Gabriel: Startups are the core of 21st century progress

A joint declaration of EU organisations was signed in Sofia to accelerate growth of startups in CEE and WB  

Photo: BGNES (L-R): Montenegro PM Markovic, Serbian PM Burnabich, Bulgarian PM Borissov, Macedonian PM Zaev and EU Commissioner Gabriel.

Under the auspices of the European Commission, Sofia hosted on Thursday the Startup Europe Summit - Europe's annual rendezvous with actors from the European startup ecosystem, from innovators to investors and policy makers. The event, which was held in the Bulgarian capital for the first time, gave more than 500 attendees the opportunity to learn about EU funding opportunities, as the bloc has transformed into the biggest funding source for entrepreneurs, with a €10bn funding pool in the pipeline.

“A further €8m call will be launched at the end of 2018 under the Horizon 2020 programme to support digital innovation hubs in regions that have not yet been sufficiently covered,” EU Commissioner for Digital Society Maria Gabriel announced in her opening remarks at the summit, in the presence of European organisers of accelerators, incubators, startup community leaders, university business development initiatives, business angel associations, journalists, as well as high-level political figures such as Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, Serbia's Anna Burnabich, Macedonia's Zoran Zaev, Montenegro's Dusko Markovic and Kosovo's Deputy PM Enver Hoxhai.

In her speech, Gabriel stressed that startups are at the core of the 21st century industrial era and they must be provided with all the needed help and resources from the EU. Nevertheless, she noted that at the moment “no startup can grow in Europe with the current levels of fragmentation, barriers and legal uncertainty in the Member States”. This, as a result, hinders the development of Europe as innovation-friendly environment and restrains it from unleashing its potential and from enabling digital startups and SMEs to scale up in the Digital Single Market.

Gabriel explained that she strongly supports the further creation and facilitation of connections between the so-called European digital innovation hubs, where companies - especially small and medium-sized enterprises, startups and mid-caps - can get help to improve their business ideas, manufacturing processes, products and services, and adjust their business models to the digital age. She noted that three of them are located in Bulgaria. Their establishment, she believes, is crucial to the assessment of the main barriers entrepreneurs encounter and also to promoting the bloc's capacity to make the best of the digital revolution and ensuring the sustainability of its economy.

With the aim to make that important step in the European digital transformation and to remove existing obstacles to entrepreneurship across the EU, Gabriel, together with organisations representing startups from Central and Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans, including Bulgaria, signed at the event “Joint Declaration reinforcing the technological entrepreneurship ecosystem in the CCE and WB”.

“We recognise the need to forge stronger links between different startup hubs in our countries, promote greater cooperation and specialisation and, collectively, connect the Central and Eastern European and Western Balkans' startup ecosystem to well established European hubs,” the document reads. The signatories vow to establish and sustain networks which will allow startup players across the regions to connect with mature startup ecosystems and gain access to finance, talent and public procurement services. To maximise the growth potentials of the CCE and WB, the organisations will also work together to create External Advisory Board and offer constructive advices to policy-makers in the Member States, as well as to the EU Commission, on how best to improve the framework conditions.

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