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European Strategic Cluster Partnerships for Smart Specialisation Investments - COS-CLUSTPARTNS-2017-3-02
Deadline: 08 Mar 2018   CALL EXPIRED

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 Clusters
 Enterprise and Industry
 Entrepreneurship and SMEs
 Start Up
 Web-Entrepreneurship
 Digital Economy
 COSME

1. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

1.1. Introduction

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) play a crucial role in reaching the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy1. Whereas they are considered as crucial engines for growth and job creation, their competitiveness is affected by a limited exploitation of international opportunities and innovation prospects in the Single Market and beyond.

In this context, the Programme for the competitiveness of enterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises (2014-2020) 2, hereinafter referred to as “COSME”, aims to promote growth and to strengthen the competitiveness and sustainability of enterprises in the European Union.

The Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises3 (hereinafter referred to as "EASME" or the "Agency") is entrusted by the European Commission with the implementation, inter alia, of parts of the COSME programme.

In this respect, this call for proposals, managed by EASME, implements parts of the COSME Work Programme 2017, as last amended on 6 July 20174.

1.2. Policy Context

In its Political Guidelines5, the European Commission placed the focus of its action on a new boost for jobs, growth and investment, and a deeper and fairer Internal Market with a strengthened industrial base. Although since 2013 the decreasing trend of employment in industry during the crisis has been reversed, the challenge of stimulating jobs, growth and investment for the future of Europe’s economy remains, in particular in the face of global competition for industrial leadership.

The Commission presented in September 2017 a renewed EU Industrial Policy Strategy entitled "Investing in a smart, innovative and sustainable industry"6 in order to help European industries stay or become world leaders in innovation, digitisation and decarbonisation. The strategic framework outlined in this Communication is summarised by the following illustration:

Figure 1: Strategic Framework for EU Industrial Policy

 

In its industrial policy strategy the Commission highlighted its efforts to facilitate a dialogue on cluster policy excellence in order to make better use of clusters as a strategic tool of industrial policy, notably through announcing the set-up of a High-Level Expert Group on Clusters and a European Cluster Policy Forum. It also stressed that start-ups and dynamic SMEs in Europe need a favourable business environment and innovation ecosystem helping them to connect with skilled people7, technology centres8 and support organisations within and across regions, in order to accelerate diffusion of knowledge and to integrate into global value chains.

The strategy further clearly stated that this can only be achieved in partnership with Member States, regions, cities and the private sector, an aspect which was also emphasised by the 2017 Smart Specialisation Communication on 'Strengthening Innovation in Europe's Regions'9. This approach calls for stronger interregional cooperation and investments in sustainable linkages between regional ecosystems along value chains. This also echoed the plea of the 2016 Start-up and Scale-up Communication10, which stressed the need ‘to connect clusters and ecosystems across Europe’.

These three Communications provide the EU policy framework for boosting innovation uptake, industrial modernisation, scaling-up of SMEs and economic growth in the EU – at a time when lessons are drawn and new approaches are tested in preparation of the next EU programming period after 2020. The scenarios outlined in the European Commission's White Paper on the Future of Europe11 flagged out options for strengthening industrial cooperation, such as further cooperation on high-tech clusters and joint investment in innovation and research towards the emergence of European counterparts of "Silicon Valleys", which would "host clusters of venture capitalists, start- ups, large companies and research centers".

To achieve this vision, European industry needs smarter and more strategic investments and the building of bridges between different policies and actions at various governance levels. This means that regional industrial modernisation, smart specialisation and the growth of SMEs shall be promoted through a concerted effort to mobilise investments and strengthen European industrial value chains. In short, a real push for cross-fertilisation across regional and sectoral silos is needed. This requires bringing together bottom-up commitment, industry engagement and regional efforts in European Strategic Partnerships.

Clusters12 and their innovation actors are an important lever in this approach. Industrial excellence tends to be concentrated regionally and specialised clusters and business networks provide an opportunity for SMEs to better access innovation sources and overcome disparities. The 2016 Smart Guide to Cluster Policy13 advocates a modern approach that aims at building upon and connecting regional strengths and smart specialisation priorities; creating innovation and investment opportunities through cross-sectoral collaboration; and supporting the growth of "groups of SMEs" in related industries – as opposed to supporting SMEs individually.

