Dear Minister Denaj,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Innovation is often seen as an elusive and mystical phenomenon – the myth of the lone genius launching a technical revolution from his garage.
The reality is quite different. Innovation is not heaven-sent, it thrives when grounded in the right ecosystem. Innovative job and what we call disruptive growth happen when well-educated and high-skilled citizens meet supportive institutions.
Jean Monnet – who knew a thing or two about institution building – once said: "Nothing is possible without the citizen. Nothing is sustainable without the institutions."
This is the direction the European Union has taken. For years now, we have put science and innovation at the core of our political priorities.
EU institutions have helped transform Europe into research powerhouse and a global leader in high quality science and innovation. Our scientific credentials are one of the biggest success stories of the European project. And the new "Horizon Europe" that the Commission has proposed for 2021-2027 aims even higher. With €100 billion, it will be the most ambitious research and innovation programme ever. And Albania will be eligible to its funding.
What matters is building bridges between citizens and the institutions, and more especially between innovators and the ecosystem. It will require for all of us to focus on: education and access to talent, changing the local culture and strengthening regulatory support.
A highly skilled workforce is critical for a successful ecosystem. Universities, high schools and other learning institutions should respond, and in fact anticipate, the needs and demands of business and the industry.
A thriving Innovation Ecosystem lives or dies by its ability to attract talent. The challenge is: how do you ensure that young graduates opt for riskier career paths? And how do you ensure a diversity of talents, bringing different backgrounds and cultures. Creative and disruptive solutions to problems rarely come from monochrome environments.
In Yerevan, Armenia, a good example was set by a high school student, Marie Lou Papazian, who created what she called "TUMO". TUMO is a learning facility bringing together technology and design, where students chart their own learning path with innovators, start-ups and business.
When two years ago, Paris was named European Capital of Innovation, the EU gave 1 Million Euros to Mayor Anne Hidalgo that served to create another TUMO educational centre in Paris.
This story tells us two things:
Innovation does not only blossom at MIT and in the Silicon Valley, it happens where you put citizens at the centre of the ecosystem.
Then, encouraging the spirit of innovation in a young person is not about telling them what to do. It is about empowering them to do what they love.
That’s what TUMO has done with EU support and we would like to see such approach developed in Albania. The EU would definitely support it.
An environment that promotes creativity and innovation is also one which teaches the ability to fail.
I understand that in Albania, where honour and reputation are important values, failure is not seen as a desirable; but with stigma attached to failure, the chances of individuals taking risk diminish quickly. Individuals must feel empowered to try and fail, without the fear of being shunned by society.
Most of today's major innovators all suffered failures before hitting success. To name a few, Ev Williams had a failed company prior to Twitter, Travis Kalanick had two failed companies prior to Uber, and Reid Hoffman had two failed companies prior to LinkedIn.
In an Innovation Ecosystem, failure is not an option – it is almost a requirement. Or, as Elon Musk famously says, "if things are not failing, you are not innovating enough".
A favourable legal and regulatory framework is of course critical to an ecosystem to support innovation and start-ups. This is part of our regular dialogue with Albanian authorities, but I take the opportunity to have the Minister of Finance and Economy with us today to emphasise this message. Albania needs a targeted regulatory environment that supports start-ups – for example through favourable tax terms for entrepreneurs and employees in start-ups.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am proud that the EU is putting 6,6 million euros in this 7,5 million euro project. It will address the needs I have just mentioned and is led by two Member States with strong traditions of supporting research, development and innovation. Sweden is even ranked number one at the 2018 European Innovation Scoreboard.
To summarise, the vision we want to implement together with this project is to: