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A world of opportunities
The Regional Co-Operation Networks for Industrial Modernisation (ReConfirm) is an initiative that aims to promote trans-regional partnerships in line with the smart specialisation principle. These partnerships must be industry-driven initiatives connecting businesses from different industries and territories. The intended result is to strengthen the European value chain, notably in favour of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and lagging regions.
Since it began one year ago, ReConfirm has become an integrated project that is successfully overcoming technical challenges in order to boost partnership-specific solutions. ReConfirm has established itself within the fast-moving landscape of European Commission initiatives and financial instruments promoting interregional cooperation,
as the implementation arm of the Smart Specialisation Platform for Industrial Modernisation (S3P-Industry).
Enlarging horizons
ReConfirm's family is growing fast. Since the last newsletter, three more partnerships have been formed and are developing with ReConfirm's support. One more partnership, on artificial intelligence, is due to start soon. The new partnerships are outlined below.
The kick-off meeting of the Social Economy partnership was hosted by the European Committee of the Regions.
The partnership on personalised medicine started in May 2018 thanks to the leadership of the Dutch regions of Limburg and East Netherlands and the Belgian region of Flanders. The partnership was established to realise the potential of personalised medicine and will be complementary to the thematic platform on medical technologies. The partnership has published a monitoring report and will complete the mapping paper for the next partnership meeting on 9 November.

The partnership on the chemical industry was established on June 2018. The regions of Lombardy and South Netherlands are leading the partnership, with the support of the 
European Chemical Regions Network (ECRN). This thematic area is focused on supporting the development and market uptake of new technologies, production methods, smart materials and business models that would allow raw materials to be used more efficiently, production to shift from fossil-based to bio-based, waste to be reduced, chemical sites to function with higher energy efficiency, and production to result in positive CO2 balance. The partnership has published a monitoring report. The kick-off meeting took place in Brussels on 24 October with the aim of identifying the priorities for the partnership. The next step will be an interactive workshop.

The social economy partnership held its launch event with ReConfirm on 30 October in Brussels. During the meeting, the regions of Navarra, Murcia, Lapland, Emilia Romagna and
Örebro County pitched to each other. During the pitches, assets, objectives, expectations and definitions of social economy were discussed in order to align the partnership’s ambitions. It was decided that involving relevant actors from the start, especially those that serve as a reference point for social enterprises, would be an asset for the partnership. Common challenges such as low awareness of what social economy is and difficulties in scaling up (going beyond regional or national territories) were also identified among most of the partners. The next step will be to prepare a draft mapping paper before the next partnership meeting, which will take place in Navarra at the end of January 2019.
ReConfirm at the European Week of Regions and Cities
The European Week of Regions and Cities is an annual event organised by the European Commission and the European Committee of the Regions. As the event is an important platform for regions and cities to showcase their capacity to create growth and jobs with EU funded projects, it was a great opportunity for ReConfirm to have its own session. The session was intended for partners to share insights, as well as to discuss challenges and solutions.

Ruslan Rakhmatullin, from the Joint Research Centre (JRC), explained how and why they created the Smart Specialisation Platform 6 years ago in order to enhance the competitiveness of European business. He made the following suggestions to further improve the quality of proposals:
  • Involving more regions in the partnerships;
  • Taking the financial and political commitment as a key element for a successful partnership;
  • Solid government structures that should support the regions.
Ruslan also announced that two new partnerships recently joined the S3 Platform - Interregional Partnership on Batteries and Nanotechnology - reaching a total of 18 partnerships.

Alberto Bichi, from the European Platform for Sport Innovation (EPSI), representing the sport partnership, mentioned how important it is for every partnership to have an association to act as a glue between the various regions. Alberto underlined how ReConfirm supported the sport partnership with the mapping phase, helping them to identify 12 investment ideas which will be narrowed down to 5.

Silvia Burzagli, from the Tuscany region, representing the Industry 4.0 partnership, explained how innovation is necessary for industries in order to be competitive in the international market. Tuscany was already oriented towards innovation, but they realised that in order to be successful it is necessary to work together with other regions, sharing policies to have a higher impact on the economy.

Julien Balsen, from the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, representing the medical technology partnership, explained that the partnership is already formed by 24 regions and there are plans to further extend the partnership to Slovenia and the Basque Country. 

Eija Raasakka, from Lapland region, leading the tourism partnership, explained how they were supported by the Network of European Regions for Competitive and Sustainable Tourism (NECSTouR). ReConfirm helped them with the scoping and the mapping phase to identify investment ideas. They are currently in the investment phase.

Lutz Walter, from the European Apparel and Textile Confederation (EURATEX), representing the textile partnership, explained how they managed to build their partnership by connecting various stakeholders from Europe.

Mark Nicklas, from DG GROW, closed the session inviting all the partnerships to keep cooperating, working together and joining forces.

Following the official event, ReConfirm has organised a side event with representatives from leading regions, policymakers and other stakeholders. The purpose of the event was to introduce the new partnerships, share lessons learned and explore possibilities of cooperation between the S3 Platform and Interreg. Another strategic reason for the event was to strengthen the partnership community, as partners can learn from each others' experiences and find common ground for cooperation. 

The partnerships have faced a number of challenges, that have resulted in important lessons learned:
  • Choosing an area of focus can be difficult when the thematic area is very broad. After an initial brainstorming, the partners need to get practical and commonly agree on the focus.
  • Once the focus has been selected, the partnership needs to decide the priorities for industrial application. There should be an initial mapping of potential application, then a maximum of four or five applications should be chosen. 
  • Writing a scoping note can become very technical when dealing with complex technologies. Technical advice is crucial to understand the technology's full potential, including its possible applications in the private sector. In these cases, involving a university or an expert is the best way to define the partnership's potential.
  • Increased support should be provided in setting up investment plans. Every partnership has different investment requirements; hence ReConfirm can support the partners in finding tailor-made ways to cooperate and the most appropriate financial tool.
  • National initiatives need to be taken into consideration. The partnerships should work together with the existing national initiatives, not only to pinpoint potential investment opportunities but also to exchange best practices.
  • An important challenge for SMEs that want to innovate is finding the human resources with the right skills. A good solution would be cooperating with universities to develop more technical competences.
  • A bottom-up approach is a good starting point for a partnership. Regions need to focus on their strengths, and then involve clusters, public authorities, research centres, businesses, federations, and so on.
  • It is very important to be present not only in the Smart Specialisation Platform, but also in other platforms such as the European Cluster Cooperation Platform. In this way, partners can acquire insights into other projects and showcase their own partnership.
This meeting was only the start of the exchange of experiences; it is vital to continue the process and create a learning community. The European Commission will continue looking for the best solutions to the partnerships' issues.
Looking ahead
  • Textile innovation: investment portfolio and strategic workshop;
  • Industry 4.0: collaboration lab and matchmaking event;
  • Tourism: strategic workshop and investment protocol;
  • Medical technologies: cooperation agreement and investment protocol;
  • Sports: cooperation agreement and investment protocol;
  • Efficient and sustainable manufacturing: collaboration lab;
  • Non-food biomass: investment projects;
  • Social economy: mapping paper;
  • Artificial intelligence and human machine interface: kick-off meeting;
  • Personalised medicine: mapping paper;
  • Chemicals: extending mapping survey.
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