 

Technology centres are an important part of such favourable ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship provided by clusters as they support SME innovation and start-up activities.14 They are essential because they offer to SMEs high quality space and shared facilities to test and experiment with technologies, notably Key Enabling Technologies (KETs)15, combined with advisory technology support services that add value to SMEs due to the fact that they can be tailored to the needs of an individual SME.16 Such competence centres are also at the core of the Digital Innovation Hubs17. A specific thematic industrial focus and comprehensive cluster development is often linked to the orientations of technology centres. Specialised technology centres are therefore key in making clusters uniquely equipped for scaling up innovation and growth in specific strategic areas.

A closer cooperation between cluster organisations18 – that manage joint activities, facilitate networking and provide or channel specialised and customised business support services to specific groups of SMEs – and technology centres improves the business environment for SMEs and maximises synergies, as both types of organisations give SMEs better access to innovation support and funding. This can lead to a cross-fertilisation process and contribute to a wider spreading and diffusion of R&D results and innovation excellence, strengthening European leadership in industrial value chains and at the same time fostering regional economic convergence.

Such closer interregional collaboration among regional clusters and technology centres around specific industrial activities can open up new opportunities for SMEs across all regions in Europe. SMEs in less developed or less innovative regions or clusters have the chance to increase their relative industrial competence, innovation uptake, productivity and value added, and through these improvements take their sector and cluster to a higher competitive positioning. Simultaneously, SMEs in more competitive regions or clusters can take advantage of new innovation sources and greater demand, expanding the value creation along value chains. This approach enables more and better matching of innovation solutions, on the one hand, and challenges, on the other hand, amongst actors from different regional clusters thus enlarging the scope for joint business projects and value chain linkages, which is often underexploited.

Regions that are able to master complexity by combining the strengths of different innovation actors (e.g. through fostering cross-sectoral collaboration within their region and with other regions) and help to open up new avenues and opportunities in niche markets and emerging industries are normally more economically resilient and show dynamic growth.19 Being anchored in dynamic regional clusters of related industries and being integrated in global value chains at the same time is the key to success in order to be able to benefit from industrial transformation changes.

 

Therefore, SMEs need to have better access to clusters’ and technology centres’ services in order to exploit growth opportunities from new technologies, service innovation and resource-efficient solutions that regional, national and EU programmes, such as European Structural and Investment Funds, Horizon 2020, COSME and others, are supporting.

Under Horizon 2020, the EU's framework programme for research and innovation with a budget of nearly EUR 80 billion, a specific INNOSUP-1 cluster initiative has been launched to facilitate the emergence of new industrial value chains.20 It promotes cross-regional and cross-sectoral collaboration to support innovation activities of SMEs through clusters and the leveraging of European Structural and Investment Funds. An INNOSUP-3 technology centre initiative has also been launched to facilitate the emergence of a new interregional network of technology centres delivering services to SMEs across Europe in advanced manufacturing for clean production.

Under COSME, the EU programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium- sized Enterprises with a EUR 2.3 billion budget, support is provided for cluster internationalisation through European Strategic Cluster Partnerships, cluster mapping and cluster management excellence.21

Additional support for investments has been made available through the Investment Plan for Europe22, of which the establishment of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) is a central pillar. Jointly launched by the European Investment Bank Group and the European Commission, this EU-budget guarantee aims at helping to overcome the current investment gap in the EU and to mobilise private investment with a target of EUR 315 billion in higher-risk projects, which are strategically important for the EU.23

In particular the regional and national smart specialisation strategies for research and innovation (RIS3)24 offer a great scope for building strategic linkages between regional ecosystems along industrial value chains. More than EUR 40 billion (and more than EUR 65 billion including national co-funding) are allocated to regions through the European Regional Development Fund in the period 2014-2020 to fund research and innovation related investments in order to build competitive strengths of the regions.25 The resulting investments can act as decisive multipliers and allow for increased numbers of SMEs carrying out innovation and added value projects to boost competitiveness.

Moreover, at least EUR 2.5 billion from the European Regional Development Fund are foreseen to be spent for clusters and business networks, which is an important delivery instrument for designing and implementing the smart specialisation strategies. The ex-post evaluation of the previous ERDF and Cohesion Fund for the programming period 2007-201326 has shown that the promotion of 

networking amongst companies, usually through the establishment and involvement of SME intermediaries, such as cluster [organisation]s, has been among the most successful and effective instruments for supporting innovation in SMEs and nurturing their development, even if their number was marginal within the whole set of instruments available. It also flagged out that only a small share of EU SMEs (about 2%) was reached and that the coordination between Interreg programmes27 and mainstream ones has been very limited.

