Furthering innovation in South-Estonia

In February 2020 a meeting was held in Valga, where representatives of Valga Municipality Government, Tartu City Government, Tartu Science Park, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and Ministry of Finance were participating to discuss Estonian government’s short and long term plans. We were interested in how much and what kind of effort does Estonian government put on promoting innovation – what are the prerequisites for achieving growth and overcoming today’s bottlenecks, what local authorities and ministries can do on their own to achieve the goals and where it is possible to join forces.

Reet Reismaa from Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications in Estonia, Policy Area Coordinator of Policy Area Innovation gave an overview of the Digital Innovation Network (DIGINNO) project in which the ministry is the lead partner. DIGINNO is focusing on promoting the uptake of information and communication technologies in the business sector, developing innovative digital public services and facilitating digital single market (DSM) related policy discussions on BSR level. Thus, it can be said that digitalisation and raising awareness of it is very important. Besides industrial SMEs, they aim to increase the innovation capacity of ICT associations, industry associations and public authorities in the area of industry digitalisation.

How are they doing it? They are organising different events and study visits for SMEs to increase the industrial SMEs uptake of digital solutions. In addition to different events, they are preparing company digitalisation toolkit for SMEs – a self-assessment tool so that they can evaluate their digitalisation level and get ideas for further digitalisation. DIGINNO project helps to systematize the information and creates an informal but active cross-sectoral BSR industry digitalisation community to improve the exchange on the information. GoSmart BSR TIBS system and DIGINNO project have the same „playgrounds“ – similar activities that could be combined. Valga Municipality Government has good cooperation with Reet Reismaa. TIBS can share information about DIGINNO project events and activities to TIBS clients and vice versa. DIGINNO is now operating more at the national level, but the goal is to bring it closer to regions. Our cooperation is the first step towards it.

One way how the local authorities and the government can contribute to business innovation is by providing companies with appropriate support measures. The Estonian government is paying more and more attention to companies located in Southeast Estonia, including companies from Valga County. Last year Estonian government presented new support measure for the business development in Southeastern Estonia and creation of new varied job opportunities. In 2019-2023 Estonian government supports the entrepreneurship development in Southeastern Estonia by granting €2 million to the industry. The minimum grant for a project is € 10,000 and the maximum – € 50,000. This support measure is appropriate for TIBS clients. It is possible to apply money for activities that are related to innovation, product and service development, investments to increase productivity and remove bottlenecks, for marketing activities. At the end of 2019, the first call for applications ended and the program turned out to be very popular. Grants were awarded to a wide range of activities, such as the purchase of new lines and equipment and digitalisation tools, for development and marketing activities, the reconstruction of buildings, for increasing the building maintenance etc. In next months the new application round for SMEs will open.

Tartu City Government and Tartu Science Park have participated in many international smart specialisation projects. At the moment they are a member of Interreg BSR project „EmpInno Monitor S3“ where Valga Municipality had the chance to cooperate with them. Tartu City Government places great emphasis on the importance of digitalisation in manufacturing companies. Not all SMEs are familiar with digitalisation. Often the hardest part is taking the first step and to START with digitalisation. The digitalisation of production is one of the main challenges and untapped opportunities for increasing the competitiveness of manufacturing companies in Estonia. While Estonia is the European leader in digitalisation of public services and is above the EU average in terms of digital skills and citizens’ use of the Internet, Estonian SMEs could use digital technologies much more in manufacturing. The goal of company digitalisation is to shorten the production cycle and automate production. To foster digitalisation, Tartu City Government gives 5000 euros for production companies, which are registered in Tartu City or Tartu County. Company’s contribution should be at least 30% of the whole sum. To receive support, the company must carry out a digitalisation audit beforehand, which will provide an overview of the bottlenecks and prioritize their resolution.

One way to foster innovation in South-Estonia is to organise a different kind of events for entrepreneurs. For example, Tartu City Government and Tartu Science Park organise training, seminars, events („Smart Tuesday“, „MobileMonday“ etc.) each month. They invite entrepreneurs to share their experiences. Entrepreneurs can network, gather ideas, contacts and exchange experiences. It helps businesses to become more innovative and attractive.

Despite all the support measures and events, it is important to meet and interact with the entrepreneurs daily to keep up with their concerns, joy or to offer support. Representatives of local governments and ministries cannot provide companies with deep scientific help, but they can help with contacts and direct to the right people and organizations. Every entrepreneur needs to know that he has someone to whom he can turn to and that he is not alone with his worries.

For more information:

DIGINNO BSR: https://www.diginnobsr.eu/

EmpInno Monitor S3: https://empinno.eu/