Boosting innovation and entrepreneurship in Europe’s outermost regions
INCORE is one of the pilot projects funded by the EIT HEI Initiative in 2021. In this article, Project Coordinator Nuno Marques Almeida shared with the EIT HEI Initiative team how the idea of this project came to be, what the main challenges have been, and other interesting details around implementing the project.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your role in INCORE?
For the past 20 years, my research and my academic, professional and entrepreneurial activities have been focused on making societies more resilient and sustainable through innovative management and technological solutions.
I work with the lead partner of the INCORE consortium − Instituto Superior Técnico (University of Lisbon), the largest school of architecture, engineering, science and technology in Portugal. My role is to coordinate the overall management of INCORE and to ensure that the work is carried out according to plan while achieving the greatest possible impact.
What does INCORE aim to achieve?
We want to boost the innovation and entrepreneurial capacity of higher education institutions in Europe’s outermost regions by seizing region-specific contextual and business opportunities. We believe that co-creation and enhanced cooperation between small and medium-sized enterprises and higher education institutions in these regions is key to unlocking the local innovation potential and to addressing the common challenges and opportunities of these regions.
How did the idea of this project come to be, and why did you decide to focus on Europe’s outermost regions?
Our consortium partners share an interest in creating new opportunities for mobility and generating and retaining talent in these regions, namely the Canary Islands, the Azores, Madeira, and Réunion. These geographically isolated islands and archipelagos are characterised by energy and food dependency, high vulnerability to climate impacts, limited employment and education opportunities, and considerable talent drain to continental Europe. However, they also have a massive potential for blue and green growth, unique natural assets, geopolitical and strategic influence, and strong desire to be more involved in EU actions.
How has your experience with the EIT HEI Initiative been so far?
The consortium’s experience with the EIT HEI Initiative has been very positive. The interactions ensure alignment of the goals of the programme with EU policies and help project partners to improve their outreach capacity.
Why did you select these specific partners for your consortium?
To meet the ambitious objectives set for INCORE, we selected qualified partners for each role in the work plan.
Thanks to Universidad Europea de Canarias, the University of Réunion Island, and the University of Madeira, we have the necessary academic research and innovation capacity, as well as knowledge about the needs of the outermost regions.
In addition, La Palma Research Centre (Canary Islands) and Trisolaris Advanced Technologies (the Azores) are small and medium-sized enterprises with a solid technological focus that provides the real-life knowledge to unlock business-oriented innovation in the outermost regions.
Finally, the Instituto Superior Técnico has the necessary infrastructure and expertise to coordinate the initiative and add value to its objectives. The institute has a long track record of business−academia cooperation and is one of the most successful higher education institutions in Portugal.
What have been the main achievements of your project to date?
So far, we have achieved and even exceeded the goals set for the first phase of the project. This includes: detailed assessment of the capabilities and potential of the involved higher education institutions; mapping of existing needs; and overall scenarios to implement the actions envisaged for the next phase, structured in a strategic roadmap.
We have provided training to nearly 140 students and over 30 academic and 70 non-academic staff members.
In addition, we have organised training events, workshops, and mentoring activities focused on entrepreneurship and innovation in Madeira, the Canary Islands, Réunion, and Lisbon (held by the higher education institutions), and we have provided support to three start-ups from the Azores, Canary Islands and Madeira, enhancing their business plans and go-to-market strategies.
We have also developed a harmonised model to support small and medium-sized enterprises, which is currently being implemented in the outermost regions.
Along these joint actions, each partner has also started implementing their own individual activities. These include creating a new research centre for innovation and entrepreneurship in Madeira, a new chair and scientific area for sustainability and entrepreneurship in the Canary Islands, and a series of conferences and workshops on innovation and pedagogy for students and academic staff in Réunion.
What has been the biggest challenge for the consortium so far?
One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced is the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions on travelling and social gatherings have affected the practical implementation of training events and mentoring activities for students, academic and non-academic staff. As a result, we’ve had to move almost every activity online.
Could you tell us more about the INCORE Open Event?
The INCORE Open Event was a hybrid event held at the University of Madeira. During the event, we presented for the first time the new research centre in Madeira. Although we didn’t get many live attendees (27 face-to-face and 16 online participants), we attracted the attention of local and national media outlets, and we were featured in the daily news of the main TV and radio channels in Portugal for a few days, which gave us good exposure.
What can the EIT community expect from INCORE in the coming months?
I think the EIT community would be interested to know about our upcoming tailored training and mentoring programmes for young entrepreneurs and start-ups. The programmes will be developed in the second phase of the project to harness the blue and green growth potential of the outermost regions. I think the community will find them valuable not just because they improve the innovation and entrepreneurial capacity of higher education institutions, but also because they are relevant to the green transition.
What have been your favourite moments from the project so far?
I believe that everyone’s favourite moment was the face-to-face meeting in Madeira. It was the first (and so far only) time we all met in person and worked together. This meeting really showed how important social interaction is to unlock creativity and boost cooperation.