Senior Fellow, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
The Kauffman Foundation recently began an initiative to reach out to European
foundations active in entrepreneurship and innovation to learn about approaches
being taken in Europe, as well as to provide a forum for discussing and sharing
experiences to encourage further development of these activities. A briefing
meeting featuring the work of several foundations was held in Istanbul, Turkey,
in May 2008, prior to the start of the European Foundation Centre Annual General
Assembly as a follow-up to an EFC meeting the Kauffman Foundation sponsored a
year earlier in Madrid. The 2008 meeting generated a high level of interest and
was well-attended by foundations from across Europe. Plans for further and more
in-depth meetings are already in place.
Many foundations in Europe were established centuries ago. The European
foundation sector is quite diverse, with many types of organizations that are
collectively called "foundations," but that differ dramatically in their foci,
relationship to other entities, management, and functions.
Significant changes are under way in the European foundation world both in
terms of the roles they play and the methods they apply. Many foundations have
become increasingly active in seeking new, innovative approaches to fulfilling
their missions. At the same time, they are becoming more rigorous in the
methodologies used to identify, implement, and evaluate programs, as well as
more proactive in communicating about the goals and results of their work.
The independence of foundations gives them the unique potential to adopt
fresh approaches. However, this role also needs to be highlighted, as the
function of foundations is not currently well understood in Europe, where the
rules and regulations for foundations have varied widely in the past (although
there is a movement to converge toward more common standards).
Foundations play an important role at the local and national levels, but they
also have a tremendous opportunity to work in partnership with other foundations
on projects addressing global issues of mutual interest. The Kauffman
Foundation’s initiative to create a forum to bring together foundations
conducting work in entrepreneurship and innovation therefore appears to be
European Foundations Active in Entrepreneurship and/or Innovation
Promoting entrepreneurship is currently a niche topic for European foundation
work, but one that has clear potential for development, given the growing
importance of this issue and the political climate in Europe. However, to date,
only a handful of European foundations have been active in this area.
For this essay, I interviewed individuals at three leading foundations in
Europe that have been active in these areas. Following are the highlights from
The Wellcome Trust, United Kingdom
Ted Bianco, Ph.D., Director, Technology Transfer
Glenn Wells, Ph.D., Manager, Business Development
What is the focus of The Wellcome Trust?
We are an independent charity funding research to improve human and animal
health. Established in 1936 and with an endowment of around £15 billion, we are
the UK’s largest non-governmental source of funds for biomedical research,
spending about £650 million every year, both in the UK and internationally. As
well as tackling immediate priorities, our independence and long-term
perspective enable us to support research that will benefit future generations.
We seek to improve understanding of the ways in which science and medicine have
developed as well as how research affects people and society today.
Tell me about your support of translational research.
The Wellcome Trust is a committed funder of translational research, the
process by which innovations are translated into new health products. We hope to
help bridge the gap between fundamental research and commercial application by
funding applied research and development projects to a stage where they are
attractive to a follow-on funder, such as venture capital firms, industry, and
public-private partnerships. Current highlight areas are medical engineering and
fighting microbial disease. Other funding areas include diagnostics, enabling
technology, regenerative medicine, therapeutics, vaccine, and medical devices.
Our work in this area takes shape in three primary ways: First, through
translation awards—funding for applied research and development projects to
address an unmet need in health care; second, by seeding drug discovery, where
we work to facilitate early-stage, small-molecule drug discovery research; and
third, through strategic translation awards, where we apply translational
research funding in areas of strategic importance.
What do you hope to accomplish?
Quite simply, to develop output, in the form of products, for the benefit of
Are there plans for further work in these areas in the future?
Yes. In fact, we plan to significantly increase the annual spending for the
technology transfer division for the next five years. The Wellcome Trust has
embraced the need for this work to foster innovation in health care and sees it
as an important part of our mission.
Bertelsmann Foundation, Germany
Björn Hekman, Ph.D., Project Manager, Youth and Work
What is the background of the Foundation?
In keeping with the longstanding social commitment of our founder, Reinhard
Mohn, the Bertelsmann Stiftung is dedicated to serving the common good. Our work
is based on the conviction that competition and civic engagement are essential
for social progress. In accordance with our articles of incorporation, we
function exclusively as a private operating foundation, carrying out our own
project work. We do not make grants or support third-party projects.
