Yuri van Geest, member of the Creative Industry topteam for Dutch innovation, is a specialist on Singularity and an ambassador for Singularity University. Singularity is the convergence and symbiosis of IT, biotechnology, nanotechnology, neurotechnology, robotics, Artificial Intelligence, new energy, brain-computer interfaces, 3D printing and space technology. Singularity University wants to “educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges”.
Canada, Holland and EU
ScienceGuide spoke with Yuri van Geest and Salim Ismael, the founder of Singularity Universit,y about the Dutch and European innovation climate.
What does the Netherlands and the European Union lack compared to the United States to create a superb climate for innovation?
Yuri van Geest: “The problem why the Netherlands lags behind consists of multiple facets. It is partly due to political factors, but there are cultural factors as well. In the last decade the Netherlands became a bit inward looking, after the murders on Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh. The Netherlands will get more innovative, it is already happening, but it is a long term project.
“We’ll get back in the game, the Netherlands is already on the same innovative level as Germany and the United Kingdom. That is quite an achievement for a country with only 17 million people. The Netherlands is doing a better job than Italy, France and Spain. Especially in the field of food and water Dutch research is world-class. The institutes in Delft and Wageningen are among the best in the world.”
Salim Ismael adds: “The per capita innovation in the Netherlands is as high as it gets. The problem in the European Union, and also in Canada where I am from, is that we are too conservative. There is no such thing as a Canadian venture capitalist if you know what I mean.”
“Failure is punished too hard. If you make an error with your company in Europe they’ll first sue you and then they start asking questions. That is different in the United States, especially in Silicon Valley. A company will fail, and has to fail, often before it succeeds. The EU needs a new regulatory framework for failing.”
Don’t try to push a string
Earlier ScienceGuide spoke to Mariana Mazzucato at the Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam about this theme. This highly regarded professor at Sussex University states that it is time to change the “socialized risk, privatized reward-system” that the European Union uses for innovation.
Mazzacuto presented three other lessons for the EU to catalyze innovation, which are valuable additions to the view from the Singularity University:
1] The EU needs venture capital, but has to realize that it does not work in all sectors, sometimes it takes too long to reap a return. In Pharma and Biotech, for example, returns can only be delivered after 10 to 17 years.
2] Stop the obsession with Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, major innovations do not happen there.
3] Stop the obsession with ‘knowledge transfer’: “it is like pushing a string”. Invest on R&D, it is not a surprise that Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain are the European countries in trouble right now. In the 90’s they had by far the lowest R&D investments in Europe.