OPINION

The Innovation Scoreboard - plotting a pathway to the future

March saw the publication of the latest innovation scoreboard. ‘More stats!’ I hear you groan, but this is important reading for researchers, businesses and governments in biotech. It tells you where the innovation leaders and followers are, as well as informing you about changes in performance over time.

Unsurprisingly, the innovation leaders are Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Finland – countries that have long looked far ahead when planning strategy, and that have a strong national innovation focus. They don’t leave it to market forces to stimulate growth. Instead, they continue to innovate strongly in research and business, and the rankings are similar to previous reports. The innovation followers are Europe’s mid-table performers: the UK, France, Belgium, etc. Estonia and Slovenia signal a newer EU27 presence. These countries have varying strategies, as well as very different sizes and histories. They’re doing just fine in mid-table, with strengths and weaknesses in different parts of the economy.

Moderate innovators include Europe’s old school countries such as Spain, Portugal, and many of the newer EU27 members (Hungary and the Czech Republic jump out at you), as well as a ‘plummeting’ Greece (their words not mine). Modest (such a polite term) innovators bring in the final few stragglers, among them Romania, Bulgaria and Poland. So why is this important? You could probably guess without this report where countries score on innovation in research and business. It’s the figures behind the headlines that make for interesting reading.

A key comment was that declining innovation investment was linked to short-term decision making. Positive growth was linked to decisions made and stuck to. This is a key earning point for governments planning their life sciences strategy. Aim high, and stick to it. You give confidence to investors, researchers and companies when you plan 20 years ahead, and that’s repaid with skilled personnel, entrepreneurial SMEs and stable investment. In a sector like life sciences, only governments can create stable, long-term infrastructure for high-risk activities to take place and business to grow.

The headlines also hide the fact that innovation convergence between countries has pretty much stopped, which is a worry for the European project. After all, we are supposed to work together to bring everybody to the same level. There is a lot of pressure on national budgets, and those countries suffering the most are radically cutting their ability to innovate – and thus their ability to grow – over the long term. This means that you need to think beyond borders in supporting innovation. Disabling innovation elsewhere will also impact on you. So in the innovation race, there are two key lessons to learn for the life sciences: think big and plan long-term for innovation – while remembering that we have to innovate to survive. Help your neighbours in Europe to enable, not disable, their innovation systems.