You are quite involved in promoting a more entrepreneurially minded culture
among Germany’s youth.
Indeed. We seek to identify social challenges at an early stage, and to
develop and implement models to meet those challenges. With these goals in mind,
we have examined the issue of youth entrepreneurship from two different
First is our Youth Entrepreneurship Barometer. In a nationwide telephone
survey, 1,500 young people in Germany between the ages of fifteen and twenty
were asked more than fifty questions about their views of entrepreneurs, whether
they would be willing to go into business for themselves, and what they would
find appealing about doing so (as well as what might keep them from choosing
that path). The Youth Entrepreneurship Barometer also surveyed teachers to
determine the extent to which this topic is already being addressed in schools
today and whether it needs to be integrated more fully into the curriculum. This
represents the first time that an empirical study has provided comprehensive
documentation of current attitudes of young people in Germany toward
Second is our international comparative study on youth entrepreneurship
policy. Through this study, we will identify international best practices in the
field of youth entrepreneurship policy in both European and non-European
countries—best practices that are effective over the long term, integrated into
the respective country’s system, and applicable to other contexts. The aim is to
identify countries that have succeeded in achieving significant results by
pursuing a concerted, holistic youth entrepreneurship policy. The results of
this study will be available in the fall of 2008.
What are the outcomes you seek from this work?
We know that Germany needs to better promote a culture of entrepreneurship
and innovation. The youth study and the international comparison of youth
entrepreneurship policy constitute valuable tools for researchers and
policymakers to use in identifying areas that require action. The surveys fill
in significant gaps in our knowledge of that "black box" known as youth
The Bertelsmann Stiftung intends to continue its work on the topic of youth
entrepreneurship. Based on the surveys that have been conducted, recommendations
for a successful youth entrepreneurship policy will be formulated and
discussions will be held with responsible representatives of the political and
business communities on how best to implement that policy.
Cariplo Foundation, Italy
Carlo Mango, Ph.D., Director, Scientific Research
Tell me about the Cariplo Foundation.
Fondazione Cariplo was established in 1991 to manage the assets gathered for
more than 180 years by Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde and to carry
on its long-standing philanthropic tradition. Our mission, role, and operational
strategy reinforce the profile of a foundation that anticipates emerging
needs—or selects deep-seated yet still unmet needs—tries new solutions to
respond more effectively and for less cost, and ultimately, disseminates
successful solutions. With assets of more than €7 billion, our Foundation is a
modern organization with specific operational strategies, staffed with young,
specialized personnel, equipped with the structures and the tools suitable to
implement modern philanthropy initiatives, and to give ideas a future.
What are a few ways in which Cariplo has been active in accelerating
entrepreneurship and innovation?
We have two initiatives focused on promoting technology acceleration and
commercialization. First is our Incubator/Enterprise Accelerator, which is part
of our traditional grantmaking activities. As part of this program, €8 million
has been allocated through a public/private partnership (with the largest bank
in Italy and the state university of Milan) for an incubator/accelerator of
science- and technology-based startup businesses.
The second is our Technology Transfer Venture Fund, which falls under our
"mission connected investment" strategy. This is a closed-end fund dedicated to
technology transfer with a commercial approach. The fund invests in seed,
startup, and growth projects in Italy in biomedicine, materials science,
agro-food, energy, and environmental technologies. It was started in October
2007 with a €10 million investment from Cariplo. An additional amount of €60
million has been raised from six other banking foundations in a collaborative
How will you know if these programs are working?
For the Incubator/Enterprise Accelerator, the outcomes will be measured by
the attractiveness and number of businesses in the accelerator, as well as the
value generated (economic and social). For the TT Venture Fund, the primary
measure will be return on investment, although other "side effects" (both
economic and social) will be evaluated as well.
Any plans on the horizon in these areas?
Our focus right now is on these two relatively new and large programs. We
also have undertaken an initiative in biomedicine with the faculty of medicine
at the state university of Milan, and we are extending this approach to other
disciplines, faculties, and universities. We will plan to launch other related
initiatives in the future.