Isidro Laso Ballesteros: Case study

at European Commission

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Head of Startup Europe Sector, European Commission Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (EC DG-Connect)

When I first read about the Policy Fellowship at Cambridge, I thought it would be a very good opportunity to exchange ideas with the University’s world-class academics. Having myself written several books and lectured in many universities, this was an appealing expectation in itself.

However, my experience of being a Policy Fellow proved even more enriching than I had initially expected. In fact, the Policy Fellowship programme is having a profound impact on the Startup Europe initiative – both on the way I am scoping the problems to be addressed, and on how I am engaging with a broad and varied network of people in gathering evidence and defining targeted solutions.

The first week of my Fellowship programme (in June 2013) was an opportunity to set up a network of academics, investors, and successful start-ups, together with a new class of intermediaries (accelerators and co-working spaces). While I knew a lot about the tech ecosystem in many other cities around Europe (from London to Berlin to Vilnius to Madrid), the tech ecosystem of Cambridge was unknown to me, and I discovered that it is, in many aspects, unique in Europe.

Having set the network up, I have been using it extensively in my daily work, both for defining long-term strategies and for operational aspects related to a Call for Proposals for the EU Research and Innovation Programmes. The contributions from Cambridge players have been very valuable. To take just one example – working with Sherry Coutu has led to the establishment of a European “coalition” of corporations and higher education, co-operating to help startups to scale up. Sherry made decisive contributions to defining the vision of this partnership; she helped me to bring together a group of visionary people from all across the world, and (following the announcement at Davos 2014) has also helped to ensure that Cambridge participates in the implementation phase.

I plan to continue my engagement with the network of friends I have made in Cambridge - particularly through ideaSpace - and to extend the network as required. I look forward to another 18 months of fruitful collaboration with the University of Cambridge.