iCapital contest will soon reveal European Capital of Innovation for 2016

The European Commission likes to reward innovation.

So, EC officials are launching a second European Capital of Innovation Award … an even more ambitious edition for 2016.

Sometime in the next few weeks, ECIA 2.0 will celebrate the European city which is building the best “innovation ecosystem”- connecting citizens, public organizations, academia, and business – “with a view to helping the city scale up its efforts in this field,” according to an EC news release.


Xavier Trias (on the left), Mayor of Barcelona, receiving the Award from European Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

The awards are significant – at least enough to start a city-sponsored startup accelerator or iHub, or to make upgrades in, say, a city’s connectivity. The European Capital of Innovation 2016 will receive 950,000 euros, up 80 percent from the original 500,000 euro award in 2014.

The runner up will receive 100,000 euros and the No. 3-ranked city will receive 50,000 euros, according to the release.

Applicant cities will be judged by an independent panel of experts on how on-going and future initiatives create the right environment to innovate. Evaluations will be for innovations they have already taken since 1 January 2012, as well as their ideas to enhance innovative capacity in the future.

The three winners will be announced in early 2016.

 The contest is open to cities:

  • which have more than 100,000 inhabitants. In countries where there is no city with more than 100,000 inhabitants, the largest city is eligible to apply.
  • from EU Member States and countries associated to Horizon 2020, the European research and innovation program.

Fifty-eight cities from all over Europe applied to become the first European Capital of Innovation.

Barcelona took the title “for introducing the use of new technologies to bring the city closer to citizens,” according to the release. Barcelona was chosen in a close competition with Grenoble and Groningen, with the title awarded at the Innovation Convention in March 2014.

Barcelona is using the 500,000 prize “to scale up and expand Barcelona’s efforts on innovation.” Not sure exactly what that means.

But media reports at the time stated Barcelona won based on 2011 open data initiatives, “offering valuable information to individuals and private companies”; sustainable city growth initiatives on smart lighting, mobility and residual energy as well as social innovations. The aim was to provide ‘smart services’ in a flexible and continuous way through information and communications technology “to launch innovation in different areas of the city.”

As a tech startup, we tend to view “innovation” in terms of technology. As Americans, we tend to measure such efforts against innovation centers in the U.S. such as the Silicon Valley area, Boston, New York or Austin. So that would mean establishing accelerators or extending infrastructure such as fiber-optic Internet connections.

But the description from the lengthy rules for the European Capital of Innovation 2016 is pretty vague:

The award considers the city as a holistic system, including built environment, municipal authorities and citizens, organizations and public structures as a platform facilitating growth and developing creativity and innovation in its different meanings …. It will aim to provide European level recognition to those cities that make the most to promote innovation within their communities and thereby improve the quality of their citizens’ lives. It will address the challenge of fostering innovation through actions at city level, by acknowledging innovative solutions to build up an innovation ecosystem and ideas to further expand and scale up these initiatives, thereby leveraging and inducing further systemic innovation in cities.


You can read all the rules here. Entries closed last November.

Background (from the EC):

More than 70 percent of the EU population lives in urban areas. Through its research, innovation and regional policies, the EU has been promoting smart and sustainable urban development. The European Commission has created the European Capital of Innovation award to acknowledge the role of cities as places of systemic innovation, with a capacity to connect people, places, public and private actors.




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