In 2017 the region Centre–Val de Loire, France, aimed at overcoming the fragmentation of the regional business support structures and increasing their capacity to deliver highly professional and coordinated services, adjusted to the actual needs of businesses. The regional authorities decided therefore to bundle the already existing regional innovation network serving innovative SMEs and the wider network of local economic developers under the roof of dev’up, the regional agency for innovation and economic development. 

This implied both a widening of the scope and a significant increase in size of the new network. The number of members of the regional economic development network rose from about 100 innovation specialists to about 350 persons (status 2019) with a large scope of expertise (innovation, export, business creation, intellectual property, investments, finances…).

Rapidly it became clear that new approaches to the management and coordination of the new network were necessary in order to ensure a good readability of "who does what", ensure a professional delivery of services, create a common identity throughout the different stakeholders, and build on the diversity of the members to generate added value for the SMEs of the region.

The solution implemented by dev’up and the responsible authorities builds on the following pillars:

Members’ commitment both at highest management and operational level of their respective organisations, materialised by conventions & code of conduct signed by each individual member and its hierarchy. This enables to overcome possible silo thinking by making each single person – not only its organisation – part of the network. 

Strong local implementation through the creation of six local offices run by dev’up employees, thus enabling a close interaction between the network management, the members and the SMEs. In total, about 10 persons are involved in the management of the network and its offices.

The Economic Developers’ University, which delivers a training programme adapted to the different needs of the regional economic development actors members of the network, aimed to improve the quality of services provided to companies. In addition, network members can integrate into their daily work shared tools, such as:

  • a public business orientation portal,
  • an extranet tool supporting a follow-up of the contacts and services delivered to SMEs by any member of the network, shared diagnosis tools for assessing the needs of SMEs and the search for specific skills within the network,
  • a hotline for legal questions related especially to the set-up of new companies.

The third pillar, the Economic Developers’ University, represents an innovative approach to capacity building and professionalisation of regional business support structures. The picture below provides an overview of the content and structure – from half-day introductory sessions to each topic up to specialised workshops - of the training programme delivered by the Economic Developers University. It reflects well the broad scope of the regional business development network. A large part of the courses are delivered by experts out of the network, building on their experience with supporting SMEs.

The programme encompasses also a specific item targeting elected officials by involving groups in study visits to places outside the region and even outside the country, so as to increase their own awareness of SME competitiveness and business support delivery issues!

From the first year on there has been a strong interest towards the events organised within the network (about 750 participants in 2017). Acknowledging the valuable inputs from the initial training modules, the members of the dev’up network rapidly contributed to develop the training offer by bringing in their own expertise and good practices for the development of further modules. By doing so they contributed pro-actively to the emergence of the highly differentiated offer displayed here above, which makes the Economic Developers’ University justify its ambitious name.

The model from dev’up and especially the Economic Developers’ University provide an innovative approach to the governance and coordination of regional business support ecosystems. It was shared by dev’up with the partners of the Interreg Europe project ESSPO, supporting their joint efforts for the creation of “efficient support service portfolios for SMEs”.

Three aspects are definitely worth highlighting with respect to a potential take-up by other regions:

1. The practice is a workable answer to the issue of turning a group of SME advisors from different backgrounds into a professional network with common goals and tools, without having any of the member organisations giving up their own identity and specific expertise.

2. The dev’up network brings formally together the relevant organisations at the highest management level but focuses on generating a personal commitment from each advisor involved in delivering support to SMEs.

3. Dev’up puts significant efforts in capacity building in order to increase the competences of the network members, thereby striving for higher and homogenous quality standards.

Considering the needs expressed by several project beneficiaries, the Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform plans to elaborate further on the management of regional business support networks in the course of 2019. Stay tuned!

Further information is to be found here:

ESSPO website

The Economic Developer's’ University in Centre-Val de Loire Region good practice

Story on What are the ingredients of a good Business Support Ecosystem?

Follow up materials from the workshop on Fostering entrepreneurship and business creation from 14 November 2018 in Sofia, Bulgaria