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Chahab Nastar, EIT Digital Chief Innovation Officer

Chahab Nastar, EIT Digital Chief Innovation Officer

In digital, the pace of innovation is incredibly high. Bringing innovations quickly out of the labs and into the market is therefore a critical element to remain competitive. EIT Digital is convinced that venture creation and scaling is the right answer to such rapid innovation cycles, because it takes the agility, commitment, and focus of entrepreneurial minds to manage the high pace of innovation.

We interviewed EIT Digital’s Chief Innovation Officer Chahab Nastar on the subject.

Chahab, EIT Digital has identified venture creation as a key strategy for building a strong digital Europe. How does this work in practice?

At EIT Digital, we support venture creation through two main instruments. The first one, our Innovation Factory, brings together organisations from all over Europe to launch deep tech ventures as the vehicle of their innovation. The second instrument is the Venture Program. It supports teams of entrepreneurs from the so-called RIS countries to launch their Minimum Viable Product and establish a venture in record time.

In both instruments, EIT Digital provides matchmaking, incubation, and financial support. In return, EIT Digital holds equity in the created ventures, contributing to our sustainability strategy.

What are some of the recent success stories in venture creation at EIT Digital?

One example for the Innovation Factory is the SARA Social Robot. This robot helps care institutions and hospitals to improve care recipients' quality of life and provides support to alleviate caregiver-staffing shortages. The COVID-19 pandemic led to visit restrictions for families and friends of care recipients and SARA was able to serve as a communication link in these difficult months.  Other examples include LMAD, who operates autonomous last-mile delivery robots, and PeasyPay, a payment system based on biometric identification.

Recently we announced the outstanding results of the 2020 Venture Program. Among the 28 startups launched, Polish payment startup Restpay stands out with a Business Angel investment received directly at the end of the program. The eHealth startup Amygdala from Bosnia and Herzegovina is another success story that will continue its growth as part of the H+ Innovation Programme implemented by the InsurTech Hub Munich (ITHM) and the Medical Valley Digital Health Application Center.

You mentioned that the SARA robot received special attention during the COVID-19 pandemic. Have you supported other innovations dedicated to mitigating the impact of the Corona disease?

We have indeed. One example is the application of physical tokens for COVID-19 contact tracing. We are currently running four pilots in different settings across Europe: in the Nordics, in the UK, in Benelux and in Italy, with deployments planned by the end of the year.

Another great example is a 3D printed remote monitoring device that can measure vital signs of corona patients. The device enables nurses to safely monitor multiple patients at the same time. This innovation was developed by a group of EIT Digital Master School students, who won the EU-run hackathon, joined up with EIT Digital partners, and now receive our support to develop their Minimum Viable Product to hit the market.

What does the current pandemic crisis mean for mature tech startups (the so called scaleups), and our Accelerator support?

The saying goes that ‘In every crisis lies an opportunity’. That is especially true for tech ventures in the current crisis, because digital is at the heart of the “new normal” – work from home, Software as a Service, or remote monitoring and maintenance, to name a few examples.

The new normal calls for new innovations and new champions to emerge. Our Accelerator is there to support them in a hands-on way. While these days it has become harder for individual scaleups to meet the right international customers and investors, that is precisely what our Accelerator team makes happen, thanks to a distributed team of business developers and fundraising experts and their pan European network of customers and VCs.  Examples of scaleups that have joined us recently include MIPU, an AI technology for the digital industry, or Flynex, a drone platform for industrial surveillance. This week, we also communicated about the success of CashDirector, an AI-enabled Digital CFO for SMEs.

The outcome of our 2020 EIT Digital Challenge scaleup competition is another indicator for the unbroken interest in our support. The record-breaking number of 403 scaleup applications is a clear sign that digital entrepreneurs are working hard and are seeking support also – and especially – in times of a pandemic. I am looking forward to the final event on November 12, where the top 20 scaleups will be showcased.

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