Compounding innovation with technology acquisition
Many companies in Europe owe some part of their product or idea's progress to the state – either in the form of an individual country's public sector (universities, research centres...etc.) or as an EU sponsored program or initiative.
From the ideation and research phases through prototyping to (early stage) funding, the public sector helps emerging companies along the different stages of the innovation process.
But when it comes to the final stage – that is exit – there are no state backed options.
The European Technology Acquisition and Operation Office
ETAO represents a concept for a public entity that offers startups a way to realise their aspired commercial success while helping the EU build and retain technology champions which increase its innovation/technological self determination capacity.
Established as a majority public – private institution, the office's main duties will be to acquire select companies and operate them according to European values of data protection and responsible technology while increasing shareholder value.
Having such structure in place will present (European) startups an opportunity to achieve a lucrative exit that many founders and leaders dream of when starting or joining a company. In addition to commercial success, companies can contribute to the goal set out by the European Commission of Making Europe Fit for a Digital Age.
High-Tech Gründerfonds is an example of a similar setup but in the funding stage. The Bonn based public-private investment capital offers startups a seed funding option on par with private venture capital firms. It is set up by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology and 39 industrial groups including Bosch, SAP and BASF and has to date funded almost 600 startups from a range of industries including cryptocurrency, industrial and life sciences.
The ETAO will operate in the stage following the funding stage by including professionals with successful entrepreneurial track records from the technology world (engineering, finance, design leaders and more) as well as civil society and political representatives who stand for public benefit.
Over the last three decades, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Apple acquired 770 companies in the fields of 5G connectivity, retail, big data, autonomous technologies, entertainment, robotics and more – a practice which also maintained its pace during the pandemic.
ETAO's hybrid team will do a unique due diligence by keeping the above values in mind so that a company can look beyond being acquired by the usual Big Tech companies.
Starting with an experiment
Starting lean would mean identifying critical technology areas where companies are growing much faster than national champions are being developed in Europe. As necessary as it would be to become the leader in cloud storage or telecommunication sector, such an acquisition will require huge sums of money as the average capitalisation of these companies is estimated in the $100s of billions.
Emerging areas that were identified by the EU commission – such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and critical chip technologies – is where the ETAO could prove successful.
While upcoming regulatory tools can help democratise markets and technology offerings, they might not be able to catch up with the speed of growth that emerging companies see. ETAO can usher a new way of approaching, retaining and growing technologies that can match European technology aspirations.