in the total solution. If you have 10-15 bees working together towards one area, then we will create hives that can deliver high-class innovation and put Europe on the map with green businesses.
You gave your speech in your capacity as EIC Advisory Board Member. Could you explain how this opportunity came along?
My company LG Sonic grew because the EU believed in our green technology and invested into it. That is why we could grow fast into a profitable company that is active in 96 countries. This development did not go unnoticed by Europe. The former European Commissioner for Innovation, Carlos Moedas, heard about the success of LG Sonic and invited me to the European Parliament to share the success: how Europe changes the world by investing in a small smart-up. That was when I decided that I want to give back to Europe and join the EIC Advisory Board.
As an entrepreneur who has gone through the process of scaling up with an unknown technology in a conservative market, I understand the extra challenges of scaling green businesses. As an advisor in the EIC, I share that experience ensuring that the EIC acknowledges these extra challenges and designs the program to meet those needs. By doing so, the green businesses can scale and we can reach the targets of the Green Deal
The Corporate Days are a vital part of the EIC Business Acceleration Services. Why is it so important to connect SMEs with large corporates?
Every successful business has a launching customer. Businesses start out with ideas, but just ideas do not change the world. Only 2 out of 10 start-ups make it, and out of those two, only one scales up. Why is that one start-up accelerating but the rest are not? The answer lies within having launching customers - a group of companies that champion you and have a credible name. Start-ups need a reference in the form of a trustworthy name who confirms that the innovation is working and worth investing into.
This is where the Corporate Days come into play. A great idea with a great product will only create impact with the help of customer and references. And if that customer has a credible name which large corporates do then the bigger the chance for success. Corporates trust start-ups more when Europe has already invested in them. With the Corporate Days, we fill that missing link between start-ups and corporations.
What do the corporates get out of the EIC Corporate Days?
They need access to innovation that moves at a much faster pace than a corporate could. This makes big names more future proof. There are so many start-ups with bright ideas so it incredibly time-consuming to find the ones worth investing in. EIC provides a list of SMEs that have a proven track-record and corporates have more faith in the hand-selected companies by Europe.
Another reason is that the EIC prepares SMEs for working together with corporates. It is often said that corporates and SMEs do not speak the same language. One is a gigantic slow-moving tanker and the other one is a small speedboat. The EIC gives business coaching to start-ups and prepares the speedboats for working together with the corporate tankers.
Overall, the corporates get the best of the European start-ups. The Corporate Day Highlight report was just released and it is showing great initial results. Now it is a matter of scaling up.
To close off, how do you envision the future of the EIC?
We need to take even bigger risks in breakthrough technology and continue bridge the gap between cutting-edge research and VCs. That way we make Europe to place to be for entrepreneurs to scale.
Read the Highlights from Corporate Days below to have an idea of what Corporate Days are and can bring you.