Six of Europe’s leading scientific laboratories have joined forces with industry and experts in business and entrepreneurship to develop next-generation scientific tools and co-create new products, companies and jobs.
The six labs – CERN, the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), European X-Ray Free-Electron Laser (European XFEL) and Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) – will partner with Aalto University, European Industrial Research Management Association (EIRMA) and Esade Business and Law Schools.
For the first time, this consortium of big research infrastructure projects — including telescopes, particle accelerators and other capital-intensive scientific instruments — and leveraging in the know-how of industry and business and entrepreneurship experts will be explicitly used to generate and capture value, create jobs and promote growth.
The ATTRACT initiative’s overall goal is to turn scientific breakthroughs in imaging, detection and computational technologies into commercialised products and services for industrial markets.
In 2018, ATTRACT launched an open call for breakthrough ideas. An independent research and development and innovation (R&D&I) committee selected 170 promising projects. Each was awarded €100,000 to develop a proof-of-concept in 12 months.
With ATTRACT phase 1 now complete, the 170 selected projects have reached the end of the 12-months permitted to develop a proof-of-concept. Now, ATTRACT phase 2 will take forward the most promising opportunities.
In this phase, the emphasis will be on turning the proof-of-concepts into clear applications in the realms of science and industry and, in parallel, generating new business and products for citizens.
This phase will place special emphasis on relationship-building activities – connecting projects with one another, student researchers, and potential investors – to maximise the benefits of the new technologies on society.
By the end of ATTRACT phase 2, the projects should be ready to shift from taxpayer funding to investment from venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, helping to boost Europe as a preeminent hub for deep-tech ventures.
Historically, promising deep-tech ventures have struggled to reach commercialisation – the process of turning scientific breakthroughs into viable products and services is incredibly risky.
ATTRACT is able to support innovation by helping to absorb (phase 1) then minimise (phase 2) that risky process, and by offering funding and expertise that would be extremely difficult for projects to gain through market forces alone.
In doing so, the ATTRACT initiative is helping to ensure that breakthrough ideas are not overlooked or lost along the way – and that instead, they have a solid chance of becoming products and services that benefit society.
Although they are distinct fields with unique priorities, science and business are both ultimately human endeavours – smart people working together to solve useful problems that advance knowledge, promote growth and benefit society.
ATTRACT aims to widen the horizons for participating scientists by forging links between research infrastructures, industry, academia and society. It also aims to connect businesses with game-changing ideas in scientific research.
By bringing science and business together to work towards a common goal, the programme will foster relationships of mutual benefit, as well as providing training and skills that participants can bring with them to their next professional endeavour.
The ATTRACT initiative addresses, among others, the ICT sector, which is a cornerstone of Europe’s economy. This sector is also one of the most dynamic, standing out for its high R&D intensity and productivity.
In 2017, the EU28 ICT sector amounted to €630 billion in value added, employed more than 6 million people and spent €32 billion on R&D business expenditures (BERD). It represented 4.1% of the EU28 total value added, 3% of total employment, 15% of total BERD, and 18% and 20% of the R&D personnel and researchers in the EU28, respectively.
Nevertheless, its value added for Europe should be increased with respect to pier economies with breakthrough ideas leading to scientific and market products. The ICT sector value added share of GDP during 2006-2017 for Europe represented only 4%, as compared to 16% in Taiwan and 10% in Korea, for example.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of Europe’s economy. They represent 99% of all businesses in the EU. They employ 2 out of 3 Europeans and account for more than half of Europe’s GDP. ATTRACT phase 1 helped 26% of SMEs and startups growing their market competitiveness with respect to the total participating organizations. One of the goals of ATTRACT phase 2 is increasing this percentage.
ATTRACT uses European Commission public funding to absorb and mitigate the initial risk of radical technologies for private investors. The ATTRACT Consortium supports investors on a journey towards commercialisation and facilitates private capital entry points.
During ATTRACT phase 1, 18% of the funded projects gathered private investment even at that early stage. ATTRACT phase 2 will further de-risk breakthrough technologies with the consequence of enhancing private investor interest.
ATTRACT is not just about commercialising new technologies – it is an experiment in innovator training.
During ATTRACT phase 1, 100 young European entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to develop and prototype their ideas, inspired by the technologies developed by the funded projects. More than 30% of the funded projects considered the collaboration with young innovators useful in generating new application fields they had never considered.
ATTRACT phase 2 will scale up the opportunities for novel talent in Europe, with the target of involving 400 new young European entrepreneurs.
The European Commission aims to boost European innovation, competitiveness and sustainability. ATTRACT supports these goals by bridging the European Research Area with the Innovation Union—allowing researchers, scientific knowledge and technology to circulate freely, leading to new business and wealth for European citizens.
ATTRACT also aligns with the spirit of “Open Science, Open Innovation, and Open to the World” of the European Commission in its endeavour to build a Europe delivering jobs and growth for its citizens, as well as with innovative policy instruments such as the European Innovation Council.
ATTRACT phase 2 will elaborate also a socioeconomic study of the ATTRACT ecosystem. Expert scholars will gather quantitative and qualitative data for offering key insights about how deep tech innovation ecosystems rooted in “Open Science and Open Innovation” could create benefit for Europe.