Building up after the Covid-19 crisis requires a new approach to innovation.

An approach that is geared towards a new generation of innovators who are no longer primarily aiming for digital, but hardware and purpose-oriented innovations.

A new generation of start-ups that, instead of making our everyday lives easier, are now helping to meet our most pressing challenges: health, green change, post-pandemic development, technological sovereignty in Europe.

With a new innovation policy, we want to increase innovation performance in the EU and ensure that Europe takes the lead in the fourth wave of innovation. This new wave of innovation goes beyond digital start-ups and is instead carried by technology-intensive companies - deep-tech start-ups, which have a hardware component in 84 percent of the cases, and deep-tech innovators, which in 96 percent of the cases Contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

We need to move from digital startups that make our lives easier and more convenient to transformative technology-intensive startups that help us solve our problems.

It's about realigning the focus: away from social media and towards sustainable modes of transport like Lilium's air taxis.

Instead of digital platforms that allow us to shop comfortably from the sofa, the future should focus on new generations of batteries such as those from Skeleton and unlimited energy sources such as the deep geothermal energy used by GA Drilling, which allow us to ensure a smooth green transition and at the same time maintain a highly competitive and well-functioning economy.

A new innovation ecosystem

This new generation of innovators has three main characteristics. First, it relies on protected intellectual property from science. Second, it has a hardware component that enables it to deal with problems in areas such as transport, health, manufacturing and energy. Third, it needs a strong innovation ecosystem with investors who offer “smart money”, universities that provide talent, and public administrations that open their procurement procedures to small players.

We want Europe to lead the new wave of innovation by building on two strengths: our leading position in science and our economic sectors with strong hardware components. Germany is an excellent example of this. It has world-leading research institutions such as the Max Planck Society and the Helmholtz Association. In addition, Germany is the cradle of global market leaders in industries with strong hardware components such as the automotive industry, machine vehicles, machine tools, the chemical industry and shipbuilding. If we succeed in integrating these two factors into a strong innovation ecosystem with actors such as the Fraunhofer Institutes, Betahaus or the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, Europe will be at the forefront of this new wave of innovation.

We therefore want to establish a pan-European innovation ecosystem. We will take a bottom-up approach that connects local innovation ecosystems. That is why we need efficient and fairer innovation ecosystems across Europe, including in rural areas. Such a pan-European ecosystem would support the scaling of our innovative companies and start-ups, promote innovation and stimulate cooperation between national, regional and local innovation actors.

In order to achieve these goals, we are setting up various instruments and initiatives. The EU's most ambitious research and development program to date - Horizon Europe - is based on an investment-oriented concept through which small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups are given decisive support. Within the framework of Horizon Europe, we have a number of instruments and initiatives at our disposal, of which I would particularly like to highlight the European Innovation Council, which specifically supports disruptive innovations. The European innovation ecosystems should primarily serve to connect innovations on a European level.The European Institute of Innovation and Technology with its large network of more than 2000 partners supports innovations in all EU member states and beyond. We also seek synergies not only within Horizon Europe, but also with the Cohesion Policy Fund, the InvestEU program and other EU programs and initiatives, so that the investments have the greatest possible impact.

A networked and creative pan-European innovation ecosystem will act as a catalyst so that the potential of European start-ups can lead to the provision of market-ready applications and technological solutions. That is exactly what we need for the future. We need to move from “bits” (digital) to “bits and atoms” (digital and physical) to face the challenges ahead