Boosting regional impact: The crucial role of interregional collaboration
Further interregional cooperation is essential to increase the impact of innovation in individual regions. That was the conclusion of the workshop organised by region East Netherlands together with the regions of Flanders, Catalonia and Baden-Württemberg during the European Week of Regions and Cities 2023 on Thursday 12 October. The workshop with the theme "Regional innovations shaping Europe's net-zero industry" was a successful opportunity to highlight regional innovations related to climate-neutral industries in the EU. The workshop was the second event organised as part of the cooperation between the EDIHs of regions East Netherlands, Baden-Württemberg, Flanders and Catalonia. This event focused on matchmaking between SMEs.
Present at the workshop were delegates from different European regions, as well as representatives from the European Digital Innovation Hubs (EDIHs) from the regions Flanders, Catalonia and Baden Wurttemberg. These EDIHs had just signed their cooperation on joint activities. Other participants were from Spain, Hungary, United Kingdom, Finland, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Norway, Croatia, France, Sweden, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Poland and Lativa.
The aim of the session was to showcase the approach of the regions on the acceleration of regional industry innovations, and to discuss the interregional collaboration that is required to increase the impact in Europe.
Regional minister of Gelderland, Helga Witjes, opened the session with underlining the importance of the role of the regions in addressing societal challenges. She stressed that two-thirds of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals must be implemented at the local and regional level. ‘’We are part of the solution and need to work together to create the much needed acceleration in all transitions,“ Witjes said.
Dr. Mark Speich, State Secretary for Federal, European and International Affairs and media of North Rhine-Westphalia, and Rapporteur of the European Committee of the Regions on the Net-Zero Industry Act, set the scene on the context of the Net-Zero Industry Act. “North-Rhine Westphalia is one of the leading industrial regions in Europe. However, despite the region’s size and economic strength, the net zero investments are not generated at the speed that it should. The Net-Zero Industry Act aims to improve conditions for investments in net-zero technologies. Therefore, it is of fundamental importance for Europe’s economy”. Additionally, Dr. Mark Speich discussed the role of regions in the execution of this act: “The opinion of the Committee of the Regions clearly states that we as regions and cities more than support the objective of the project.”
The session continued with a lively panel discussion, moderated by Ellen Mulder-Metselaar, Director International Affairs of the province of Gelderland, in which the role of regional policies and their EDIHs was discussed. Helga Witjes highlighted the policy of the region of East Netherlands that enable impact on the net-zero industry, that includes close collaboration with regional stakeholders. Yet, SMEs face many challenges, ranging from scarcity of land, energy, water and raw materials, labour market shortages and challenges in reduction of CO2 emissions to digitalisation and regulations. The province wants to support entrepreneurs in this, anticipating the future business models.
This was complemented by Ger van den Kerkhof, Hub Manager EDIH DIGITALIS, Flanders, who elaborated on the necessity to be able to understand de entrepreneurial needs. luliana Nichersu, from DIH AICS, Baden Wurttemberg stated that SMEs are always looking for expertise to innovate. The given support can kickstart, but must be matched with subsidies, both on regional and European level. Sandra Perez, Hub Manager EDIH DIH4CAT, Catalonia, stressed the importance of collaboration, with other regions, that is required in order to increase the impact that each of the EDIHs can have. Interregional collaboration, such as the EDIH-collaboration between these regions, is required to support regional companies in their transitions.
In order to shed a light on the impact that these organizations have on the Green and Digital transition, the session followed with a ‘best practices’ panel. Best practices from the different regions inspired the public and showcased how regional organizations impact the European twin transition, via a peer-to-peer approach. Robin Burghard, Hub Manager EDIH BOOST Robotics East Netherlands, elaborated on how companies are individually supported through a digitalization scan, that guides them in the path towards digitalization. He called for European vouchers for businesses. Xavier Vilalta, Head of Technology & Skills at the Government of Catalonia, stretched the importance of rightly skilled employees as a prerequisite for the twin transition objectives. Iuliana Nichersu explained the AI Labs initiative from the Baden Wurttemberg region, that support companies in their required digital transition. Shain Afouzeh, from the company Coffeeroots Cantate, explained how data and AI technologies help their company to run their business in a more sustainable manner. Together with Flanders Make, the company executed a successful digitalisation project with great impact on the company's sustainability. These activities resulted in obtaining the VOKA sustainability certificate.