There is therefore a need to improve at EU level the collaboration of the key actors that support innovation activities in SMEs with the ambition of maximising the uptake of innovative solutions and R&D results, including those resulting from Horizon 2020 and investments under the European Structural and Investment Funds. This requires political commitment and sustainable cooperation across regions in the EU with similar industrial competences, clusters and specialisations in order to leverage investments and joint activities and to create synergies at a practical level.

To benefit from the experience outside their geographical area, many regions have started to strategically strengthen interregional collaboration along similar or complementary smart specialisation priorities. These efforts aim at linking competences, infrastructures and innovation efforts in European networks as a path for opening up new growth opportunities for companies and their regions in new European value-chains. Such regions have realised that this could not be done with a focus solely on their own region and that building a joint critical mass and strategic linkages is a more promising approach for their future growth.

The impact of these efforts depends upon a strong involvement of industry. Clusters and business support organisations are promising tools to mobilise industry and intensify practical interregional cooperation. The Vanguard Initiative28 is an example that shows that fostering collaborative projects across regions and Member States aiming at boosting the impact from smart specialisation strategies is possible, if political commitment is gathered.

To facilitate more of such strategic interregional collaboration and strong industry involvement, and to create a project pipeline for smart specialisation investments across Europe, the European Commission started to offer support to regional authorities, clusters and industry stakeholders through an integrated approach to smart specialisation, clusters and industrial modernisation. This approach combines two mutually reinforcing initiatives:

First, the Commission has set up Thematic Smart Specialisation Platforms to bring together regional authorities interested in joining forces in the implementation of their RIS3 strategies. This approach was launched in 2015 with the set-up of the Smart Specialisation Platform on Energy29 and two additional Thematic Platforms on Industrial Modernisation30 and on Agri-Food31 in 2016, with possibly others to follow.

Second, the Commission is starting with this call for proposals to mobilise European Strategic Cluster Partnerships for smart specialisation investments. These partnerships should be composed of cluster organisations, other business network organisations, technology centres and science parks aiming to boost interregional collaborations and innovation activities amongst groups of SMEs in specific thematic areas, related industries and value chains. Moreover, the strategic partnering of cluster organisations is not left to happen at random but with a specific linkage to the Thematic Smart Specialisation Platform on Industrial Modernisation.

The approach of this call for proposals builds on the successful experience of facilitating the partnering of cluster organisations via the European Cluster Collaboration Platform32 and establishing European Strategic Cluster Partnerships for going international (ESCP-4i)33 as part of the Cluster Internationalisation Programme for SMEs under COSME. The focus of this call for proposals, however, is not on supporting SME internationalisation with strategic partners in third countries beyond Europe but on supporting the interregional cluster cooperation for the benefit of SMEs, their scale-up and joint investment projects within Europe.

In addition, it follows up on the interest and experience gathered within two pilot projects, which aimed also at reinforcing the collaboration among clusters and technology centres under an initiative entitled “Towards EU Regional Economic Convergence”, for which a call for proposals was launched in 2015 with funding from the European Parliament.34 However, the focus of these projects was limited to supporting only the preparation phase, while the scope of the current call for proposals is extended by moving to supporting in particular the implementation phase of European Strategic Cluster Partnerships for smart specialisation investments.

Moreover, this call for proposals is relevant to stakeholders of the numerous good quality applications, which could not be funded under the “cluster facilitated projects for new industrial value chains” call for proposals under Horizon2020.35 This opens up alternative ways to implement at least parts of their ideas for fostering cross-sectoral and cross-regional collaboration in the context of smart specialisation and to bring their ideas to the attention of regions gathered under the Thematic Smart Specialisation Platform that may support such efforts.

Equally, other relevant strategic partnerships that have already emerged, e.g. as part of the Regions of Knowledge initiative, the 'Vanguard Initiative', transnational and interregional cooperation programmes (Interreg B and Interreg C/Europe) could also benefit from getting associated to the Thematic Smart Specialisation Platform and being mobilised towards European Strategic Cluster Partnerships.36

 

2. OBJECTIVE(S) – THEME(S) – ACTIVITIES – OUTPUTS

2.1. General and specific objectives

The overall objective of this action is to boost industrial competitiveness and investment in the EU via cross-regional cooperation and networking by supporting the establishment of European Strategic Cluster Partnerships for smart specialisation investments (ESCP-S3). These partnerships shall facilitate cluster cooperation in thematic areas related to regional smart specialisation strategies and increase the involvement of industry in the context of the Smart Specialisation Platform for Industrial Modernisation.37

The specific objective of the ESCP-S3 is to foster the collaboration of enterprises, especially SMEs, as well as their interaction with technology centres both within the cluster and across regional and sectoral silos towards generating joint actions and investment projects in common smart specialisation priority areas linked to industrial modernisation and to help improving their business environment. Such mobilisation is envisaged to strengthen the European dimension in the implementation of national and regional smart specialisation strategies and to support a sustainable partnering process for strategic interregional collaboration in various industrial specialisation areas.

