European cross-pollination – export markets or innovation partners?

How do we increase the number of new businesses and services in Europe capable of competing with increasingly dominant US and Chinese players?

Inside the European union we share many, fundamental values but our country-specific differences (political models, national interests, climate, language and culture) still create barriers to effective and large scale co-creation.

In my opinion, we can no longer afford these ‘organizational inefficiencies’ as our societies are facing many of the exact same challenges:

  • Climate changes and sustainability issues calling for bold innovations and new business models in energy production, food innovation, smart living.
  • Rapidly aging populations putting existing healthcare and welfare models under pressure.
  • Technology disruption forcing companies in all industries to accelerate their innovation, commercialization and internationalization processes.
  • Trade of services (data) is growing faster than trade of physical products. The new winners and losers in global relations depend on the ability to create value as part of digital ecosystems and platforms.

European countries are addressing these challenges mainly at national level promoting Open Innovation partnerships and supporting startup communities. For decades, EU policies and research programs have guided and incentivized cross country collaboration creating many success stories, but most companies still see other European countries primarily as potential export markets.

So how do we improve collaboration and use of scarce resources across Europe to speed up creation of tangible solutions and global market leaders?

We don’t need more, unique ideas. We need more people behind faster, large-scale implementation.

As a Dane living in Italy I personally see a big potential for increased collaboration between what I consider highly complementary Nordic and Mediterranean markets:

  • Skills: Nordic job markets are flexible but many industries claim they could grow much faster if they were able to attract more employees. At the same time unemployment in the South of Europe is forcing especially younger generations – including top graduates – to seek opportunities abroad.
  • Digitalization & Service Innovation: Nordic countries have small, homogeneous home markets which facilitate public-private collaboration and rapid implementation of change. However, that is not enough to build scalable businesses and the best ideas are often transferred to the US for growth. Mediterranean economies like Italy are big (Italy is the 2nd economy in Europe and the 8th worldwide) but heterogeneous in terms of regions and workforce and without the digital brand of the US “valleys”.

I believe that systematic and large-scale matchmaking between innovative managers and companies in Northern and Southern Europe offers an important growth opportunity. Even sharing our export market experiences (north and south respectively) could speed up internationalization for everybody. We all know that diversity boosts innovation and we are already using communication tools to bridge distances and facilitate smart working.

So what are we still missing to make this happen? I look forward to hearing your opinions and ideas!


Photo credits: ROBOBEES, Riitta Matikainen, Tarja Matikainen, Edith Wetering at Sand Sculpture Festival, 2019,

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