Opportunities for innovation engagement

In the last few weeks, the international community has called on the innovation ecosystem to come together in a coordinated fight against the coronavirus pandemic. 

European institutions take action to procure not only life-saving medical equipment, but also incentivising innovative high-tech solutions. The European Union’s widespread approach in the field of research and innovation to address the corona crisis includes the coordination of international initiatives as well as funding securing projects on new treatments and vaccines. 

The European Commission (EC) issued a call for innovative start-ups and SME’s with no predefined thematic priorities through the European Innovation Council Accelerator (EIC Accelerator), with a total budget of €164m, and it made available €47.5 million of emergency funding from Horizon 2020 to support several research projects. 

Fully supporting open access and open science, the European Commission aims at developing a research ecosystem where data can be shared and used as openly as possible (i.e. the European Open Science Cloud). Beyond the standard format of research, international organisations are experimenting with more inclusive approaches of engagement. In order to enhance international cooperation, the EU is also coordinating global initiatives with other funders under the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Diseases Preparedness (GloPID-R that gathers 29 funding bodies and the World Health Organisation) and contributing 20 million EUR to the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI).

In coordination with the European Commission, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched a unique edition of the “Custom Script Contest - support of space assets during the COVID-19 crisis” looking for ideas on how satellite data could help monitor and mitigate the situation for the upcoming back-to-business moment. Several ESA initiatives have risen to the occasion, encompassing schemes that support individuals, start-ups, Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s), large companies, and industries. 

ESA, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), and the Italian Minister for Technological Innovation and Digitalization (MID) concentrated their joint effort on assisting citizens in the current emergency through an open competition targeted to Italy (Space in response to COVID-19 outbreak). The responding companies were invited to propose Demonstration Projects dedicated to the deployment and demonstration of pre-operational services, addressing Healthcare or Education. The proposed services shall demonstrate the benefit provided by the utilisation of space-assets (i.e. satellite communications, Earth observation, satellite navigation, or human spaceflight technologies) integrated with other innovative technologies to respond to the current extraordinary circumstances.

In cooperation with the UK Space Agency (UKSA), ESA issued a call to facilitate the quick integration and deployment of concrete and sustainable solutions to contribute to help alleviate the stress on the UK healthcare ecosystem, making use of the different advantages provided by space-based products and services. In addition, a third call (“Space based services / applications addressing COVID-19 outbreak”) is under preparation. 

A Permanently Open Call has been issued as part of ESA’s Earth Observation Science for Society program. The objective is to evaluate how critical capabilities and satellite data can be used to understand the impacts of COVID-19 on our society, the economy, and the environment. 

The above-mentioned projects share the goal to combine expertise, creativity, and assets in the fight against the virus and its far-reaching effects. 

The pandemic raised the stakes for sustainability, although it could also trigger a reversal of sustainability trends or, eventually, convergence the concepts of innovation and sustainability. 

Innovation engagement is emerging at every level, leveraging the crisis as an opportunity to transform and model the entrepreneurial mindset, the key parameters for measuring innovation, and the ability to innovate. 

Overall, innovative solutions and improved policies, systems, products, technologies, and services are meant to improve citizens' health and wellbeing and to open the path for innovability. 

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