The actions and investments that result from the partnerships shall serve to maximise the innovation uptake and productivity increases by matching R&D & innovation solutions and challenges and supporting interregional innovation activities. At the heart of the partnerships shall be the creation of value chain linkages and joint business cooperation projects and investments amongst groups of SMEs in specific industrial areas, including bringing together SMEs from less and more economically advanced regions and clusters.

This shall enable groups of specialised enterprises, notably SMEs, together with other innovation actors in clusters, to find partners with complementary competences, to access value chains that cut across national, regional and sectoral boundaries as well as to facilitate their access to technology centres, in particular those active in Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) and Digital Innovation Hubs. As a result, SMEs shall benefit from investments and initiatives related to smart specialisation.

The Partnerships shall specifically contribute to:

  1. developing and implementing a joint cluster partnership strategy with a common “European” vision for a given specific smart specialisation priority (including a joint branding and marketing), identifying collaboration and investment opportunities and drafting a roadmap of such joint activities;

  2. implementing joint activities with a view to mobilise interregional collaboration and investments of industry actors, notably SMEs, and provide related business, technology and growth support services for the preparation and implementation of joint innovation and investments projects; and

  3. improving the cluster-specific framework conditions in the partners’ regions by (a) identifying, preparing and testing new joint activities to strengthen cluster cooperation across the partnership; (b) gathering concrete feedback from SMEs on their specific barriers to innovation, skills, cooperation and investment (notably to feed into the discussions in the context of the Thematic Smart Specialisation Platform on Industrial Modernisation); and (c) undertaking activities to build linkages with other relevant European, national or regional initiatives and key networks and to address the identified barriers that SMEs are facing.

Most impact is expected from interregional collaboration if a dual approach is followed by involving both committed regional authorities (in charge of the implementation of smart specialisation strategies for research and innovation investments under the European Structural and Investment Funds) as well as the industry (mobilised via specialised SME intermediaries such as cluster organisations, business networks, technology centres and science parks). Therefore, this call for proposals aims to complement the ongoing mobilisation of interregional RIS3 partnerships of regional authorities under the Smart Specialisation Platform for Industrial Modernisation38 by generating corresponding interregional European Strategic Cluster Partnerships of cluster organisations and other specialised SME intermediaries. In addition, the mobilisation of Cluster Partnerships in thematic areas not yet covered by interregional RIS3 partnerships may trigger a partnering amongst regional authorities.

Figure 2: The dual collaboration approach of the Smart Specialisation Platform for Industrial Modernisation

 

This call for proposals therefore aims to bring together cluster organisations, other business network organisations, technology centres and science parks from EU Member States or countries participating in the COSME programme39, interested in teaming up in European Strategic Cluster Partnerships for smart specialisation investments.

The partnerships are expected to be formed around common industrial thematic areas, which are similar or closely related to the smart specialisation priorities of the partners’ regions. The focus of this call for proposals is to encourage the partnering process in relation to the key drivers of industrial modernisation, such as Key Enabling Technologies; digital transformation (ICT), service innovation and creativity; and resource efficiency (see Figure 3). The possible industrial thematic areas of the Partnerships therefore include advanced manufacturing, digital transformation/industry 4.0, digital platforms, big data analytics, space data services, advanced material and disruptive business models and service concepts, thus covering also thematic areas such as creative industries, textiles and tourism.40

 

The action will be implemented by consortia of organisations that are interested in establishing and running a ‘European Strategic Cluster Partnership for smart specialisation investments’ (ESCP-S3). These partnerships shall be characterised by the following principles:

  1. European, meaning being composed of partners from a minimum of three different EU Member States or countries participating in the COSME programme under Article 6 of the COSME Regulation (in line with the specific eligibility criteria in section 6);

