Innovation is a vital component of regional competitiveness and a key driver to help regions escape the current economic crisis. Innovative regions are also a key factor in attracting companies to locate in the EU. All the more reason for ERRIN, to explore new thinking on improving innovation processes and discuss how Open Innovation can strengthen regional research and innovation capacities.

At our conference last Thursday we had a fascinating debate about how regions can become key enablers for OI, which was highlighted by three exciting case studies from ERRIN members (West Midlands: Innovation Exchange Network, Tampere: Demola project, Stuttgart Region: Festo-Bionic Learning Network) selected from a large field of entries. A full conference report and the Power Points as well as a description of all the regional projects submitted for the conference will be made available soon on the ERRIN website.

For this blog, let me try to shortly sum up some key points made:

  • The trend towards Open Innovation and related science-industry cooperation models is irreversible. If the EU wants to become more dynamic and stay the number two in the world, we should be doing more of this.
  • One key insight is that those groups that collaborate do much better than those that do not cooperate. One clear advantage of OI is that it can lead from being “fragmented in the region to leading in Europe”.
  • Regions can play an important role in enabling OI, by raising awareness among its business community about its merits, potential business models and success stories from within the region and across Europe.
  • Regions can be the test bed for OI projects to validate the viability and usefulness of an innovation or technology in the local/regional context/market before rolling it out across wider markets.
  • Regions can provide match funding for risky R&D projects led by companies, whether from their own resources or by helping to open doors for EU funding.
  • Even more importantly regions can provide the political support and the interest of society deemed crucial by companies R&D manager to sell their OI projects to their CEOs, with risk-sharing being a big argument.
  • OI is not only for big companies, smaller teams of researchers from SMEs and Universities can have a hugely important role to play in well-defined projects. But regional governments and intermediaries can help to raise SME awareness and build capacity to become professional partners in OI.
  • OI is not about neutralising competition but is a new form of competition. For companies OI is about sharing but also about differentiating themselves in the market. In OI you are playing this competition as a cluster of partners rather than going it alone.
  • It is crucial to understand that with engaging in OI we enter mobility and people into the equation. Research cooperation has far too long been considered as a formal contractual relationship, however the informal dimension, the building of peer-to-peer networks was as important.
  • Universities have to understand that their research can no longer stay in the ivory tower but is part of an economic cycle. Their benefits in entering in these kind of OI relations is that it helps them to become more entrepreneurial, adds rigour and relevance to their research and provides benefits not only at the level of innovation but also at level of basic science. Universities need professional TTO (technical transfer) offices, which leads to entrepreneurial clusters within a region.
  • Open Innovation is not about ignoring IP it is about handling IP in a much more sophisticated manner, co-creating in partnerships between companies and between universities and companies, while sharing the benefits.
  • If regions want to be successful they should pay attention to critical mass of high quality research and have an integrated and professional approach and proper incentives in place. The University needs to be sufficiently enterprising.
  • Also the legal context is important. We should not stop the OI system at the boundaries of the region/country, which is often the case with cluster policy, but realize that we can aim much higher for our territories if we cooperate.
  • EU funding and technology platforms are important tools but less complexity and transparency of funding schemes are needed. Many of the EU’s funding schemes are overly complex, displaying differences of rules, which act as barriers and can slow down innovation projects. In the global market for innovations it is all about speed but it is also about recognizing the often lengthy gestation period for crucial innovations, so sustainability of efforts and not only one-off seed funding is needed.
  • In raising awareness on best practice in OI networks such as ERRIN have a key role to play but helping to create a global clearing-house on best practices could be a way the EU could add value to regional initiatives. Right now this kind of information is not easily available and too dispersed. At the same time longer-term support for creating bottom-up platforms was needed.
  • Regions have the opportunity for creating the necessary trust base for OI ventures. OI needs:

  • Wisdom and an orientation for learning, not sponge like, but critical, open-minded and benefit-oriented;
  • Enthusiasm and a courage of the vision and of the systems, which was part of what the regions will have to facilitate and do;
  • Humanity, with the ultimate goal of promoting well-being and working on solutions for the grand challenges our societies face;
  • Justice, transparency, fair dealing and good leadership for those principles,
  • Regulation and temperance, i.e. being cautious, but also
  • Humour and playfulness, which are important sources for creativity.
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