This week, I have taken part in the TicTalk conference in Čakovec in north eastern Croatia. The conference was arranged at the Technology Innovation Centre Međimurje run by Bojan Pecnic and organised by the Regional Development Agency REDEA.
The conference main topics were innovative development and good examples for Technology and Innovation Centres, and I have met and listened to an exceptional range of speakers and panel debate participants, giving advice from their experiences and best practice from Scandinavia, Portugal, Germany, China and Spain.
The conference was organised by the energetic Director of REDEA, Matija Derk, who has been a strong driving force for the regional development since 2006.
Medimurje is a triangle-shaped county in the northernmost part of Croatia. Despite being the smallest Croatian county by size, it is the most densely populated. An estimated 22,000 people are employed in the county, with around 60% of them in bigger companies. The region is considered one of the nation’s richest and most prosperous.
Key issues for Medimurje and topics for the conference are how to best encourage entrepreneurship, foreign investments and development of new companies and achieve sustainable economic growth. This is a challenge, as the competitiveness of Croatia in a global perspective has fallen in recent years.
The ambition of REDEA is to achieve growth through establishment of a regional network of technology and innovation centers, taking into account the specific comparative advantages of each of the regions main centers.
The conference was well visited by the local politicians and representatives from ministries in Zagreb, as well as by entrepreneurs and business people. There was a quite large audience at the start of the days, and well prepared catering and coffee breaks ensured good networking opportunities.
The first speech was given by Manuel Cendoya, creator and former Director of San Sebastian Technology Park, who is more recently specialising on technology transfer between Europe and Latin America. One of the main topics of the speech was the need for harmony in the triple-helix context between the local actors in an innovation system.
The second section of the conference was a panel debate between experts on the main challenges of creating an innovation center, and the support mechanisms that need to be available to make it work. Examples from Portugal, China and Sweden where brought up in the discussion.
The second panel discussion was concerned with the “softlanding platform” services which can be made available in an innovation center, to support entrepreneurs with the creation and development of companies for foreign companies establishing in the region. In the picture to the left is Wolfgang Kniejski from INI-Novation in Germany explaining his experiences.
Maria Oliveira from the technology transfer center at the University of Porto gave a very good, pragmatic presentation on the challenges of technology transfer, why such services must be made as a public good and the success rate that realistically can be expected.
As the conference progressed, it became evident to me that this region is a serious contester to be a player and contributor to the development of regional innovation in Europe. Signs of the good work is already visible abroad, as for example the Medimurje region was listed as the fourth most successful region in southern Europe by Financial Times 2010, when it comes to strategies for attracting inward investments.
Challenges ahead that we in the international community of experts can help with are preparations and projects that can be started locally in Croatia as the country prepares for entry in the European Union. The transition into the EU is a challenge for any economy and experiences from other countries on the adaption process and the possibilities of the inner European market can greatly boost the possibilities of a small, adaptable region like Medimurje.
Europe of the future is not a Europe of nation states, it is a Europe of small places and regions, each one with its own focus and specialty and its unique flag in the European and global context.
It seems clear that we consultants and other experts in place development and finance can help to bring know-how, innovative thinking and execution skills that will can smoothen the transitions and accelerate development.
By Jörgen Eriksson, Bearing Consulting, at Zagreb Airport