  2. Strategic, meaning the partnerships shall develop and implement a joint ‘European’ cluster partnership strategy for an industrial theme linked to the priority areas of the smart specialisation strategies of the partners’ regions. The strategy shall promote cross-sectoral and cross-regional value chain cooperation in support of industrial modernisation;

Concerning the focus of cross-sectoral cooperation and outreach in related industries, applicants may seek inspirations from the work of the European Cluster Observatory, which has identified, analysed and reported on ten ‘emerging industries’, which have been described in detail in the European Cluster Panorama 2016.41 Yet, such identified emerging industries or growth trends must not be followed without reflection. Instead of merely prioritising new technologies or industrial growth areas where there might be little pre- existing strength, applicants should seek to unlock complementarities across existing and related economic activities.42

  1. representing “Clusters” through cluster organisations or equivalent other business network organisations with an own legal entity, together with science parks and technology centres that are providing or channelling specialised business support services especially to SMEs.

  2. forming a “Partnership” with the aim to develop a long-term cooperation agenda, joint actions and an implementation roadmap around similar or related industrial thematic areas.

  3. working towards encouraging “smart specialisation” by striving to successfully support cross-sectoral and cross-regional value chain collaboration and joint “investments” of their SME members and other innovation actors as well as to promote actions in support of the implementation of smart specialisation strategies of their regions in view of supporting growth and jobs in Europe.

 

The ESCP-S3 Label for a ‘European Strategic Cluster Partnership for smart specialisation investments’ will be awarded to all eligible and successful consortia, including non-funded proposals put on the reserve list of this call for proposals, that express their interest and commitment in developing them by signing a ‘ESCP-S3 Charter’ which commits the partnership members to comply with the above ESCP-S3 key principles.

While this Label is foreseen not to be binding nor create any legal rights or financial obligations, it will help to promote the joint efforts of the partnerships. The labelled partnerships shall serve as models for others and pave the way for possible future approaches to mainstream a more strategic interregional partnering at European level. The European Commission may therefore support labelled European Strategic Cluster Partnerships for smart specialisation investments43 as part of its integrated approach to smart specialisation, clusters and industrial modernisation, notably through a range of existing and forthcoming measures under COSME and Horizon 2020 that are targeting the Smart Specialisation Platform for Industrial Modernisation (see Figure 4 below44).

Figure 4: Direct EU support to interregional partnerships under the Smart Specialisation Platform for Industrial Modernisation

© 2017, European Union

For instance, the labelled European Strategic Cluster Partnerships for smart specialisation investments will receive free of charge dedicated advisory support services in 2018 and 2019 from the European Observatory for Clusters and Industrial Change. The Observatory is bringing together the previous efforts from the European Cluster Observatory and the European Service Innovation Centre. The services will include support for the fine-tuning of the ESCP-S3 strategy and joint actions, identifying further collaboration opportunities along the value chain, providing guidance on good practice examples to shape partnering activities etc.

 

Moreover, the partners of the European Strategic Cluster Partnerships for smart specialisation investments and their SME members may be able to benefit from the ReConfirm project45 for facilitating interregional cooperation for industrial modernisation (that may make available specific analysis, guidance and matchmaking in specific industrial domains); the Watify awareness campaign46 (that may organise matchmaking events for cluster partnerships to boost cross-regional cooperation with a focus on digital transformation & KETs), the forthcoming Technical and financial assistance facility for industrial modernisation and investment (that may provide assistance to industrial partners involved to develop bankable investment projects); and other support measures.44

To find suitable collaboration partners, a number of tools are available to interested applicants. First, the European Cluster Collaboration Platform47 maps cluster organisations (e.g. by sectors, technologies and smart specialisation priority areas), organises matchmaking events and provides a partner search tool48 that can also be used for this call. Second, the European Cluster Observatory49 maps the concentration of economic activities in 38 sectors and 10 cross-sectoral emerging industries across Europe, which can help to identify other promising regional industrial strongholds. Thirdly, the KETs Observatory currently maps 169 technology centres 50 that provide services to companies.

The list of all labelled European Strategic Cluster Partnerships for smart specialisation investments will also be published in a dedicated part of the European Cluster Collaboration Platform. Further visibility will be provided through the S3 Platform, notably in the context of the Thematic Smart Specialisation Platforms.51 This will allow partnerships to gain visibility and promote their activities and interests for cooperation, including in relation to national and regional public authorities.

