Interview with Mark Ferguson, Chair of the EIC Advisory Board: "The EIC is in the business of crowding in"
On 20 and 21 October 2020, the European Innovation Council organised an online EIC Investor Day together with Euronext. Mark Ferguson, Chair of the EIC Advisory Board, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, gave the key-note speech on behalf of the EIC. Afterwards he talked more about the future of innovation in Europe, the role of the EIC and the importance of Investor Day’s.
You gave your speech in your capacity as Chair of the EIC Advisory Board. What does the EIC mean to you?
It’s about growing and scaling businesses in Europe. There’s great science, but we don’t translate that into businesses of scale, as well as our competitors. The EIC plans to address that by financing, but also by training and pitching, with days like these, where SMEs can meet and talk to investors. Today was all about companies thinking on how to go forward with an IPO and secure public investors. That’s an important aspect.
Why are events like the EIC Investor Days important?
Consider the amount of financing going into deep tech businesses in Europe .The difference between us and the US is huge. We have to get other investors in. We want the private sector to make investments in these interesting deep tech companies. The EIC is de-risking that, becoming a co-investor and an early investor. The success will be in crowding in investors and that’s why these days are important. If the EIC is no longer needed because the private sector is investing early and at scale in European deep tech companies , happy days for everyone. But that’s not the case now. We need the private sector to take a higher risk, so the EIC is creating a network of investors, introducing companies to those investors and providing blended finance ( grant plus equity ). The EIC is developing a prestigious reputation and people want to be associated with it.
What I hope will happen is that the entire investor landscape in the EU will recognize the quality of the EIC. With time, a large number of companies will do well and investors that didn’t co invest will think ‘I should have joined, I could have been in there’. We need successes like that. Some companies will become spectacular and some won’t work, for one reason or another. We aim to get more in the first category of course.
What about the training aspect? There were several panel discussions and seminars taking place during the event.
Its always important to learn. You learn at different stages: Idea – market – investment – customers – sales. You learn from other peers ,from investors ,from the experiences of others. So it’s important to create ecosystems. The EIC is in the business of crowding in, crowding in people , finance , experience, corporates , customers to help the business grow.
What was your impression of the event?
Overall, it was a good event, I heard some pitches and talks and they were very good. I resonated with many of the issues raised in the presentations and panel discussions. Also, the online format works: at Science Foundation Ireland we went from four video conferences in March, to 8000 in September. It’s not as bad as everybody thought it would be, just different. You can do more, I could pop in and out of sessions today.
To close off, how do you envision the future of the EIC?
There are several aspects to note here. I think the EIC has to be for innovators what the European Research Council (ERC) is for researchers. In a short space of time the ERC has established a stellar reputation worldwide. In the next few years, I hope the EIC will establish a similar reputation - as the investor of choice. Europe’s best entrepreneurs will come to the EIC because we have excellent people, because we have grant and equity money, because we invest early and we are prepared to take higher risks, but not stupid risks, because we can introduce our successful companies to unrivalled networks of corporates , investors and mentors, and because we are friendly , efficient and with strong values of equality , diversity , inclusiveness and sustainability. The success rate will be low, so we will be viewed as prestigious, a badge of honour. You will also get more than just money, you can generate partnerships through Corporate Days, customers through Procurer Days, investment through Investor Days.
I am also hoping to see a seamless network of the EIC across the European programmes – ERC ,EIT , Missions etc and with national programmes and agencies ,as well as with the European Investment Fund (EIF) and European Investment Bank (EIB). That’s a big agenda, but all doable. All with the goal of becoming the investor of choice. We need to be agile, which in our response to COVID19 we have demonstrated, entrepreneurial , forward looking and constantly learning and improving. There’s a huge appetite for it, I think we have already seen that. What’s the measure of success, besides making ourselves redundant? Well, when the US says, ‘we should go to Europe and see what the EIC is doing’. We have a long way to go, but it’s possible!