G20 Innovation League must put ‘people at the centre of digitalisation’

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio. Photo credit: Louise Nimmo

 SORRENTO - The pearl of the Tyrrhenian Sea hosted the very first G20 Innovation League on Sunday - a competition for innovative startups from across the world preceding the G20 Summit in Rome Oct 30-31. Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio was present throughout, and in his speech lauded Italy’s role as a “global driver of innovation”, while José Ángel Gurría Treviño - former Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico - pressed that technological innovation must “put people back at the centre of digitalisation.” 

 The 100 startups, 56 of whom attended in person, were split into five categories - Artificial Intelligence (AI), Smart Cities & Mobility, CleanTech, the Internet of Things (IoT) & Wearables, and Healthcare. Each category had a dedicated venue where the relevant startups and interested investors gathered for the day. The startups were allotted five minutes to present their company to the room and at the end of the day the venture capitalists voted for their favourite - via an app, naturally.

 After the presentations, all participants gathered back in the Tasso Communal Theatre to hear the winners - a first and second prize for each category. As well as a plaque, each winner also received a hand-thrown Sorrento plate decorated with painted lemons.

 In CleanTech, Russian startup Biomicrogels Group won first prize for their breakthrough technology for cleaning water. After having narrowly missed out on an award at Horizon 2020, the company’s director Alexander Khomik was elated, commenting “it is very hard to attract foreign investment as a startup in Russia” - something he hopes will change in the future.

 It was also a Russian startup that took home first prize in the AI category - Ntechlab. This new company has developed facial and vehicular recognition algorithms that are record-breaking in terms of both speed and accuracy.

 An Italian startup, Zerynth, won second most votes in the IoT and Wearables category. Their IoT platform is an 'ecosystem' of hardware-software tools which optimizes industrial processes, energy consumption, predictive maintenance, and the retrofit of industrial machines. The winner in this category was Poka, from Canada, which they describe as "Facebook for factories" - a communication system for industries to use.

 Indonesian company Nalagenetics came top in the Healthcare section, having created a customized prescription platform to offer tailor-made solutions according to the different needs of doctors, patients, and laboratories.

 In the Smart Cities and Mobility category, French startup Virtuo Technology took home the gold with their eco-friendly “car streaming” rental service. In the words of co-founder Karim Kaddoura, “streaming – you want it, you click it, you have it. Why wouldn’t you stream cars too? Car ownership will be the exception, this will be the norm.”

 “We owe it to ourselves, to the cities and to the planet,” he summarised, in a phrase that could apply to the green revolution in general.

 Weaving through all the excited talk about new technologies and ideas about how we as humans will shape the future, there was a thread of awareness of the dangers of this increasingly digitalised era.

 Treviño emphasised, going forward new technology should be “all about creating wellbeing. If it’s not about wellbeing, it’s not worth the paper it is written on.”

 Vittorio Bonori (Expert Partner of Bain & Company and host of the Artificial Intelligence category) said he is certain “AI will bring amazing success and innovation in our lives" and posed the following question to everyone present, “should data scientists embrace the Hippocratic Oath like doctors?” 

Brian Collie (Global Leader for Automotive & Mobility, Boston Consulting Group and the event's Smart Cities & Mobility presenter) cautioned we “can’t underestimate the threat of unintended consequences,” while Tim Good (Managing Director at Accenture) said his company's research had found little over half of employees feel that their companies leave them better off.

 "Workers and consumers alike are demanding a new type of leadership," affirms Good. "Trust and a sense of safety are critical for a thriving organisation. Every leader, when digitally transforming their organisation, should ask – are they putting people at the centre?" He said companies will need to "transform from economic institutions to a tone that is human-centred.”

 After the prize-giving and speeches, we heard from the official representative of the G20 incoming Indonesian Presidency, Semuel Pengerapan. He spoke via livestream from Bali, where next year’s summit will take place, with the intention to “uphold the high standard that the Italian Presidency has set on this event.” Pengerapan spoke of "a new partnership" between the two countries and said if we "recover together, we recover stronger."

 To offer final remarks about the event, the Italian Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Manlio Di Stefano gave a cheerful speech. "In last couple of days, a lively and exciting atmosphere has characterised Sorrento,” he said. "This flow of ideas will contribute to the search for innovate solutions to global challenges.”