Yasar University RiEcoLab AgTech Ecosystem Integration Lab (Agtech-EIL)
Published: 10th August 2023
The Yaşar University RiEcoLab AgTech Ecosystem Integration Lab (AgTech-EIL) is a responsible research and innovation (RRI) oriented living lab fostering start-ups/spin-offs/scale-ups emerging from universities, research institutes, and the regional agricultural sector in the Western part of Türkiye. The AgTech-EIL was established by Yaşar University under the RiEcoLab Project funded by the EIT-HEI Initiative. It is one of the four RiEcoLab Ecosystem Integration Labs (EIL) developed as living lab structures where responsible research and innovation (RRI) can be co-produced with quadruple helix stakeholders to lead the path to impactful spin-offs/ startups/scale-ups. The primary aim of the AgTech-EIL is to advance research and commercialization in agriculture in the region, contributing to the realization of Yaşar University’s 2030 Innovation Vision Action Plan (IVAP):
“To become Aegean Region’s most active innovation/entrepreneurship hub fostering inclusive spin-offs/startups/scale-ups and creating and sustaining innovative networks, pioneering in the areas of digital technologies applied in the agri-food sector; hence, to achieve sustainable, circular, economic development meeting all the regional, environmental, cultural, and social needs, in compliance with all quadruple helix actors (industry, academia, government and civil society)”.
The physical implementation site of the AgTech-EIL, İzmir Agricultural Technologies Center (İATC), is an agri-tech incubator/accelerator and a living lab founded by all the quadruple helix actors of the Aegean Region and the central government of Türkiye. The AgTech-EIL’s main effort was to bridge the gap between the region’s innovation actors while providing them with a responsible research and innovation approach (RRI) in a living lab setting, under the premises of İATC. Responsible research and innovation (RRI) is an approach developed by the European Commission that seeks to bring issues related to research and innovation into the open, anticipate their consequences, and involve society in discussing how science and technology can help create the kind of world and society we want for generations to come. Living lab (LL) setting allows active involvement and interaction of all the innovation actors (quadruple helix actors) in real-life environments.
The main activities of AgTech-EIL serve to build and enhance the capacity of the relevant in-house academic and non-academic departments of Yaşar University and the stakeholders of İzmir Agricultural Technology Center (İATC). Online and face-to-face training and mentoring sessions are held for the academic and administrative staff of the University and İATC so that they can carry out research and innovation activities that meet the RRI principles. In parallel, bilateral meetings and meet-ups with innovation actors and İATC stakeholders are organized to create awareness about RRI with the aim of encouraging a mind-set change in research and innovation activities in line with RRI principles. Training, mentoring, and meeting activities focus on capacity building on:
- Embedment of RRI principles in research efforts
- Evaluation of R&I outcomes
- Stakeholder recruitment strategies, the importance of engaging stakeholders in research and innovation processes; the strategies to involve and manage stakeholder-driven research; conflict management
- Gender balance on participant involvement; gender-oriented communication/marketing; gender-neutral products
- Embedment of RRI principles in existing ethics procedures
- Fundraising competences for researchers
Step 1: Identification the target groups and selection of target groups’ representatives (stakeholder recruitment)
The process of the target group identification was based on the quadruple helix model of innovation, recognizing the four major components (policy, society, industry, and science) in the innovation system. Actors were selected following a careful procedure based on their ability to represent and influence relevant policymaking, society, industry, and science segments, and recruited as stakeholders. The breakdown of each innovation segment is described in detail in the “Audiences” section below.
Step 2: Trainings and quadruple helix actor meetings using the developed RiEcoLab training toolkits
Following the careful selection of stakeholders, several training and mentoring sessions have been organized in different focus points tailored to the needs and capacities of the target groups. Students, junior and senior researchers, deans and administrative staff from the project support office, human resources department, public relations department, and in-house research centers of Yaşar University and the İATC stakeholders were trained and mentored. In parallel, quadruple helix actor meetups have been held as bilateral meetings and as dedicated sessions at regional conferences and fairs. These training and meeting activities involved exploiting the toolkits below developed within the scope of RiEcoLab Project:
- Toolkit 1 – Participatory Engagement Strategy for facilitating the Entrepreneurial Discovery Process (expected enhanced capacity: stakeholder recruitment and management)
- Toolkit 3 – Embedding Responsible Research Innovation (RRI) in the innovation spinoffs/start-ups/scale-ups strategy of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) (expected enhanced capacity: operationalization of RRI principles and living lab as an environment)
- Toolkit 4 – Bridging public and private impact investors to support spin-offs, startups, scale-ups (expected enhanced capacity: fundraising competences for researchers)
Please see the uploaded documents below for more info about Toolkits 1, 3 and 4.
Step 3: Continuous improvement measurement
In parallel with training and mentoring activities, AgTech-EIL sought to measure the impact in two levels: the mindset change of stakeholders towards RRI principles and Yaşar University’s research and innovation capacity development. The first was measured by pre- and post-training questionnaires administered to the stakeholders, and the second was measured over three consecutive years using the HEInnovate self-assessment tool (before and during the AgTech-EIL activities)
Global sustainability challenges related to food security and agricultural production require effective R&I in Agriculture 4.0. To address this need, RRI based living labs can provide an enabling environment in which quadruple helix actors can collaborate to deliver innovation and start-ups/scale-ups/spin-offs best suited to the needs of society and market.
The target groups are the representatives of the quadruple-helix stakeholders, addressing the four main segments in the innovation system (science, policy, industry and society):
Science: HEI staff (top-level managers, department managers, academics and young researchers, administrative staff, technology transfer office experts) and students (from the engineering, business administration, and agricultural sciences departments)
Industry: agricultural enterprises, agricultural machinery manufacturers, technology companies, software companies, agri-tech entrepreneurs and sector professionals, banks
Society: commodity exchanges, exporters’ associations, chambers of commerce, non-governmental organizations, and other professional organizations
Policy: regional directorates of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, regional development agencies, SME support offices, public financial institutions
The key outcomes of the Agtech-EIL are:
- bringing together the regional ecosystem stakeholders to trigger co-creation and observe the integration of both internal and external actors in key parts of the innovation process in the field of Agriculture 4.0
- changing the mindset towards RRI in Yaşar University and İzmir Agricultural Technologies Center (İATC), that will serve as a bridge for developing agricultural technologies, identify the rules as an interface, and create a common language between stakeholders in the Aegean Region.
- increasing Yaşar University’s institutional research and innovation capacity that will lead the path for startups/scale-ups/spin-offs in line with the smart specialization priorities of the Aegean Region.
Key success factors / How to replicate / Sustainability mechanism
Recruiting the right stakeholders and tailoring communication and training programs to their needs, interests and capacities are key to AgTech-EIL’s success in creating a culture of research and innovation based on RRI principles. The living lab proved to be a suitable environment for stakeholder engagement and monitoring and evaluation of mindset change towards RRI and acceleration of start-ups/scale-ups/spin-offs in the regional agri-tech ecosystem.
AgTech-EIL’s sustainability mechanism is based on two components: strategically engaging the region’s highly promising agri-tech hub (İzmir Agricultural Technologies Center – İATC) and doing things with the stakeholders and for the stakeholders.