The creation of new innovation networks is one of the key pillars of the recently published European Innovation Agenda. But building and maintaining an innovation ecosystem requires hard work and a dedicated strategy. Therefore, the event ‘Orchestrating Innovation’ delved in the intricacies of the development of interconnected innovation networks and the role of Europe therein.  

Orchestrating Innovation: The Role of Europe

Orchestrating Innovation

On October 24th, Neth-ER and TNO co-organised the Orchestrating Innovation: Innovation in Public/Private Networks: What is the Role of Europe event at the Neth-ER office in Brussels.

‘Orchestrating Innovation is,’ as mentioned by senior innovation orchestrator of TNO Lotte de Groen, ‘to tackle the major challenges of today and tomorrow by forging and supporting strategic public/private innovation networks that drive, develop, and implement innovation.’ Orchestrating innovation helps stakeholders to see that pursuing their individual goal alone will not bring them far. An innovation ecosystem is a field of interrelated opportunities and an orchestrator can bring public and private organisations together to align many individual stakes and a common goal to be able to reach further together. Since the creation of innovation ecosystems is a key component in the European Innovation Agenda, the event built on contemporary developments in the European innovation landscape and posted the question on how the EU can better support the developments of these innovation ecosystems through orchestrating innovation.

European Innovation Programmes

To answer this question key speaker of the event Anne-Marie Sassen, Head of Unit of the “Programme Managers Office” of the European Innovation Council (EIC) took the floor. In her presentation, Sassen outlined the different EU programmes that provide funding for innovation ecosystems and she described how these programmes either hinder or improve orchestrating innovation. Sassen explained that innovation ecosystems remain largely fragmented at the European level and that there is a dire need to include talent from all regions in order to overcome future challenges. Orchestrating innovation is therefore a crucial element, as it will link the fragmented regional ecosystems together in a broad European innovation network. Lastly, Sassen argued that policy makers should set frameworks for orchestrating innovation at the EU, national, and regional level to reform the current innovation ecosystems and ultimately turn Europe into the ‘unicorn factory of the future.’

Who should steer the network?

Afterwards, the floor was opened to an interactive panel discussion moderated by Maurits Butter, Senior researcher and advisor of TNO. On a question concerning the benefits of EU collaboration, Deepika Jeyakodi, Senior Contracts Officer at an aerospace company in the Netherlands and co-author of ‘The Innovation Matrix’, answered that Europe is great at considering the impact of new innovations on the broader society, much better than the United States or India. However, she argued that there are still many accessibility problems for companies since EU programmes like Horizon are very extensive, which makes connecting with other stakeholders sometimes difficult. Jenny Coenen, lector Smart Sustainable Manufacturing at The Hague University op Applied Sciences, agreed with this sentiment and added that orchestrating innovators like TNO are important in guiding businesses in the right direction in these programmes. However, it remains harder for new businesses and innovators in especially widening countries to take advantage of the EU’s programmes, since they lack the proper contacts. Orchestrators are therefore central in ensuring that all regions see the benefits of Europe’s innovation funding programmes. Subsequently, it was asked whether companies should more often take the lead in innovation networks, that are currently mostly under the supervision of research institutions like universities. Managing director of the Dutch Sustainability Factory, Daniel Wortel, answered that companies often do not look further than their own interests. Therefore, they should be ‘challenged to look past their own companies’ boundries’ in order to be persuaded to work with others. Jeyakodi also stated that companies should learn from universities to look further ahead in order to be able to properly lead innovation networks. Ultimately, orchestrating innovators would ensure that companies are more actively involved in the innovation networks and teach them to adopt this long-term point of view.

The building blocks of interregional innovation corridors

After discussing how innovation networks could be set up in theory, it was time to learn what it takes to take casual collaboration between regions to a next and more structural level. Therefore, it was time for the audience to partake in the Orchestrating Innovation peer exchange training. The participants were under the guidance of Maurits Butter who first introduced the concept of interregional innovation corridors as it is known under the BOWI project, before it was explored further in the exercise. The corridor was described by Butter as ‘a collaboration between two or more hubs in different geographical areas, in which continuous exchange of industrial and research capacities and capabilities takes place.’ The audience was asked to consider what it would take to build a long-term and structural collaboration that would go further than ad-hoc contacts. A key aspect was to identify the ambitions of the stakeholders on both sides of the corridor and to make sure that these ambitions were aligned. Butter ended the session with the inspiring message that each region in Europe has the chance to be unique and to stand out in a certain field. Knowing better what you are unique in makes you a more interesting partner to cooperate with. To discover this true uniqueness one thing is clear: more orchestration specialists will be needed.   


Written by Laura de Boer.