Trends in Innovation from Young European Leaders
The Young Transatlantic Innovative Leaders Initiative (YTILI) Fellowship program, implemented by GMF in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, selects young European and Eurasian entrepreneurs and innovators and over the course of one year provides them the tools, networks, and resources they need to turn ideas into action and grow successful enterprises. Fellows are carefully placed with organizations and mentors for a 10-day immersion that can directly support their growth as entrepreneurs and make important connections that would allow them to expand in their home countries and possibly in the United States.
Over the past year, I have conducted in-person pitch coaching and marketing webinars for these fellows and in the process gotten to know a lot about them and their businesses. They are a great group to work with — smart, curious, open to feedback, and optimistic about the future, a refreshing outlook in a world often dominated by alarming headlines. This year’s ideas reflected the rise of social enterprises, the ubiquity of technology, and the important role entrepreneurs can play in lifting up their communities.
Creating “Blended Value” Organizations
What struck me most about the business ideas from fellows was that they were largely creating “blended value” social enterprises, meaning that while they are designed to generate revenue, the majority of them had missions that also addressed social and environmental challenges in their communities and the world — from hunger to melting glaciers to job training.
Jovana Bobić created an organization called FEED after noticing during her time studying in Denmark that several restaurants and grocery stores had signs in the windows stating times when people in need of food could come by to pick up extras they would otherwise have thrown out. She showed up at the appointed time to see what happened and was shocked to see so many people taking advantage of this. “If this was happening in a country like Denmark, I knew the need must be even greater in my home country of Serbia,” she said. Leveraging technology and relationships she began to build with local restaurant and nonprofits, Bobić created a web-based platform that connects food donors with organizations serving those in need, thereby feeding the hungry and reducing food waste.
Technology Drives Business
Nearly all YTILI Fellows leveraged technology in one way or another for their ventures. Whether incorporating artificial intelligence (AI), renewable energy sources, or STEM cell research, tech was a key ingredient for success.
Luka Mohorič, a biomedical researcher based in Slovenia, has a company called Animacel which is using STEM cells to help dogs heal from joint injuries. During his time in the United States he was able to meet with William Futrell, a prominent figure in STEM cell research and applications. I heard examples like this one time and time again about how relevant and valuable the connections YTILI made for these entrepreneurs were.
Two fellows, Lucia Gallíková and Berend Jan Kleute, are using tech to create sustainable energy sources. Gallíková has created a product called Chargebrella that allows you to recharge your electronic devices using either sunlight or light from a campfire. Jan Kleute’s organization, Bluerise, is working with tropical countries to harness the power of the ocean to create sustainable energy sources that reduces reliance on fossil fuels and reduces expenses for small island nations.
And others are using cutting edge AI technology to better predict their customers’ needs and patterns. Hungarian Kinga Jentetics, the chief executive officer of PublishDrive — a self-publishing platform — is working with her development team to use AI to improve search terms that will increase revenues for their authors. And Olly Paulovich, the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Snaptivity — a platform that captures exciting moments in stadium crowds — is incorporating IoT and AI to better predict which fans will erupt first and loudest as their favorite teams make the play.
Creating Jobs, Increasing Capacity
Others are looking at the economic and social needs of their communities and taking action. After moving from his home country of Estonia to the Ukraine, YTILI Fellow Uve Poom saw a disconnect between the needs of the job market for technical skills and an education system unable to keep up. Using his fundraising expertise combined with a background in education, Poom is helping to advance Beetroot Academy, which offers quick and inexpensive courses in the latest and most desirable technology skills. And it is working: 70 percent of Beetroot Academy’s graduates land a job in tech and they are expanding their offerings to increase this number.
And entrepreneur and PhD Christina Athanasopoulou has created an online resource for the public to access reliable health information by translating the work of academic researchers into easy-to-understand language and infographics. This is something Americans used to WebMD are familiar with, but she found this need largely unmet in parts of Europe.
Carrie Hutchison is an independent strategic marketing and communications consultant with nearly 20 years of experience in marketing programs, messaging, executive visibility, speechwriting, and event activation. Carrie has worked with executives at the National Geographic Society, National Geographic magazine, Calvert Impact Capital (formerly Calvert Foundation), Quantified Ventures, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, NPR affiliate WAMU, FINRA, and more to transform their stories into powerful communications that advance their missions and make positive change in the world.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.