DIGITAL SME Blockchain Summit 2020: Europe is well-positioned to lead the global race for blockchain (event report)

  • On 14 October, DIGITAL SME hosted the Blockchain Summit 2020, a virtual conference that brought together policymakers, business associations, researchers, and entrepreneurs to discuss the potential of blockchain for European SMEs

  • Participants agreed that Europe can assume a leading role in this emerging technology which can increase trust and thus provide new cross-border business opportunities for SMEs on the Digital Single Market and beyond

  • A common European approach, including regulatory sandboxes, harmonised infrastructure and standards as well as skills and more public funding for R&D, can help make blockchain a success across Europe

  • DIGITAL SME announced the creation of a blockchain task force for SMEs which are actively using and innovating in DLTs, with the goal of shaping blockchain policies in Europe to benefit smaller players across different sectors

“Blockchain is more than a technology. In a way, it is a philosophy and an approach”, said Peteris Zilgalvis, Head of Unit for Digital Innovation and Blockchain at DG CONNECT. These words resonated with the remarkably diverse panels for the inaugural Blockchain Summit 2020, which represented different organisations, sectors, and geographies. For although blockchain is often associated with cryptocurrencies, the technology has broad applications from e-Identification, to logistics, to agriculture and more.

The goal of the summit was to capture the enormous potential of blockchain for European SMEs in different contexts—and what is needed from European policymakers to move from potential to adoption.

MEP Virkkunen calls for more investments, regulatory sandbox for blockchain

After an introduction by Secretary-General Sebastiano Toffaletti, MEP Henna Virkkunen from the EPP, who is a member of the ITRE Committee, delivered the keynote speech. MEP Virkkunen emphasised the importance of digital SMEs who “act as catalysts and enablers of digital transformation and create new jobs”—if not hindered by overregulation. “When we want to boost innovation, we shouldn’t set up more barriers”, said Virkkunen before proposing to work towards a pan-European regulatory sandbox for blockchain and other emerging technologies. She also stressed the need for much higher investments in research and innovation by the EU and member states, calling the EU investment percentage of GDP in comparison to the US, China, and Japan “very alarming”.

In the first panel, Peteris Zilgalvis introduced the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum as well as the European Blockchain Partnership (EBP), which was created by member states to deploy a blockchain services infrastructure poised to go live next year. The EBP, remarked Mr Zilgalvis, would also serve as a regulatory sandbox. He also mentioned that his unit at the European Commission was working with standardisation organisations to ensure that European values and privacy laws are reflected in global blockchain standards.

Marco Bianchini from the OECD then introduced the Global Blockchain Policy Centre and his research into blockchain adoption in two different countries: Italy, where the technology was mainly used in agrifood, industry, and logistics, and Israel, where the focus was on ICT backbone infrastructure and cybersecurity. This highlighted once more the versatility of blockchain, and the importance of directing public support initiatives toward already existing, successful ecosystems. At the same time, it is critical to develop the necessary digital skills to meaningfully implement blockchain solutions.

The first panel also featured two blockchain experts from members of the DIGITAL SME family. Petko Karamotchev, (3B ICT Network) and Nadia Fabrizio (Italian DIGITAL SME Alliance) offered valuable insights from their respective entrepreneurial contexts, emphasising the value of decentralised governance offered by blockchain. Ms Fabrizio said, “The ideas have to come from SMEs, but governments need to fill two important gaps”, referring to digital skills and funding.

The real value of blockchain lies beyond the buzzword

Panel two, which was moderated by Dr Tjerk Timan from TNO, offered even more entrepreneurial insights. Margherita Leder from Italia4Blockchain (a member of the Italian Digital SME Alliance) mentioned the importance of understanding the underlying technology, both for entrepreneurs and policymakers. Yanis Kyriakides, who is an entrepreneur and a member of DIGITAL SME’s Belgian member AGORIA, emphasised the element of trust that blockchain brings to the table as very beneficial for SMEs engaging in cross-border sales. According to him, blockchain will also speed up the digitalisation of SMEs and enable collaboration in an open ecosystem while maintaining control over their data.

This idea was shared by Dr Giacomo Benvenuti as well. Dr Benvenuti focused on the value of physical and virtual identity, which blockchain can help to verify and facilitate, and presented his company 3D-Oxides’ business model for object identity (3D-Oxides is a member of DIGITAL SME France). Finally, Jean-Luc Verhelst from the HIVE Blockchain Society outlined a few practical examples of blockchain applications to benefit SMEs and ecosystems, including securities verification for cross-border trade. He stressed that blockchain is all about creating an ecosystem of trusted partners and stakeholders but admits that the “big potential of blockchain is still in the future.”

DIGITAL SME will continue building a strong blockchain portfolio

As announced in Secretary-General Toffaletti’s remarks, DIGITAL SME will continue to bring the benefits of blockchain to its members by establishing a Blockchain Task Force and organising more events and initiatives around this emerging technology.

If you are interested in participating in the task force and you are part of DIGITAL SME’s network, you can apply here. You can also follow blockchain-related updates from DIGITAL SME by ticking “blockchain” in our newsletter & email update form.