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Together with two of my ERRIN Board Members, Sylvia Schreiber of Stuttgart Region and Valentina Pinna of the Lombardy Region Chamber of Commerce, I had the pleasure to participate at a Pro Inno Workshop focusing on their new Partnering Forum Initiative to be launched this summer. The meeting took place in Rotterdam on 12 May. As ERRIN, we are looking forward to this new initiative, for which a call had been launched earlier this year.

Why? Because we believe that, if well managed and supported by the major European networks, which should be involved in its Reflection Group, it will make a difference in innovation support across Europe. The focus will be not on good old networking but on building partnerships between innovation agencies across Europe to mainstream and roll out successful innovation support as widely as possible. While national innovation agencies will certainly have an important steering role to play, it seems to us that the regions are really in the pole position on that front and that building and upgrading regional innovation-friendly environments is the key to mastering the crisis and getting Europe back on track.

So what did I learn there or better, what is it I want to share with you (it is rather a “ceterum censeo”)? Lacking the time to write a comprehensive article let me put it in some bullet points, quoting freely from some of what’s been said there:

  • Innovation is important for places as much as people. The competition is fierce. It is important to keep improving yourself to stay ahead of the game. In this crisis we should not fall prey to mercantilist thinking but reaffirm our commitment to the benefits of an open economy and the EU Internal Market, while staying focused on the long-term objectives and making a reality of the Lisbon Agenda.
  • One very pragmatic measure: To counter the loss of brainpower due to the sizing down of companies’ R&D spending, the Dutch government has introduced an initiative that allows private companies to place their R&D staff into public R&D organisations, whereby 50% of their salaries are covered by the government.
  • More traditional programmes focusing on the high-tech sectors should be complemented by societal innovation agendas, e.g. to address skills shortages. The public sector should be leading to boost this completely new area of innovation to be developed.
  • The new European Innovation Plan and the Post-Lisbon agenda currently being developed should much more strongly address the knowledge triangle and these new forms of innovation. Here cooperation should become more and more important, stimulating trans-national learning through Knowledge Transfer. We should involve industry in the development of solutions and work with industry in a more structured way.
  • Surprisingly, according to a new DG ENT survey, most companies do not believe innovation support is instrumental for their success in the market.
  • Unfortunately the predominant mode in the MS is on damage limitation, on pumping money into the economy to save what has to be saved, instead of righting the system. Since the EU has very scarce resources to commit compared to the MS, EU focus should be systemic, rather than on traditional industrial policy.
  • Concerning the Lisbon target of 3% GDP for research, the best we can achieve is to maintain the current level. The only good news about the current crisis is that we will achieve this objective much more easily, since we we cannot scale down fast enough as the economy shrinks ?.
    In the current climate, improving the framework and address systemic market failure, shaping better policies and developing the right visions for the future, is a hard sell and is increasingly coming under pressure.
  • The new generation of Pro Inno Europe, will focus more on societal needs. In particular in the field of eco-innovation, services (knowledge economy, creative industry) and eco-systems/clusters. The new Inno Nets will also need to be more open and inclusive (something we support strongly at ERRIN, the club-like mentality of the old initiatives needs to be overcome to have a wider impact and visibility across Europe) and deliver policy objectives and better results boosting excellence and competitiveness. It will employ the Method of Open Coordination and aim to bring regions, MS and European actors closer together.
  • The current downturn forces companies to rethink their strategies. They are more and more opening up their internal R&D to outside forces (see our ERRIN conference on “Regions as Catalysts for Open Innovation” on 11 June ). Companies are more and more willing to really open up, share the costs as well as the profits from innovation, the system is becoming more fluid and open. More hybrid organisations are coming up.
  • Open Innovation companies function like banks in the system. They take care of the flow of innovative ideas between companies. We also see this development in the physical infrastructure. Campuses, Research Organisations and Companies are more and more co-locating, students just have to cross the street to meet their future employers. All these worlds come together. This happens in Delft, Uitrecht, Eindhoven, and across the border in Aachen and in Leuven.
  • Focusing on clusters is important but not sufficient, we have to establish the right eco-systems, as they do in Finnland, for instance, covering the entire innovation value chain. But we also have to innovate the way we work in government, and above all, bring about a cultural change in stimulating more entrepreneurship. In our education systems we can no longer be satisfied with educating technicians, we want them to be entrepreneurs to start something new. We have to turn out schools around, starting with the very young, this will take time but will eventually pay off. In Europe, different from the US, we don’t have foundations such as the Kaufmann foundation that helps students become entrepreneurs. We need some kind of European Entrepreneurship Academy.
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