Since 2017 Vidzeme Planning Region has been implementing ecoRIS3 an interregional Interreg Europe 2014-2020 cooperation project. In phase 1 of ecoRIS3 an Action plan for sustainable development of Vidzeme region smart specializations 2020-2022 was developed. One of the main activities of the plan is SME support for an “Innovation Project Manager”, this Pilot Activity took place with 5 Vidzeme companies from Nov 2020 to Sept 2021.
The aim of the Pilot Activity is to promote the growth of innovations and smart specializations in the Vidzeme region and Latvia. The key task was to test the performance of the theoretical concept in a real business environment.
Five Vidzeme companies participated in the Pilot Activity:
- Ice cream producer Ltd. “Rūjienas saldējums”, develops innovative and ecological packaging for ice cream “Mini Melts”.
- Eco-insulation manufacturer Ltd. “SK LAW”, established a new company to further develop a unique and economical eco-insulation from cellulose.
- Food producer Ltd. “Madonas Uguns Siers”, develops an innovative type of ricotta cheese from whey generated in their existing production process.
- Food producer Ltd. “Felici” develops sugar-free ready meals.
- Beverage manufacturer Ltd. “Valmiermuižas alus” develops a natural, malt-based isotonic free of alcohol beer beverage.
During the Pilot Activity, two innovations were developed till the market test readiness level- a malt-based isotonic non-alcoholic beer in the company “Valmiermuiža alus” and two types of sugar-free ready meals in the company “Felici”. In both projects, TRL9 was reached - the products have been developed and will be ready to be test launched in autumn.
Innovative packaging was developed in the company “Rūjienas saldējums” in cooperation with a packaging development partner in the Czech Republic. Industrial tests for a new packaging for the product “Mini Melts” were held during summer. A new creative concept of innovative packaging was developed for the product “Mini Melts BIG” and prototype construction started.
During the Pilot SIA “SK LAW” attracted a new separate team and resources to the project, established a new company SIA “Pachamama industries”, with the aim to speed up innovation development. Additional funding was also obtained and industrial research for in-depth evaluation of prototype performance in cooperation with the Latvian State Institute of Wood Chemistry was started and technical and economic research for market demand assessment in cooperation with the University of Latvia was started.
During the Pilot SIA “Madonas Uguns Siers” started cooperation with food technologists, although at the beginning of the cooperation the company did not have a vision to start with the production of by-products whey.
In the eight months of practical product innovation, two market-ready innovations (40% of the Pilot Activity total weight) were created from the ground up, involving food scientists, technologists, and engineers and for both demand and laboratory research.
If the Pilot Activity would be continued for another 3 months, reaching the expected duration of 12 months for the development, the technical market readiness of innovations would be four out of five projects (80% of the Pilot Activity total weight), which can be assessed as high performance in the context of innovation development.
The Pilot Activity has shown a fast and efficient innovation development route in companies, even the ability to create a separate company, which is responsible for the development of innovation and all the company's resources are subordinated to it.
At the same time, the Pilot Activity has highlighted the challenges to the existing support concept, which need to find optimal and rational solutions for the improvement of the support mechanism and its high-quality integration into the Latvian innovation ecosystem.
The Pilot Activity experience exchange and training event with the project partner 2i3T - Business Incubator and Technology Transfer Organization, which operates within the University of Turin, was very valuable. The training and exchange of experience discussed both innovation quality management systems, the most appropriate tools in project management, priority-setting approaches, and analysis of best practices and failures.
In the Italian training and exchange experience and considering the experience of the Pilot Activity, it was jointly concluded that innovation is not (only) a matter of investment or the right technology or the right roadmap and processes. Innovation is not possible without motivated leadership - leaders. Innovation leaders and all those involved must be prepared to constantly learn, change and be open to new solutions and changes.
Based on the conclusions of the Pilot Activity, recommendations have been developed for the Ministry of Economics of the Republic of Latvia to include such support activity in the independent innovation support ecosystem.