The Cypriot startup, innovation and research ecosystem has grown considerably in recent years, according to Theodoros Loukaidis, the Director-General of the Cyprus Research and Innovation Foundation (RIF).

During an interview with the Cyprus News Agency (CNA), Loukaidis noted this development started taking place just before the pandemic, with the establishment of more universities and centres of excellence on the island.

In addition, he pointed out that this growth was facilitated by the support of the RIF and funding from highly competitive programmes by the European Commission.

Furthermore, he highlighted Cyprus’ recent success in securing a seventh centre of excellence under one of these programmes, which will focus on Renewable Energy Sources, a project which will receive co-funding from the Republic of Cyprus.

Loukaidis also mentioned the increase in research centres, organisations, and businesses in Cyprus in recent years. He emphasised that there is now a critical mass of innovative businesses, both startups and established enterprises, investing in research and innovation. These businesses, he stated, have received support from the Foundation and are now well-positioned and competitive in domestic and international markets, creating new job opportunities in the country.

“This is an ecosystem that has grown rapidly. RIF supports all these efforts, and the greatest achievement is that Cyprus, in the past two years, has been classified as a ‘strong innovator’ in the European Innovation Scoreboard. We aim not only to maintain our position but to further improve it,” Loukaidis remarked.

Regarding the response to current and past RIF programmes, Loukaidis mentioned that there has been a significant and expanding interest in these initiatives in recent years.

From 2016 to the present day, he noted that over a thousand proposals have been submitted and funded, totaling more than €148 million. He added that the distribution of funding was balanced, following a policy framework for the period 2021-2027, which focuses on five pillars: research, collaboration, knowledge transfer to the market, innovation, and the strengthening of structures and capabilities, along with internationalisation programmes.

Loukaidis highlighted the encouraging fact that there is now nearly a 50-50 distribution between research organisations and businesses, showcasing the high interest from the business sector. Approximately a thousand businesses, he added, are participating in RIF programmes.

“Our main challenge is to involve even more Cypriot businesses, encouraging them to engage in research and development,” Loukaidis noted.

He also mentioned that RIF has provided additional incentives for newcomers to enter this field, enabling them to become actively involved in research and innovation activities.

Asked about the sectors that have benefited the most from the foundation’s programmes in recent years, Loukaidis noted that the foundation’s programmes cover all technological areas and all innovative, disruptive, and new research outcomes.

However, he pointed out that regarding Cyprus’ ecosystem, there are particularly increased opportunities in the healthcare sector, which has absorbed a significant percentage of the total funding. Digital technologies, telecommunications, and information technology also have good prospects within the national ecosystem, as well as the agri-food sector, which has been evolving in recent years.

Maritime and defence industries also hold promise, he explained. Loukaidis emphasised that the foundation has recently initiated targeted programmes, one of which was in collaboration with the Ministry of Defense. This cooperation has resulted in a three-million-euro funding program, supporting seven projects that provide solutions to challenges faced by the Ministry of Defense.

Furthermore, Loukaidis mentioned that they have also strengthened the energy ecosystem with new funding programmes, which will be announced as part of “REPowerEU” under the National Recovery and Resilience Plan.

Regarding the connection between academic research and the market, Loukaidis mentioned that this is an area where the foundation has historically faced challenges and is trying to address them through specific programmes and knowledge transfer.

He explained that connecting the research sector with businesses and the productive base to enhance competitiveness and the country’s economy is a significant challenge. However, there are now examples of successful collaborations, increased partnerships, and networking between these entities in European contexts. They have managed to bring their knowledge into action and create innovative businesses with the foundation’s support.

Loukaidis mentioned that the Co-Develop programme provides opportunities for collaboration to find specific solutions to specific challenges in Cyprus that can also address corresponding challenges abroad.

Moreover, he highlighted individuals who left the academic sector, taking their knowledge and experiences with them, while maintaining their relationships and connections.

They have created innovative businesses supported by the foundation. In a very short period, about one and a half to two years, they have managed to attract private investment capital, launch products in the market, and generate their first revenues from such products.

He stressed that these businesses continue to receive support from the RIF, aiming to further develop and translate their knowledge into products and services in the market.

As for the challenges facing the national research and innovation system, Loukaidis mentioned the need to involve more Cypriot businesses in research and innovation, leveraging the high-quality knowledge produced by Cypriot research organisations, not only nationally but also internationally. This way, they can lead European programmes and participate in large research networks.

Finally, another challenge is making the benefits of research and innovation more apparent, as they offer multiple advantages. The foundation has recently initiated a series of educational activities to communicate these benefits through various events, both for newcomers and existing businesses. Their goal, he explained, is to address another challenge, which is the low innovation capacity of some businesses.