Roundtable: The need for European Investment in Blockchain
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INATBA Roundtable Highlights Need for European Investment in Blockchain

INATBA recently convened an online discussion to raise awareness about the European Commission’s new blockchain and AI investment fund. The 100 million euro European Investment Fund (EIF) is now fully operational and has signed its first agreement with Fly Ventures Fund in Berlin.

Participants in the virtual dialogue outlined the clear need for Europe to increase investment in strategic, future-oriented technologies like AI and blockchain in ways that will help build the sector and increase mainstream adoption of the technologies.

The United States has invested between $23 billion and $25 billion, and Asia has invested between $12 billion and $16 billion, according to Peteris Zilgalvis, Head of Unit, Digital Innovation and Blockchain, Digital Single Market Directorate, DG Connect. Meanwhile, he said, Europe has only invested between $4 billion and $5 billion.

“We need a European approach to address the investment gap — like an AirBus for AI and blockchain,” said Zilgalvis.

“The EIF is the first pan-European program to support the digital innovation ecosystem for AI and blockchain,” he added. “The program leverages the partnership between the EC, the member states of the European Union and the private sector. The fund is still a pilot with a 100M euro investment, but it aims to invest 400 to 500 euro by the end of 2020.”

Pierre Marro, administrator at the Directorate General Communication Networks, Content and Technology, at the European Commission, said the potential of blockchain is very real. “But what is really now challenging is to turn the potential into real application. The challenge is to turn all the good ideas and innovative ideas into flourishing companies and applications based on blockchain and DLT technologies.”

In his presentation, Soren Gigler, Senior Digital Innovation Officer at the European Commission, said the EC focused on blockchain and AI for investment because they are “fundamental future-oriented technologies that we believe are really transforming entire economies.”

“We want to support both the development and adoption of those technologies across all sectors of the economy — and to have real societal value derived from these investments,” he said. “We believe that Europe has a very strong leadership role when it comes to research, knowledge and talents, and we are leading as it relates to standards related to AI and blockchain concerning data, privacy protection and technical guidelines.”

“These technologies are drivers for innovation-led goals. But one of the challenges is that there has been the significant underinvestment. So there is a clear role for the public sector to intervene in the market and provide additional incentives for the private sector to invest.”

This is the first and only dedicated instrument at the European level specifically dedicated to AI and blockchain, Gigler added. “It’s important to target investments to specific sectors and specific technologies,” he said.

Minerva Elias, Senior Innovation and Alternative Finance Manager with the EIF, said that Europe has leading research technologies and tech centers — 32 of the 100 most cited AI research institutions are in Europe.

“But most of these are commercialized by non-European companies,” Elias added. “So we really want to tap and retain these brains within Europe and turning research excellence into business revenue would require the acceleration of blockchain and AI development and of course the adoption through increased investment. We’re talking about volume and retaining capital within Europe.”

“More has to be done, and more can be done, because truly these technologies are key to enabling a number of other industries to progress and to grow,” she added. “So we will work together to see how we can do more and better.”

Gabriel Matuschka, Partner at Fly Ventures, a Berlin-based venture capital fund, said participants in the investment community need to plant the seeds in order for the ecosystem to grow.

Nadia Filali, Director of Blockchain Programs at Caisse des Dépôts, emphasized the importance of contributing to the development of the ecosystem “because it will open the market by giving credibility to the open market perspective. Because we are working together, it will benefit everyone.”

“For me, blockchain is not a technology that you work alone on with,” Filali added. “It’s very important to collaborate and develop collaborations at the local and European levels. It is what we are doing now with INATBA and DG-Connect. It’s necessary now to try to have concrete projects between big companies and small companies and to develop different things from different industries. There are many possibilities.”

Julie Maupin, Chair of the INATBA Board of Directors, said recent ICO funding in Europe has provided a valuable “playground of experiments” and enabled the community to “learn and see if it leads to mature companies that generate useful outcomes for society. We’re still in the midst of evaluating that.”

More information on the fundings and presentations of the event will be available to INATBA members in the upcoming September newsletter.