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Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

EIT Entrepreneurship awards

EIT Entrepreneurship Awards Ceremony

Brussels, Royal Academy of Science, 21 February 2012

Dear Mr Cox,

Dear European entrepreneurs

Ladies and Gentlemen

Today we are celebrating Europe's next wave of innovators, and I am delighted to be here with you and in particular with the finalists of the ACES award and of the first EIT Entrepreneurship Awards.

Europe is currently facing a number of economic, social, and environmental challenges: climate change; ageing population; high unemployment, especially among young people; increased competition from emerging economies.

The world's economic and social landscape is changing dramatically. If we want to thrive in this "brave new world" we need to build a more reactive economy, an economy that can adapt quickly to new demands and changed circumstances; an economy that can absorb shocks and promptly bounce back on its feet. For this, we need more entrepreneurs like the ones we are celebrating today.

Let's not forget that the great enterprises of today are almost without exception built on the foundations created from the vision, talent and drive of entrepreneurs.

In the US, companies five years old or younger are responsible for the majority of net job growth over the last 30 years. And the difference in the rate of creation of start-ups goes a long way towards explaining the higher rate of job creation across the Atlantic.

New companies are the lifeblood of rising productivity and consequently of higher living standards.

When it comes to promoting prosperity through job and wealth creation, the role of new entrepreneurs can hardly be overstated.

But today in Europe there are fewer start-ups hiring fewer people. There are contingent problems: the credit crunch means that it is now far more difficult to raise venture capital. But there are also other underlying structural problems.

What's needed is not just re-make existing businesses, but start a fresh cycle of innovation. That's why we need innovators like the winners of our awards.

They are the ones who can help close the gap between the technological and the economic frontiers. Most of the enterprises creating new wealth and employment over the next decade will depend on people with a deep understanding of science and technology; and a talent for applying it to meet the needs of the markets and society.

But above all, what we need is a real change of mindset in Europe towards the promotion of an entrepreneurial culture. Being entrepreneurial means being creative, self-confident as well as taking calculated risks by developing a spirit of initiative and helping people to cope with failure.

When the European Commission proposed the EIT a few years ago, it had the objective to bring a solution to most of these challenges.

The EIT's primary mission is to address societal challenges through the Knowledge and Innovation Communities. But it made education and entrepreneurship a key part of the EIT's mission. Producing more entrepreneurs is one of these challenges, and not the least important of all. Achieving an entrepreneurial mindset is a lifelong learning process, which starts at an early age and continues throughout the whole education process.

The KICs, through the Master and PhD programmes they are developing, empower people and propose way to conciliate the technological skills with the entrepreneurial ones. They help young students to design business models, to accept to take risks and to go from one idea to a product or service.

Education was often the missing ingredient of more classical partnerships between research and business. With the KICs, and for the first time, we have fully integrated the three sides of the knowledge triangle and education and entrepreneurship have been put as the key driving forces of their activities.

Today, we are celebrating the first concrete results of this project. The EIT shows it is having a clear impact in supporting our young entrepreneurs. And it does it by awarding the most promising ventures from the large portfolio of entrepreneurial projects of the three KICs.

Taking the example of the EIT, I believe it is crucial that our education systems in general provide the students with the opportunities to develop their entrepreneurial mindset.

Through entrepreneurship education and stronger interaction with business, students develop the practical skills, knowledge and attitudes that will allow them to innovate.

Ultimately, people are at the heart of innovation. We must therefore equip our young generations with the critical set of skills needed in a global knowledge economy.

The importance of entrepreneurship education and above all the importance of the interaction between business and academia is an integral part of the new 'Erasmus for All' programme I have proposed.

Through the new concept of Knowledge alliances, I consider we have a concrete instrument to support structural changes in the way higher education institutions works with the business sector in Europe.

The Knowledge Alliances, which are structured partnerships bringing together businesses and higher education institutions, will provide platforms to modernise teaching and learning. They will also serve to design and deliver new multidisciplinary curricula and innovative courses and to involve students and professors in solving real business problems.

Science|Business has been a pioneer in recognising the necessity to bring closer the Universities and the companies in order to foster entrepreneurship and innovation.

And this is exactly what we are celebrating today with Science and Business and, for the first time, in the EIT context.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I wish to warmly congratulate all the finalists for their ideas, energy and dedication.

Innovation is risky. But sticking to what was done yesterday is far riskier than making a new tomorrow.

To conclude, I will borrow a line from Henry Ford: "whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you are right."

The entrepreneurs we are celebrating today thought they could. And I am happy to be here today to mark the strong support of the European Union for their actions.

Thank you.

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