2.2. Description of types of expected activities

Applicant consortia are free to propose relevant activities that contribute to the establishment and implementation of European Strategic Cluster Partnerships for smart specialisation investments (ESCP-S3) in line with the objectives set out above by this call for proposals.

The activities proposed are expected to target the preparatory, implementation and investment phases of possible joint innovation and investments projects. These shall range from strategy-setting and road-mapping, matchmaking activities among partners and their SMEs, facilitating demonstration and pilot projects, helping to shape joint business project proposals into viable and bankable proposals for investments, to offering acceleration support and help with showcasing results. These are further to be supported by dissemination and sustainability activities.

Figure 5: Range of activity phases of ESCP-S3

 

The strategy-setting and preparatory activities are considered crucial to increase the impact of the implementation and investment facilitation. They shall help to define the added value of the cluster partnership and promising collaboration areas for the further development of the participating clusters and their value chain linkages. The extent of these activities, however, is expected to vary depending on whether previous work between partners in this area has been done or not and thus should be duly justified. In any case, partnerships will be expected to move quickly after around six months from strategy-setting and preparatory activities to starting with the actual implementation of activities. The preparatory activities and the development of a joint cluster partnership strategy, including the drafting of an implementation roadmap, should be completed within the first half of the duration of the project, whereas the second half should be dedicated to the implementation.

Activities of the partners shall be targeted at triggering collaboration at different levels, notably not only at joint business projects for smart specialisation investments between SMEs (B2B), but also between cluster organisations and technology centres (C2C), in order to strengthen interregional cluster collaboration and the linking of specialised ecosystems. The activities should particularly serve as an incubator and accelerator for joint investment projects.

This includes engaging and feeding input to policy-makers and/or Managing Authorities of European Regional Development Funds and their relevant interregional RIS3 partnerships under the Smart Specialisation Platform for Industrial Modernisation52, in order to ensure the relevance and the likely translation of the proposed strategy in practice. If a relevant interregional RIS3 partnership does not exist, activities to nudge the respective regional authorities of each partner towards creating a new thematic area for a corresponding interregional RIS3 partnership should also be envisaged.

Applicants are also encouraged to engage with and review lessons learned from the model demonstrator regions supported by the European Cluster Observatory53, by the European Service Innovation Centre54 and future test regions supported by the European Observatory for Clusters and Industrial Change55, other European Strategic Cluster Partnerships for going international56 already set-up, Regions of Knowledge projects57 supported under the European Union previous 7th Research Framework Programme, and cross-border, transnational and interregional cluster cooperation projects funded under INTERREG58.

2.2.1 Mandatory core activities are the following:

 Development of a joint cluster partnership strategy (within the first half of the duration of the project), which shall outline a concise description (around 10 pages) of a common “European” strategic vision and objectives for the envisaged cluster collaboration and value chain linkages in a specific smart specialisation priority area. This strategy shall demonstrate how the partnership will exploit synergies, common assets, innovation sources and growth potential of the targeted clusters and trigger joint smart specialisation investments. It shall 

broadly outline the thematic, sectoral and technological coverage of identified complementarities, cooperation interests and expected mutual added value between the partnership members. The strategy shall also describe the expected impact through quantitative indicators, such as indicative targets for the scale of joint collaboration projects and mobilisation of additional private and public smart specialisation investments.

The joint cluster partnership strategy shall be accompanied by the following four deliverables:

o a Partnership Agreement respecting the principles of European Strategic Cluster Partnerships for smart specialisation investments (as outline above in section 2.1), which identifies the partnership members (and, if relevant, also organisations other than the direct beneficiaries of the project, based on a Letter of Intent confirming their commitment), sets out the modalities of cooperation between them, and expresses clearly their interests and plans for engaging in cluster cooperation together.

o a map of envisaged cluster collaboration opportunities and value chain linkages that shall detail the thematic, sectoral and technological complementarities, cooperation interests and expected mutual added value between the partnership members (and thus provide the basis to what is broadly outlined in the strategy note). The map shall flag out business collaboration opportunities for innovation and investments and possible bottlenecks, e.g. identified through a SWOT, benchmarking and/or value chain analysis and SME survey(s) or other concrete feed-back gathered from SMEs on their specific interests and barriers to innovation, skills, cooperation and investment across the partnership's regional clusters.

