Women entrepreneurs scoop two of three IST grand prizes

April 28, 2005

Brussels, Apr 2005

Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding declared herself surprised but very pleased that female innovators stole the limelight at the 2005 Information Society Technologies (IST) Prize award ceremony in Brussels on 26 April.

Two of the three Grand Prizes were awarded to teams headed by women, and the Commissioner was quick to recruit both as ambassadors for her campaign to encourage increased female participation in science and technology.

'It is a big surprise,' Ms Reding told CORDIS News, 'because not two days ago I was having discussions with my civil servants about organising an event to show women in Europe that science and technology is for them too.'

The first person called on to accept a Grand Prize and a cheque for 200,000 euro was Stina Ehrensvärd, whose company Cypak, a Swedish SME, was recognised for its 'PIN-on-Card' technology. The card is designed to increase personal data security, particularly when online, by moving sensitive information out of the computer, where passwords entered on a standard keyboard are vulnerable to being copied.

Cypak has achieved this by integrating a microcontroller and numeric keypad into a smart card, which is connected to a computer via a reading device. Rather than storing sensitive data such as PIN numbers, secret keys and other personal information on the computer, it is digitally encrypted in the card, where it cannot be copied or spied upon.

This was the second time Cypak has taken top honours, having first won the prize in 1999. Ms Ehrensvärd told CORDIS News: 'The company would probably not exist if not for the IST Prize. The 1999 award was the first seed capital that we received, and it remains very difficult to find seed funding in Europe.'

'Of course I care about the money and the PR, but as an innovator, winning the prize is also a real morale boost,' she continued. 'It's a constant struggle [being an innovator], a lot like being an artist, and these achievements really give us a boost. We need encouragement - without it we would just give up and simply stop innovating.'

The second woman invited on stage was Marie de La Simone, who accepted the Grand Prize on behalf of French company PRAXIM medivision for its SURGETICS Kneelogics Application. This system allows surgeons to precisely plan surgical procedures such as knee implants and anterior cruciate ligament position by combining relevant anatomical patient data with pre-operative statistical knowledge. Not only is surgical planning therefore fully adapted to a patient's particular anatomy, but the system also helps surgeons to perform operations as specified during the planning stage using highly accurate sensor-based guidance, resulting in less invasive procedures.

Ms de La Simone thanked the IST Prize Grand Jury for their recognition, and paid tribute to the large team of researchers, scientists, surgeons and marketing executives that had made the product a commercial reality. 'I would also like to thank the Commission for its help and support during various framework programmes, which made this all possible,' she concluded.

The last prize went to another French company, Let It Wave, for their innovative photo compression software CodecID. This product has improved photo ID compression rates by a factor three, as a result of which encrypted photos can be stored on contact-less chips and embedded in ID cards such as driving licences and passports. Encrypted digital photos cannot be forged, providing much higher security levels than printed photos.

Accepting the award on behalf of Let It Wave was Thierry Maupetit, who said: 'I'd like to thank the Commission, especially as Let It Wave was basically a crazy idea to transform a theorem into an application. We're here today because we have a great research community in fundamental mathematics around us, and I hope that Europe will continue to be generous to fundamental research and encourage linkages between scientists and industry.'

In response, Ms Reding said: 'I can assure the winner that we will continue to invest in both these areas, as both are essential for winning the competitiveness race.' Earlier, the Commissioner had touched upon the wider political context within which initiatives such as the IST Prize should be viewed. Whilst emphasising that Europe has many reasons to be proud, given its global leadership in sectors such as aeronautics and mobile telephony, Ms Reding warned that Europeans are less successful in information and communication technologies (ICTs).

'ICTs play a key role in creating growth and jobs. They are enabling technologies that underpin innovation and are responsible for 50 per cent of all productivity growth in the economy. It is therefore essential that ICTs are refocused in the new Lisbon strategy,' the Commissioner said.

Another speaker held up the IST Prize as an example of how to get things done under the relaunched Lisbon agenda - with small-scale initiatives having a big effect. Ms Reding concluded by adding: 'The IST Prize is valuable for giving recognition and support to innovators and potential market leaders of the future, and that's why the Commission continues to lend its full support.'
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CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities
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