EU Digital Agenda Assembly Plenary – Part 2

20th June Afternoon Session

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Keynote speeches

According to Harri Koponen, Senior Advisor at Rovio Entertainment Ltd, digital needn’t be the end point of a company’s trajectory. Rather,  companies can use their success in digital media to expand and grow into other markets, such as merchandising of their product as Rovio has with ‘Angry Birds’. Digital growth doesn’t just affect the rest of the economy incidentally, it can create growth in other areas. Although Koponen is obviously proud of his success it has not been without drawbacks, having grown beyond the EU’s definition of an SME, Rovio is no longer eligible for the level of support they were very recently receiving. Koponen says this feels like punishment for growing too fast, if the EU wants successful tech companies then it will have to invest support for a longer period of time. Koponen also touched on a number of other points, about how we must view Europe as members of the same team, rather than in competition with each other, and how young entrepreneurs  must be  supported with both money and relevant advice.`

Jordan Casey one such young entrepreneur, a 13 year old self-taught programmer and Founder and CEO of Mobile Games start-up Casey Games, says that part of the problem is the attitude to youth in Europe. In the United States investors are happy to invest in startups, independent of the age of the inventor or CEO. Facebook a platform used regularly across the world was founded by a nineteen year old, after all. Aside from the funding gap and lack of trust in the ideas of young entrepreneurs, Casey states that there is a gap between the number of jobs in programming, jobs are sitting vacant with no-one to fill them, and young people learning the skills they need to get into the sector. Programming, Casey says, needs to get into schools, many children and young people are unaware of how enjoyable programming can be, instead seeing it as something to be feared.

 

Digital mindset – Focus on entrepreneurship, skills and jobs

The first person to present back from the workshop was Ales Spetic, Cofounder of Zemanta, who attended the ‘Tech entrepreneurs: the path to success’ workshop.’According to Ales, the problem with entrepreneurship isn’t in the understanding of tech, it is in how to convert technological innovation into economic success, they need support with the practicalities of business. Not everyone has the time to go to business school before growing their tech startups, practical support needs to be provided to people as they go along.

Saskia Van-Uffelen, Belgian Digital Champion, CEO Belgium and Luxemburg of Bull and CSB Consulting, reported back from the workshop on ‘The Digital Single Market for business and consumers’. The group highlighted three important areas, the first was that people are too risk averse, they don’t want to step out of their comfort zones, as everything starts with an idea people need to be encouraged to take risks and be more creative in their thinking. To offset the risks, this the group felt we need to look at crowdsourcing and mentorship programs. Also, regulation can at times be stifling, people simply do not know what the regulation is on occasion and finding out takes a matter of days, slowing down the processes. The last point raised by this workshop was that data is worth a huge amount, European data is being captured outside of the EU and resold to us, we need to find a way to protect European data, capturing it for our own use.

Saskia Van-Uffelen, Belgian Digital Champion, CEO Belgium and Luxemburg of Bull and CSB Consulting, reported back from the workshop on ‘The Digital Single Market for business and consumers’. The group highlighted three important areas, the first was that people are too risk averse, they don’t want to step out of their comfort zones, as everything starts with an idea people need to be encouraged to take risks and be more creative in their thinking. To offset the risks, this the group felt we need to look at crowdsourcing and mentorship programs. Also, regulation can at times be stifling, people simply do not know what the regulation is on occasion and finding out takes a matter of days, slowing down the processes. The last point raised by this workshop was that data is worth a huge amount, European data is being captured outside of the EU and resold to us, we need to find a way to protect European data, capturing it for our own use.

Julie Cullen, Young Advisor from Ireland, reported back from the ‘Digital skills for jobs and learning’ workshop, speaking about the need to bring more people into the sector through education, the groups they highlighted were the unemployed, women and young people. Unemployed people can be encouraged in to ICT through internships and work experience, but the skills needed to work in ICT need to be identified so that people can cultivate them before employment. They also felt that to encourage women into ICT we need to provide concrete examples of female role models and women in positions of power within technology. Finally, they approached the attitude to technology within schools, rather than discouraging children from carrying phones in school, insisting they are turned off at the beginning of the day, teachers need to begin seeing smart phones as tools that can be used for learning and collaboration, skills desperately need.

 

Panel discussion focusing on Digital mindset – Focus on entrepreneurship, skills and jobs

Kathryn Parsons, young woman innovator, Founder of “decoded”, runs a school where people can come and learn coding in a single day. Coding, she says, is something people can do, though there is obviously varying natural abilities and therefore results. The problem lies in the fear of coding, no matter what age or background the individual comes from there is the same fear, people believe it is something beyond them, which is just not the case.

Mercedes Diaz Sanchez, co-founder of ZenDigital and Women 2020, fears that too much of a focus is put on helping the young in to ICT careers and sees the gender divide as something we need to take action on. Women are more risk averse, according to Sanchez, but rather than using that as an excuse to exclude women from the ICT community, new business models need to be formed, that take advantage of the different ways people do things and the broad spectrum of outlooks. An area of talent she feels is extremely ignored is that of older women, particularly those wishing to come back in to work after a long period, older generations have a wealth of knowledge that can be unlocked by learning a new skillset.

Jerry Kennelly, CEO and founder of http://tweak.com, conversely felt that we needed to accept that ICT was a young persons game, because of the speed and difficulty of the tasks involved. Kennelly saw the main problem as being education, while the opportunities for the tech industry is there the education system is disconnected and people are not taking the courses and learning the skills they need. Every job in the future is going to have an IT aspect and, according to Kennelly, Ireland and much of Europe is very behind in the game. Kennelly was keen to point out that they ‘don’t hire men or women, we hire people’.

Mike Devane, chairman of Smartbay, disagreed with many of the panel that education is the major issue, he feels the education is there but those with the skills are leaving the country and leaving the EU as they don’t see the opportunities and support they need here.


Closing

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