As a driver of economic and social development, innovation offers significant opportunities for Mediterranean countries to develop and exploit their assets for the benefit of their economies and of their peoples.
As is emphasised by the Communication "Research and innovation as sources of renewed growth"1 new growth opportunities come from providing new products and services derived from technological breakthroughs, new processes and business models, non-technological innovation and innovation in the services sector, in other words, from innovation in its broadest sense, which, in turn, may deliver economic, environmental and social benefits on a wider scale..
In relation to innovation ecosystems in Southern Mediterranean partner countries, the lack of proximity and trust between public and private sector stakeholders, rigid administrative frameworks, lack of coordination between ministries, poorly trained Research and Development (R&D) managers and governance problems all represent major hurdles preventing countries from pushing forward dynamic innovation policies. Mediterranean partner countries have fallen behind other regions on different levels. They are not only quite low ranking in terms of innovation performance, but are also losing their positions in the global markets despite the introduction of proactive policies and infrastructures in some partner countries.
It is worth noting that there are large differences at country level. Morocco launched an Innovation strategy in 2009 to strengthen the innovation value chain. In Tunisia, the new "national industrial strategy up to 2016" lays the foundations for innovation policy based on a strategy implemented by the Agency for the Promotion of Industry and Innovation. There was a broad reflection in Egypt on the creation of a national innovation system, as a result of work carried out by the Research, Development and Innovation programmes. In Jordan, the Science, Technology and Innovation Policy and Strategy was launched in 2013 including the establishment of a National Centre for Innovation with the aim to coordinate all innovation-related activities. The private sector is quite active in innovation in Jordan with the support of the Jordan Enterprise Development Cooperation. In Algeria, no official innovation support policy has been developed, although public authorities are aware of its importance. In Lebanon, the Science, Technology and Innovation Policy focuses on innovation activities in industrial, information, communication and technology sectors. The Lebanese Berytech Technological Pole launched in 2008 has become a national reference for innovation and start-up support. In Palestine, the decision for the establishment of a Higher Council for Creativity and Innovation and several centres of excellence mark an increasing interest and emerging innovation and start-up culture despite severe restrictions of the Palestinian economic and social life.
Generally speaking, the private sector still shows relatively low commitment to innovation, but is also undergoing change. A new generation of entrepreneurs and innovative SMEs is coming up, the venture capital industry is developing and there is a broader involvement of the major groups, along with the introduction of increasing numbers of innovation support programmes at national and international levels. Innovation, technology and quality issues are becoming a core concern for leaders of competitive enterprises and pose a major challenge to Mediterranean SMEs which have to operate in the context of a globalised economy. An improvement in the performance of the innovation ecosystems is thus essential for industrial development and job creation.
One of the priorities for Mediterranean countries is to develop industrial activities in various areas of excellence, encouraging entrepreneurship and pushing forward future economic leaders, and ensuring that innovation support organisations and innovation showcases play a role in knowledge exchanges. In this context, technology parks (i.e. high-tech clusters) and industry clusters help drive overall economic growth in multiple ways, from job creation and development of intellectual property to the formation of new industries. Well-developed industrial clusters are a key factor of the ecosystem productivity and Mediterranean countries have to make the next transition to innovation-driven economies.
In the 2014 OECD assessment of the implementation of the Small Business Act in Southern Neighbourhood partner countries, promoting innovation enterprises is a key objective of SME policy, and priority should be to support the creation and expansion of networks and clusters for the introduction of new technologies, products and processes, as well as access to advanced business and financial services and technical laboratories. National and international research and development networks, cluster cooperation and linkage programmes should be clearly targeted, in order to promote knowledge and technology spillovers among SMEs.
Against this background, the EC is launching an integrated regional programme consisting of one call for proposals (two lots) to support "Innovation for growth" in the Mediterranean partner countries, as an important element of its cooperation strategy to promote private sector development, competitiveness and job creation.
The global objective of this call for proposals is: to assist partner countries' ownership and capacity to implement policies and initiatives regarding innovation aiming to enhance inclusive and sustainable growth and employment.
The specific objectives of this call for proposals are:
at macro level – to support the formulation and implementation of policies and initiatives stimulating the development of innovation ecosystems in Southern Mediterranean countries:
Providing support to the enabling environment for innovative entrepreneurship; stimulating public private dialogue of innovation stakeholders (public, private and academic sectors), in particular on reforms of the regulatory framework at country/regional level, in line with the principles of the "Small Business Act" (SBA) for Europe and its implementation process in the Mediterranean countries; up-scaling of relevant activities implemented in the context of the Euro-Med industrial cooperation process, in line with the Common Euro-Mediterranean Innovation Agenda launched by the Euro-Mediterranean Group of Senior Officials in Research and Innovation.
at meso level – to improve capacities and networking, in particular with EU counterparts, of innovation organisations in the region:
Capacity building, networking and exchange of good practices between innovation support structures and other relevant stakeholders (e.g. clusters, technology parks, business incubators, technology transfer offices, seed accelerators, business angels and early stage investors), including international networking in particular with EU counterparts.
at micro level – to support pilot actions of innovation organisations, start-ups and SME innovation / industry clusters (including science parks) in the region in generating value-added activities, new sources of economic growth and employment, and promote them through the dissemination of successful experiences. The design of the proposed action should aim at generating jobs and developing competitive and innovative industries in the economies of the South Neighbourhood region.