o an implementation roadmap providing a comprehensive overview and prioritised list of the joint activities foreseen to be implemented by the cluster partnership, targeting both business-to-business (B2B) and cluster-to-cluster (C2C) collaborations. The roadmap must also include a detailed plan for implementation, outlining the different roles, responsibilities, steps and milestones. The roadmap shall particularly foresee activities for feeding input (e.g. feed-back gathered from SMEs) to and building linkages with existing relevant interregional RIS3 partnerships. If such partnerships do not yet exist, activities should be foreseen for nudging regional authorities to create a new thematic area for an interregional RIS3 partnership under the Smart Specialisation Platform for Industrial Modernisation. Other activities to build linkages with other relevant European, national or regional initiatives and key networks should also be foreseen, such as with the Enterprise Europe Network59, Knowledge and Innovation Communities60, Horizon 2020 actions such as INNOSUP-1 cluster projects for new industrial value chains61, COSME ESCP-4i62 and cluster excellence project63, and Interreg projects – notably from Interreg Europe64, Innovation Deals, the Investment Plan and skills as well as to provide input into sectoral policy discussions.65

o a marketing plan with joint branding, marketing statement and logo to shape a tailored identity of the partnership and support joint communication activities.

 

  •   Implementation of joint activities of the partners to mobilise interregional business collaboration projects for innovation and investments (B2B), notably between SMEs active in the regional clusters of the partnership members and other businesses and relevant stakeholders towards facilitating the signing of business cooperation agreements (or equivalent formal cooperation documents). This concerns the implementation of joint activities listed in the implementation roadmap of the joint cluster partnership strategy that are targeted at mobilising business-to-business collaboration. This can cover, for instance, the organisation of and/or participation in matchmaking events and cluster visits – e.g. facilitating both tailored B2B meetings and C2C meetings with individualised B2B programmes –, joint demonstration, growth accelerator or investor pitching events, and conducting coaching/mentoring/advising on smart investments of SMEs to help them identify interregional collaboration opportunities and to follow-up on the cooperation potential and interests identified.

  •   Implementation of joint activities to strengthen cluster cooperation amongst the partners (C2C) towards improving the cluster-specific framework conditions across the partnership. This concerns the implementation of joint activities listed in the implementation roadmap of the joint cluster partnership strategy that are aiming at mobilising cluster-to- cluster collaborations and are thus targeted at the partners themselves and other intermediary organisations in the regional clusters. This can cover, for instance, cooperation in the area of vocational training, education and skills, knowledge sharing, technology transfer, joint innovation challenges, pan-regional provision of venture capital and exploring the shared use of technology centres and demand from cluster firms for support services from technology centres with the aim to facilitate SME access to technology centres, including those active in Key Enabling Technologies.

    2.2.2. Mandatory support activities for dissemination, learning and sustainability are the following:

     Learning and monitoring activities, such as promoting exchanges and peer reviews between partnership members and enabling cross-fertilisation and learning from their experiences, including on obstacles faced, success factors, novel approaches and monitoring activities (related to a clear set of performance indicators - see section 2.4). The organisation of joint peer review meetings with other partnerships supported under this call for proposals is encouraged in order to increase the learning. Each partnership shall participate with 1-2 representatives in a partnering event for European Strategic Cluster Partnerships to be organised by the European Observatory for Clusters and Industrial Change.66 Successful applicants must therefore share information on their good practices and challenges faced.

     Dissemination and awareness-raising activities about the project’s activities, news, events, testimonials and results in the participating regions – reaching out to the relevant SMEs, public authorities, venture capital funds etc. to create wider knowledge amongst regional stakeholders about the partnership. The information shall also be channelled through the dedicated section of the European Cluster Collaboration Platform67, where a description of the partnership and profiles of the participating cluster organisations are to be registered. In case of the development or existence of another website for project implementation purposes, the information must be also be made available at and harmonised with the European Cluster Collaboration Platform website on an on-going basis. Joint awareness raising activities and events organised with other partnerships are encouraged.

 Preparation of a long-term cooperation agenda for the partnership (during the second half of the project duration) providing an overview of possible joint activities and sources of financing of further activities after the duration of the project. This shall serve as an exit strategy to facilitate partners to move from project collaboration to a sustainable partnership beyond the lifetime of the funded project, which should involve e.g. liaising with local, regional or national public authorities.

