€200k for Europe’s brightest ideas

A digital travel platform for deaf people, an incubation programme for entrepreneurs and a mobile careers service took home the top prizes of €50,000 each last week, in the final round of the European Social Innovation Competition.

The three winners saw off competition from over 700 entries, in a contest open to anyone with ideas in 28 EU member states plus 16 additional countries. 

An initiative of the European Commission, the European Social Innovation Competition recognises the most innovative ideas addressing social issues on a specific theme each year. This year the search was for community-based initiatives that promote jobs and opportunities for young people, with a particular interest in making use of new technologies and new ways of working.

As well as creating real value for young people and demonstrating innovation, the winning ideas needed to have been tested among users and show potential to grow into a sustainable business model.

Youth unemployment figures tend to be much higher than for the general adult population, while more and more young people are starting their working lives in short-term or casual jobs.

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, said this year’s winners are “creating opportunities where most only see challenges”, and that their projects are “empowering youth in shaping a better future for themselves, their communities and Europe at large”.

And the winners are...

Ulisse, from Italy, is the first European digital platform to create and market local travel experiences and holidays designed by deaf people, for deaf people. It aims to promote employment of young deaf people through tourism as well as to encourage international sign language education.

HeritageLab, in Slovenia, teaches innovation to young people in small towns. By connecting local heritage institutions and young innovators of diverse backgrounds, it provides a structured incubation programme with business and specialist mentorships, training and testing for creating new businesses, job opportunities and innovations in the heritage sector. The project is still in proof-of-concept phase, but the team hope to implement it across Europe. 

Career Bus, in Romania, was set up by two NGOs to bring careers guidance to young people in remote areas. Starting its first tour this month, the bus will be an interactive space, kitted out with educational board games, career guides and virtual reality sets targeting 14-19 year-olds.

Each year the Social Innovation Competition jury also selects one semi-finalist from the previous year who has shown the most impact in the last 12 months. 

The 2018 Impact Prize (worth €50,000) was awarded to Mouse4All in Spain, which makes smartphones and tablets accessible to the millions of people worldwide whose severe physical disabilities prevent them from using touchscreens. Mouse4All was launched commercially in Spain in 2017 and is now selling products in the UK, Canada and the US. 

The prizewinners were announced at an awards ceremony in Brussels last week. The ceremony followed a funders’ fair which introduced all ten finalists and an additional 20 semi-finalists to potential investors. Finalists were also invited to pitch their project to the audience.