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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
Sharing our success in a Startup Europe
Madrid, 8 October 2014
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It's such a pleasure to be here, in Madrid. Madrid has a special place in my heart. The beginning of my mandate in 2009 started with one the most inspiring events: the Campus Party! Thousands of young innovating entrepreneurs sharing and communicating their ideas. Making ICT and innovation come to life, in real time!
When I started my job as Commissioner for the Digital Agenda in 2009, a lot of people felt sorry for me. They asked me if I wasn't disappointed because I only had to deal with 'digital issues'. What an understatement! Soon, in the next Commission, will be a digital Commission, with three men being responsible for my portfolio on 'digital issues'. Can you imagine?
In 5 years' time a lot of things have changed. Sometimes even beyond our imagination. Digital is everywhere in our economy and society. Digital is part of our daily lives. Digital technologies are not only boosting our economic growth and creating jobs. Digital technologies also provide young people like you with an inspiring career and a challenging future. You are the living proof of what digital can do for you. And of course, what you can do for digital technologies!
Politicians go on and on about jobs and growth. But who is out there actually creating those jobs? And building that growth? Not people like me – but people like you. Entrepreneurs and innovators. Especially those using the power of the web.
Online – there's no limit to your imagination. No obstacle to a world of open opportunity.
It's not just about coding. Or computers. Or communications technology: it's about what you can do with them.
It's not about the canvas - it's about the picture you can paint on it.
And you can paint something amazing.
That is why I have made this my priority. It matters so much to our future.
Unemployment for young people keeps me awake at night; here in Spain it's over 50%. It should be a priority for every politician. We should not be turning our backs on any tool that could help – no way!
Yet these young people are digital natives. They have the skills and mindset to succeed.
So web entrepreneurs matter.
It's not all about Silicon Valley. It's not just about Northern Europe.
It's not just for geeks, it's not just for guys.
No - this is everywhere, and for everyone. A powerful spark to light a fire under our economy - everywhere. And I hope you can light that spark with me.
Here in Spain I've seen success stories like Tuenti. Female entrepreneurs like Ana Maiques, winner of a European Women Innovators Award. Accelerators like Wayra and SeedRocket. Events like this one, gathering and energising this vibrant community. I recently met some very talented women startups from Greece and Romania. This is all over Europe!
In those five years, I noticed that something else has changed. Europe doesn't need a Silicon Valley. That is a thing of the past. We have Start-Up Europe. A large network of many excellent and ambitious Start-Up hubs all across the EU. We have so many ideas, so much talent. So much creativity.
Europe's talent needs the right recognition, rules and resources.
Every parent should be proud if their kids want to set up a startup. Every professor should be encouraging and teaching those skills – though often I know it's the kids teaching the teachers, not the other way round. Every policy-maker should be giving Europe the right environment for startup success.
We are helping. We are providing 80 million euros for the best app ideas for the future internet. We are building European communities of support: investors, accelerators, and more. We are reforming the rules: open data, copyright, roaming. So you can steer a clear course throughout our single market and spread your bright idea.
And soon we will be linking up the startup hubs of Europe! As of January, we launch a new network linking Madrid with the ecosystems in Berlin, Dublin, and Milan – just a few of the 16 European cities connected by a pilot as part of Startup Europe. Meanwhile the Startup Europe Partnership (SEP) will bring corporates, startups and academia together; including Telefonica, BBVA and IE Empresa.
And I want every European – every child and every adult – to have the digital skills they need to face the future.
It's crazy that jobs go unfilled while people are unemployed. Nearly one million digital jobs in fact!
Many countries have launched a national coalition for digital jobs – from Italy to Romania, Malta to Lithuania. I would like to see that happen here in Spain too. In a country so devastated by unemployment that should be top of the government's list.
Those skills need to start young: coding in the classroom. Just like you'd learn to read and write. Secondary schools here in Madrid will be making coding compulsory on the curriculum - fantastic. It's teaching people a new way of creating and a new way of thinking. A new life skill.
And for those who want more, EU Code Week starts on Saturday! There will be thousands of events in more than 36 countries across Europe. Here in Spain there's over 50 events, from classroom hackathons to university workshops to live link-ups with the rest of Europe. Check out codeweek.eu for what's on!
There are many ways to make life easier for startups. The Start Up Leaders Club has put forward 22 ideas in a European startup manifesto that almost 8,000 have already signed. This example has now also been followed by Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Luxemburg, Portugal and Spain. The Start Up world is buzzing with energy!
Today I want to focus on just one thing we can change. One thing we really need to change to be able to make the difference.
It's about having the right mindset. It is about risk-taking. It is one that celebrates success, and also embraces failure.
Europe has many of those successes. Skype, Spotify, Skyscanner, Shazam, Swiftkey, Supercell. All born in Europe. And that's just the ones who begin with S. I could give you many others, from Angry Birds to Zendesk.
Let's celebrate them and start talking about them.
But let's also learn to fail. That's the most important thing you can learn as a startup. Learning to fail is about managing risks much better. Playing it safe, won't help you to make the difference.
Every company you can name started with a failure. But the founders didn't give up at that first hurdle. They kept on going and that's why we have Facebook, Google, and Apple.
Failure isn't a stigma, a black mark on your career. No: it's an event you learn from.
Here in Europe people might look at a CV with many projects on it. And they think – what a list of failures. They think failure is a person, not an event. I don't want to go near this. Investors, banks, employees, employers: too often they think that.
But that's exactly the wrong way to think.
In Silicon Valley they look at a CV and they expect to see that list of failures. If they don't see any - if you didn't ever fail – they know you can't have been trying, and you certainly weren't innovating.
That's an attitude we need to change in Europe. It's time people learned to deal with failure, learned to take a risk. In short – learned how to innovate.
We've come a long way in 5 years.
Now we have many successes to celebrate, many role models to recognise and reward . A community that is visible, viable, vibrant: and finding its voice.
So let's not stop making a noise. Many EU countries are producing their own national startup manifestos. Governments are starting to read them, taking them seriously, implementing and adapting. Starting to listen to the voice of startups.
Let's keep it up. Let's give everyone in Europe the ingredients for startup success. Let's educate younger people about entrepreneurship. Let's create the environment where your idea can flourish and grow. Let's cut red tape, open access to resources and investors. Let's spread the message that failure is a necessary part of a journey. And let's recognise the role these rock stars play in our economy.
That's my startup manifesto. I'm shouting about it in every visit I make in Europe, right up until the end. I hope you will join me.