In addition, the project aims at linking up public sector and innovation support structures to private initiatives, such as business angels, industry leaders and private accelerators. The networking aspects will also aim at supporting initiatives promoted by the scientific, innovation and business diaspora, trained or working in the European Union, in relevant sectors of industrial activity.
The call for proposals will be implemented in two lots. The main stakeholders of lot 1 will be institutional authorities and administrations in charge of investment and innovation policies – in particular the various Ministries of Industry / SME Development / Research, and relevant national agencies involved in the promotion of innovation as well as innovation support organisations (innovation clusters, business incubators, innovation poles – i.e. science parks, technology parks, technology transfer offices etc.).The main stakeholders of lot 2 will be start-ups and innovation clusters, as well as other relevant organisations such as business incubators, innovation poles – i.e. science parks, technology parks, technology transfer offices, etc.
The following priorities / expected results should be addressed under this call for proposals:
Lot 1: "Policy, regulatory and institutional ecosystems (macro and meso-levels)"
- improvement of the regulatory framework / environment in the field of innovation by supporting the formulation and implementation of coherent and strategic innovation policies promoting innovative SME cluster growth, in line with the "Small Business Act" for Europe and its implementation process in the Mediterranean countries, and by reinforcing public-private dialogue by setting-up task forces of innovation stakeholders at national level;
- capacity building / strengthen the capacity of innovation support structures in charge of implementing strategies and actions for innovative start-ups and SMEs (e.g. technology parks, business incubators, seed accelerators, technology transfer offices, innovation clusters), i.a. through capacity building, coaching and training; dissemination, dialogues and exchanges of good practices between innovation support structures, including stakeholders such as business angels networks, academic spin-offs, early stage investors, industry leaders; involvement of the scientific, innovation and business diaspora, trained or working in the European Union, in relevant sectors of industrial activity; organisation of international business and innovation weeks (brokerage events) involving the whole innovative ecosystem in each country;
- stimulate strong partnerships among those stakeholders that assist in commercialisation of research, growing profitable businesses and supporting cluster development contributing to wealth creation, social development and environmental sustainability;
- increase availability of information on innovation ecosystems through an update of previous/existing mappings and the analysis of innovation policy schemes and initiatives being developed in the Southern Mediterranean region as well as identification of relevant innovation stakeholders (in line with the European cluster observatory methodology);
- increase regional cooperation by stimulating the development and networking of innovation stakeholders (public, private and academic sectors) at country / regional level and encouraging links to their European counterparts.
Lot 2: "Pilot experience (micro-level)"
- to strengthen innovative start-ups and SME clusters in the region through targeted support to selected organisations / clusters (min. 3 per country) in most promising sectors (e.g. water and agrifood, new energies, transport and logistics, Information and Communication Technologies and creative industries), in pursuit of creating success stories for demonstration purposes; this includes in particular:
- support for innovation management capabilities and enhanced competitiveness;
- strengthening the selected innovation businesses/clusters by fostering relationships amongst entrepreneurs and early-stage investors (cf. connections with potential investors) and linking them up with private initiatives, such as business angels, industry leaders and seed accelerators;
- capacity building activities; training and mentoring activities for clusters managers;
- business matchmaking/brokerage events for innovation projects to promote industrial partnerships with other South ENI countries and/or EU countries;
- selected start-ups and innovation clusters participate in business fairs to promote through case studies a Euro Mediterranean offer on innovative sectors;
- targeted support schemes are made available to promote young and women innovators / entrepreneurs (e.g. enhanced opportunities for younger entrepreneurs to work in business incubators and science parks in the region);
- to ensure visibility of the actions undertaken by the programme through the valorisation of selected innovative initiatives in the region; innovation awards; dissemination for awareness and engagement; promotion of best practices by setting up a regional platform to facilitate dissemination, dialogues and exchanges of good practices;
- to facilitate international cluster cooperation, both between cluster organisations, as well as between cluster members (i.e. companies, R&D institutions, other players); this should be achieved notably by promoting SME internationalisation through clusters, as well as by benchmarking clusters, i.e. presenting mapped clusters information on the European Cluster Collaboration Platform - which is embedded within the European Cluster Excellence Initiative and financed by the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme -, and by getting the Bronze Label of the European Cluster Excellence Initiative;
- to prepare the replication of promising pilot initiatives throughout the ENP South region.
Relevant innovation support organisations at country level should be involved in the implementation of activities.
Coordination needs to be ensured with the meso and macro level component of the innovation programme, as well as with relevant ongoing bilateral and regional programmes.