2.2.3. Other possible additional activities to address the areas to which the partnerships aim to contribute to (as listed in section 2.1) can include the following (non-exhaustive list):

Intelligence gathering for a strategic identification of thematic, (cross-)sectoral and technological business collaboration opportunities for innovation and investments as well as of bottlenecks for fostering the growth potential of the participating regional clusters (e.g. by conducting tailored SME surveys, value chain analyses/studies, benchmarking and/or SWOT analysis).68 This shall help to identify and map intra-regional innovation challenges, needs and cooperation interests across cluster firms in the partnerships for different themes/parts of the value chains as well as to match them with available R&D results and innovation solutions in other clusters of the interregional cluster partnership. It shall also identify complementarities and expected mutual added value between the partnership members with regard to relevant smart specialisations areas, skills, industrial infrastructure, research and technology centres and other innovation support structures as well as common needs and potential for capacity-building and scale-up.

Joint provision of business and growth support services, notably for the preparation and implementation of joint collaboration projects for innovation and investments of SMEs across the cluster partnership, to follow up on the signing of business cooperation agreements in the context of the mandatory activities. This may include various types of assistance such as the provision of coaching, mentoring and support for the preparation of viable and bankable proposals for investments, investment-readiness and technology assessment (e.g. by conducting technical and financial feasibility studies and identifying relevant financing sources), innovation management, IPR & licensing arrangements, entrepreneurship, and other support for business scale-up, internationalisation and growth acceleration.

Legal advice for developing a legal representation for the consortium (e.g. by exploring the need for a coordination or management structure, to establish a legal entity and define its form, coordination and mandate).

Identification of potential additional strategic partners of the partnership that could offer wider coverage and complementary competences and value added (e.g. by conducting a complementarity, compatibility and readiness check in terms of strategy, skills, industrial focus, smart specialisation prioritisation, innovation and R&D competences, etc.).

Expected outputs and deliverables

 

2.3.

This call for proposals forms part of a wider integrated approach that responds to the increasing interest in fostering collaborative projects across regions and Member States to boost the impact of smart specialisation strategies (e.g. Vanguard Initiative and other networks). It allows partnering activities to gain European scale, not limited to specific regions but to strategic priority areas related to industrial modernisation. The aim is to strengthen bottom-up industry partnering and EU added-

 

value in the implementation of cluster policies and smart specialisation strategies that guide EUR 121 billion of innovation-related investments from the European Structural and Investment Funds.

Together with the thematic Smart Specialisation Platform on Industrial Modernisation, this action forms an integrated approach to clusters, smart specialisation and industrial modernisation by bringing together both regional authorities committed to promoting industrial modernisation as well as cluster organisations, other business networks, technology centres and science parks.

This action is designed to support industry participation therein and to facilitate the generation of a pipeline of joint collaboration and innovation projects and contribute to strategic use of European funding, notably the European Structural and Investment Fund, the European Fund for Strategic Investments and other private and public investments.

SMEs will benefit timely and directly from this action through concrete business support services and collaboration support from the partnerships. They will also benefit indirectly from the additional efforts to improve their business environment and access to innovation actors, value chains and smart specialisation investments.

Expected outputs and deliverables are:

  •   A Joint Cluster Partnership Strategy with a Partnership Agreement, cluster collaboration and value chain map, implementation roadmap and a joint marketing plan (to be completed during the first half of the duration of the project);

  •   The European Strategic Cluster Partnership for smart specialisation investments and all partners being registered or listed at the European Cluster Collaboration Platform69 and other awareness-raising actions of the partners in all regions covered;

  •   A monitoring scoreboard with verifiable performance indicators related to project results and activities (as outlined in section 2.4), with a particular emphasis on the mobilisation of interregional collaboration projects for innovation and investments;

  •   Business cooperation agreements (or equivalent formal cooperation documents) for interregional collaboration projects for innovation and investments; and

  •   A policy brief to be submitted at the end of the project to report on the lessons learned of the cooperation activities undertaken. The policy brief shall include recommendations with regard to improving interregional collaboration (covering both B2B and CSC activities). It shall also report on the specific barriers to innovation, skills, cooperation and investment summarising the results of feed-back gathered from SMEs active in the partnership clusters. Finally, it shall outline a long-term cooperation agenda for the partnership, building on the identified business collaboration opportunities and linkages with other initiatives and key networks.

    2.4. Indicators

    The action to be implemented will be assessed, as a minimum, against the following performance indicators:

  •   Impact of the joint activities of the partnership, to be measured by the number of resulting collaboration and innovation projects and the total amount of investments generated, including those mobilised in the context of the implementation of cluster policies and smart specialisation strategies;

  •   Number of SMEs having directly and indirectly benefitted from the supported actions;

 

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