Tue 06 Jul, 2021
A word from Cristina Fanjul, EBN President – intertwined Missions for sustainable economic growth
European by heart
Innovation and Europe followed Cristina Fanjul as trustworthy travel companions and guides in her career and life. For many, she is the EU evangelist, not shying away from voicing her deep belief in the European project. 'I know there are a lot of challenges, of course. But the EU takes a substantial, positive part of my daily professional and personal life.' As early as being an Erasmus student, EU actions mark Cristina’s steps in life. 'Asturias (Spain) is at the periphery of Europe, so this sentiment of belonging is not endogenous, at least from a geographically. We need to work even harder to create links with the rest of Europe'. Now, from her home base and headquarters of CEEI Asturias where she functions as Managing Director, Cristina reflects on her coming mandate as EBN President.
'EBN, as a global network organisation with deep historical links in the EU and its institutions, is such a natural fit that I just smoothly got involved over the past years'. Cristina’s beating heart for European innovation reads best from her work in various bodies and Expert groups. To name some: she acts as an expert evaluator of the EIC Accelerator Start-up Support Initiative of the European Commission, member of the Advisory Group EU Marie Sklovodowska-Curie actions supporting researchers, sits in the Board of the Spanish National Associations of CEEIs/Business Innovation Centres and participates in numerous projects and events of the European entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystem, “I am very committed to international initiatives. Part of our work at CEEI Asturias is to increase European and global awareness of our clients through our work. We do that by not being alone. By being part of the EU|BIC community coordinated by EBN, and via EU-funded projects, where collaborators stem from everywhere. We are broadening horizons.”
For the coming two years EBN’s, CEEI Asturias’ and Cristina’s future will become even more intertwined. “From a personal point of view, with my evolution and my beliefs in perspective, it still a bit unreal that I will be taking the presidency of EBN, an organisation I firmly believe in, whose values, culture, and mission match my own so well. EBN is now living a period of optimism, of light at the end of the tunnel after tough times. I think we will jump to a period of recognition. EBN as a dynamic force for the economy and an active contributor to new healthy companies and start-ups will be even more recognised than it is now. The EBN Secretariat team is getting stronger, and the services are consolidating. I am very happy with the evolution from last year, even if it was a harder year. I see EBN’s contribution now is to create more empowerment for the community.”
EU|BIC by nature
EU|BIC CEEI Asturias opened its doors almost three decades ago, answering two pressing needs in the Asturias region in the centre of Green Spain. To grow and connect with Europe as a region, we need 1) a vehicle for the restructuring of its economy away from the industrial sector, and 2) facilitators for deeper relationships and societal links with the broader EU.
“At that time, the creation of CEEI Asturias was 100% due to this new idea and political configuration of the Business Innovation Centres concept. The decision was not about needing a tool and then seeing which one fitted best. The EU|BIC model was the keystone. Today, innovation is becoming a real utility for everybody. 27 years ago, it was revolutionary to have an entity entirely devoted, not only to entrepreneurship but to innovative entrepreneurship and technology-based companies”.
“This was a strong decision at the time and one that has revealed to be very positive for the region. Our mission as EU|BIC has not changed in 27 years. Of course, we have adapted to the times, incorporating new vocabulary. But in essence, the core mission of our and all EU|BICs is still the same. It involves, in great part, this mission of diversification, promoting entrepreneurship and innovation, and giving added value to technological and highly innovative companies. It is and has been our framework. Of course, [CEEI Asturias] was astute to incorporate this mission into concrete and specific services, finding a path to accomplish this mission”.
As an EU|BIC our goal “is to enable the creation of multiple healthy companies which provide economic and social benefits to our territory. We are a region with a high education rate so our services can have great value to society, in terms of good employment, turnover and regional development. Once you have multiple companies like this in your region, they act as innovation ambassadors, multipliers for a transition for the whole region”.
Business innovation supporters
“We put a lot of tender into each activity, into each support service we provide, to each entrepreneurial innovator. The transformation of science and innovation into a business is more dependable on exogenous factors like our services than endogenous ones. And this you can do in the relatively small territory in Asturias because you have our attention”.
And this attention has its advantages. CEEI Asturias boasts a start-up survival rate of around 70% after five years (above the national and European average). But in a tale familiar to most Europe, “we are working on better unlocking the growth potential in terms of scaling up for larger regional employment and economic output. It is the biggest challenge around the EU – allow companies to reach their full growth. We are very focused on the growth of companies and have put in place more initiatives for growth than for the starting-up procedure.”
“Our services represent a new generation of public services, with different values and culture, with strongly independent policies with the political consensus”. In recent years, the new consensus moves towards “innovation as a special element of the national Polity. We always had strong links with the industry. Now we also have it with the National Science and Innovation bodies, which offers us a wealth of different inputs. Reacting to these developments, we now operate as a technology transfer office for universities and Tech and Research centres of the region. And probably this role will be increasing for the coming years.”
EBN and the EU|BIC community, our heartbeat
Having been a member of the Board of Directors for the past five years and the vice-president for the last two, Cristina is quite involved in EBN's operations “my goal is more to generate the evolution of the services, developing then on our common mission, than a revolution. I want to make our role more visible, execute our ambitions and become a keystone for our ecosystem. EBN is at its core an association providing services to members, but its parallel role is to be a powerful stakeholder in innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Which is becoming more complex, more complete. The ecosystem is becoming more layered than it was in the past. “I want an EBN that is open to collaborating with a variety of emerging stakeholders. We can reposition ourselves as bridge builders between the community and the growing ecosystem. And it is EBN’s time to get a footing and consolidate our connections with the EU on all its structures, contributing to the achieving of EU goals.”
“For the first 100 days, I would like to maintain our optimism, showing that we are part of the solution and strengthening our role. For the future, I want new initiatives that add value to members and our clients. They are always the ultimate beneficiaries of the network, deserving the strongest possible EBN, capable of being the interface for a world they may not fully decipher by themselves. We need to accompany them through it.”
Looking ahead: Impact on Society and growth
“Throughout the years, one of the largest changes I saw is in the increase of entrepreneurship as a solution confronting social issues. In previous times, entrepreneurs played the part of young technology-expert innovators with large growth potential. Today, societies are fully conscious of entrepreneurship for the benefit of society. And this has raised the importance of EU|BICs’ services and role at the political level.”
“The mission of EU|BICs have been forward-thinking since its foundation. This mission became more and more relevant with this evolution. This recent societal awareness is a great driving force that made our role into a two-way path. In the beginning, our role was perceived as simply to provide services for entrepreneurs. Today, people see our services as playing a role in the betterment of society. And our services contribute to raising awareness of that position, and entrepreneurs are also embracing this goal. We further the awareness, raising and benefiting from it. Embracing this role is very beneficial and allows us to be involved with more stakeholders, have more complete inputs and more competencies. Of course, entrepreneurs are the key foundation for all services of the Business Innovation Centre, but the services are for the benefit of all.”