Currently, seven countries in the Baltic Sea region is jointly establishing cross-border network for promotion of internationalisation of small un medium-sized enterprises. The functionality of network will be tested in practice by September 2020 involving entrepreneurs from all regions in the pilot program.
One of the cornerstones of building the network is going to be a review of programs and tools available in the regions, which provides qualitative assessment of the availability, usability and management of existing support. When developing network services, it is important to stress that it will be looking for ways to complement already existing support structures and interact, creating cross-border support for enterprises.
Experts involved in the cross-border partnership, based on the review of programmes and tools, have already developed the framework of activities and potential services, and have compiled recommendations for networking. The recommendations include an overview of network structure, management, service, usability, collaboration and dissemination.
As previously reported, the network structure will be based on the bottom-up approach, involving local, regional and national stakeholders – entrepreneurs, universities, business support organisations, local authorities, public authorities and NGOs. It should be noted that in Vidzeme active involvement of entrepreneurs already takes place identifying their needs and involvement of business support organisations in the system’s review. A significant element of the network must be a benchmark table that is designed with aim to identify the beneficiaries. This would ensure the use of human and financial resources exactly for the needs of companies that are ready to promote their business and at the same time region’s competitiveness in the Baltic Sea Region. The priority also must be the company’s desire not only to strengthen export capabilities, but also to exchange knowledge, work on the development of new products or processes. The support network will generally be designed to comply with the indicators and objectives set out in the Smart Specialisation Strategies in each of the partner regions and/or countries.
Network management is planned to be centralised in the perspective of Baltic Sea region, but decentralised from the content and support perspective, initially in each of seven regions. A representative or broker in each region will be a support person, who will strengthen local ecosystems, for example by bringing together experts with start-ups, private organisations with national representatives, research institutions with researchers, thus creating the ground for new, innovative solutions and ideas. Also, strong collaboration and flow of information between all seven brokers, as well as provided training and development of their competences, will be promoted at the very beginning.
It is clear, that support activities are necessary for each stage of company development and development of its products or services. To define, in which stages of the company development phases the support of above-mentioned network will be necessary, network services will be defined in the coming months. The main benefits of networking services planned include cross-border expertise, clustering, data access, market research, technology development reviews, financial attraction and marketing tools. Equally important will be providing advice on innovation processes and strategies.
As important as quality, so is network usability. Looking at the usability of existing support instruments, it is concluded that it is essential for entrepreneurs to reduce bureaucratic burdens and listing of defined criteria and consequences. In turn, an internal network solution would be to create and administer a database for a suitable partner search in each of the Baltic Sea Region countries.
Network collaboration with other support programmes and tools is obligatory to access wider networks beyond national boundaries, to strengthen existing support systems, strengthen local, regional and national ecosystems and provide information flow. The network needs to strengthen not only cross-border and cross-sectoral cooperation but also value chains in the Baltic Sea region involving SMEs from different countries and sectors.
The current review of the support programmes and tools often refers to weaknesses in the dissemination of information, which often leads to the failure to provide valuable support to entrepreneurs. Therefore, the cross-border network plans to look for other solutions and channels to get closer to entrepreneurs, tell about network opportunities and potential benefits for business, boosting credibility and demonstrating the added value of the network.
As weaker points are identified tool management issues, usability and availability – unclear reception criteria, dependency of human factor, bureaucratic burden that takes a significant proportion of time and human resources. This is evidenced by the example of Vidzeme – although companies in the regions have the right to apply for support, the programmes are mainly promoted in the capital city, indicating a rather unsuccessful accessibility and usability from a regional perspective.
A review of the support programmes and tools carried out within the framework of the project “GoSmart BSR” indicates that weaknesses in both developed and less developed countries of the Baltic Sea region are largely the same. Interestingly, the study also reveals another trend, namely, the same support programmes and tools can operate differently in different countries. For example, one programme can show the interconnectedness of interacting with partner countries; the results achieved elsewhere show a different sustainability factor. There are countries where one and the same support instrument is offered to a much wider range of applicants than elsewhere. Therefore, it is important to share experiences and best practices in the Baltic Sea Region, trying to maximize business support and delivering sustainable results with means that are already available.
To create a clear and practical context for setting up a cross-border network, entrepreneurs are being interviewed and questionnaires were carried out. This information would be equally valuable addition to networking services, meaning, recognizing the true needs of entrepreneurs and the current internationalisation barriers. Information on key findings from the survey will follow.