Genesis of a policy improvement for SME internationalisation
When the Municipality of Gävle (Sweden) got the opportunity to join the Interreg Europe Compete In - Competitive territories through internationalisation: SMEs competitiveness in globalised regions consortium, the Region Gävleborg, together with the municipality and Business Sweden, had already initiated the Team Gävleborg network, with the aim to improve the coordination and effectiveness of the regional actors in supporting the internationalisation processes of SMEs. They saw in their participation in Compete In the opportunity to tackle this policy challenge by adding an European added-value.
Very early in the project, the team from Gävleborg gathered relevant input from their project partners to design what has meanwhile become the Regional Export Centre Gävleborg. In particular they found inspiration and used specific aspects of the following practices:
- The Silesian Investors and Exporters Assistance Centre from the Upper Silesian Agency for Entrepreneurship and Development Ltd (Poland), which is a single point of contact assisting SMEs in taking their first steps on the international markets and to support the export already started by the SMEs. The lesson learnt is that joining efforts and providing SMEs with an easy access to information – both digital and person-to-person – is crucial.
- ERGO – Emilia Romagna Go Global from ART-ER Attractiveness Research Territory (formerly ERVET, Emilia-Romagna Joint Stock Consortium, Italy), a programme supporting trade promotion and internationalization. The input coming from this practice is related to the governance of Business Support Cheques for internationalisation, in particular the importance of direct financial support for SMEs which has led to the doubling of the budget through the Regional Export Centre project and to the simplification of the administration for SMEs, by making cheques more accessible.
As a result, in March 2017, a consortium led by Region Gävleborg and bringing together local, regional and national authorities, organisations and clusters, submitted the 'Regionalt Exportcentrum Gävleborg' proposal, which has been approved within the Investment for Growth and Jobs programme, NUTS 2 - North Central Sweden. The project mobilises a total budget of € 1.360.000, of which € 680.000 are funded by the ERDF. Its partners are of the Team Gävleborg as well as Tillväxtverket, Invest in Gävleborg, and the clusters Future Position X and Fiber Optic Valley.
The Regional Export Centre Gävleborg
The Swedish name of the new centre Team Gävleborg - Regional exportsamverkan reveals already the fundamental governance concept: the new initiative is in practice a virtual export centre, bringing together under the Team Gävleborg banner the competences of all involved stakeholders, with the aim to provide jointly an improved support for SMEs in Gävleborg.
The initiative is built around the following activities:
- Activities targeting the stakeholders
- Collaboration platform: strengthen the cooperation between stakeholders supporting SME internationalisation in order to increase the efficiency of the support system.
- Increased knowledge of SME needs and presentation of an offer of support to match those needs.
- Capacity building for business promotion actors.
- Activities targeting SMEs
- Communication: increased awareness and knowledge through joint events
- SME capacity building and inspiration.
- Business Development Cheques for internationalisation.
A promising start
Team Gävleborg was quickly able to make an impact:
- Doubled amount of funds available: in two years, the funding allocated to the Business Development Cheques for internationalisation in the regional policy was increased from € 200.000 to € 400.000.
- National acknowledgement: Team Gävleborg has become part of the National Export Centre initiative of the Swedish government.
- A positive curve: Team Gävleborg reinforced the existing efforts towards increased export activities for the local SMEs. Gävleborg ranks now number 3 in Sweden in increase of export values.
- A strong momentum: two complementary initiatives funded by the Investment for Growth and Jobs programme, NUTS 2 - North Central Sweden were already launched, one involving the University of Gävle as promoter to SME internationalisation and one supporting the internationalisation of innovative start-ups.
Challenges and lessons learned
The Team Gävleborg initiative illustrates well the relevance and importance of collaboration between different levels of public authorities and stakeholders when it comes to federate resources and activities for a better support to businesses. This goes here for internationalisation but can be extended to business support in general.
Annika Lundqvist, Head of International Office at the Municipality of Gävle, project leader of the Compete In project and one of the founders of the initiative, clearly highlights the importance for the success of Team Gävleborg to have a strong coordination of the stakeholders, so as to be able to cope with personal and strategic changes within the different organisation and keep the initial momentum: 'Network-based collaboration has a strong potential but is also fragile and remains a work in progress.'
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