Universities as engines for regional growth:Making a case for strengthening regional innovation ecosystems and overcoming innovation divide
Based on two cases studies, the EIT Community and practitioners discussed how to strengthen ecosystems that generate game changers, successful start-ups and ground-breaking innovations by redefining the role of university and its relationship with business and cities.
The first case study depicted how two universities in Kaunas, Lithuania, joined forces with the help of the city to create an environment inductive to innovation. The Kaunas Technical University and Lithuanian University of Medical Sciences act as the main source of highly professional talent pool strongly supporting the Kaunas key sectors of investment. As part of its Regional Innovation Scheme, EIT Health and EIT Food have designated their hubs in Kaunas to connect the Kaunas ecosystem to the EIT Community.
The second case study—a success story of a historic district Alfama in Lisbon, Portugal, showcased how it transformed itself to be a 'Smart Sustainable District'. It in particular stressed the importance of the municipality as a driver for transformation and the need to align the city and universities efforts. EIT Climate-KIC’s Urban Transitions programme helps Alfama to transform into decarbonised and climate-resilient district.
• Distance between universities and municipal and regional governments seems hard to overcome. Universities have to be stronger embedded into local ecosystems. There is a need to find ways to shorten the distance and, at the same time, involve citizens. Universities have the resources to tackle today’s challenges and have a responsibility to share knowledge, while the cities must be open in order to test the new knowledge being generated.
• In order to better connect research activities to the society, synergies between academia and industry are key. This also calls for a change in the attitude of both types of actors, while preserving their values and roles in the society. Debate is still ongoing on whether universities should “ride the wave” and rethink their role or just pivoting in order to adapt to a changing world.
• Science and technology parks and valleys can serve as platforms to find researches having entrepreneurship gene, encourage them and help them to develop their scientific ideas into successful products.
• If the relationship between city and university is open and productive, university graduates –are more interested to stick around. This is a pre-condition for generating a work force needed (in particular, for knowledge-intensive sectors) for the development of local areas. The key is to make these relations work in a sound way, in order to have proper programmes in place that provide the right skillset for work.
• EIT KICs can play a key role in rethinking the relations between universities, business and cities in order to make ecosystems capable of generating game changers, successful start-ups and ground-breaking innovations.
Take away message
Universities provide a unique resource to cities interested in investing in future industries. By providing expertise, investing in new ideas and attracting ambitious people, the university can be a seed-bed of innovation and entrepreneurship for the workforce of tomorrow. While these fertile grounds certainly benefit existing businesses, they might also give rise to a number of new ones in the form of start-ups.
“The strength of Kaunas is in two areas: its people and universities we have here. These elements are crucial for innovations development and are the key to increase competitiveness” Neringa Valantine, Kaunas in, Business Division Chief Project Manager
Quote from speaker: “EIT is one-stop-shop for innovation” Laura Supjeva, EIT, Strategy Officer