On 18 March 2022 the Policy Learning Platform organised an online matchmaking for the North-East Regional Development Agency in Romania. The topic of the session was aligning ROP call for proposals (digitalisation) and the activities of the regional Digital Innovation Hub in the North-East Region of Romania with real needs of the industry and policy objectives.
Starting in 2019, the North-East RDA co-founded a Digital Innovation Zone (DIZ), a fully operational Digital Innovation Hub. DIZ’s expertise is in AI-based technologies, and it targets three verticals: manufacturing, smart health, and circular economy. The main services offered: test before investing, access to finance, digital skills, and innovation ecosystem. Also, DIZ is part of the European Network of Digital Innovation Hubs.
Within the recent European Call for Digital Innovation Hubs, Digital Europe Programme, the North-East RDA is looking at the opportunity to implement a more ambitious program of activities as of 2023.
At the same time, the North-East RDA is the Managing Authority for the ROP 2021-2027 (the North-East Regional Operational Programme). Consequently, the terms of reference for the North-East ROP calls will be defined by the agency, to build a program according to the digitalization needs of the SMEs in the region.
Considering that a large part of the regional businesses have low digital maturity, the North-East RDA expects that SMEs will have a hard time writing, applying, and submitting good project proposals.
The challenge to be addressed in the online matchmaking session was how can the North-East RDA design the funding instruments to:
- making sure that the proposals generated will have a sustainable impact on the competitiveness of the businesses (vs. having businesses using the funding in a purely opportunistic manner)?
- making sure that the activities and services of the DIH can contribute to reaching the policy objectives of the ROP, e.g. by involving the DIH in supporting businesses with their proposals?
The complete key learnings and additional information can be found in the follow-up note.
Under the moderation of research and innovation thematic experts Arnault Morisson and Marc Pattinson, excellent peers from all across Europe were invited, and shared their valuable knowledge and experiences. The peers included:
- Katalina Barna from the Managing Authority of Economic Development Programmes, Ministry of Finance, Hungary
- Miguel Angel Besga and Carlos Lopez from the Regional Government of Navarra, Spain
- Helena Deane from West Regional Enterprise Plan, Ireland
- Aiga Irmeja from Latvian IT Cluster/Digital Innovation Hub, Latvia
- Heikki Kallasvaara from Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council, Finland
- Juha Palomäki from Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences, Finland
One common option to map SME needs is using a maturity or needs assessment tool. The experts recommended using pre-existing tools such as the one provided by the EC DiH framework.
Needs of SMEs are likely better identified in the framework of structured audits or moderated workshops and training activities.
Considering the diversity and fast changing needs of SMEs, single organisations cannot address properly all needs. The support needs to build on an ecosystem approach involving policy makers, DiHs, higher education and research, industry, etc.
The experts recommend integrating the identification of needs and the definition of action to address them as part of the funding process.
One option is to provide funding (e.g. voucher) for the need assessment process and to make it compulsory or at least beneficial for the access to further funding programmes, as e.g. in the case of the ‘Itinerarios 4.0’ good practice in Navarra