Danube Energy+ project tackles the need for change in regional ecosystems to support Young Innovators (YIs) in transforming their disruptive ideas into ventures. Project’s general objective is to create an enabling environment, which will support YIs to pioneer a change in the energy efficiency area by setting up highly innovative start-ups in the Danube macro-region. At the same time, it improves the competences of key regional stakeholders, particularly relevant public administrations, through intensive learning interactions with YIs.
Project’ partners (PPs)
- InnoEnergy GmbH, Germany
- Cleantech Bulgaria Foundation, Bulgaria
- ABC Accelerator, Slovenia
- Civitta, Slovakia
- PowerHUB/E-Klaster, Czech Republic
- Optimizacja, Croatia
- Startup Transilvania Center, Romania
- SEE ICT, Serbia
- Initiative Center, Uktaine
Associate project' partners (ASPs)
- Sofia TechPark JSC, Bulgaria
- Slovak Innovation and Energy Agency, Slovakia
- Slovene Enterprise Fund, Slovenia
- DEVELOPMENT AGENCY ZAGREB - TPZ Ltd., Croatia
- Regional Development Agency of Pardubice Region, Czech Republic
- iTech Transylvania Cluster part of Romanian Association for Electronic Industry and Software – Transilvania Branch, Romania
- Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, Serbia
Mutual learning interactions
In the context of Danube Energy+ (DE+) project, mutual learning interactions are defined as any interaction (oral or written) between two at least different PPs, ASPs or Regional alliance meeting (RA) members that have resulted in either of:
- increased knowledge in the topic of YIs support in energy efficiency,
- increased capacity to better support the YIs or the ecosystem actors in the field (knowledge on good practices), and
- in the change of attitude that can result from transfer of knowledge and know-how between PPs or RA members.
Similarly, to many Interreg Projects, one of the main outcomes of Danube Energy+ is the mutual learning of all partners. This aspect is especially true for the implementation of the Danube Energy+ (DE+) Tool pilot as there were several differences among the partners when the projects started. While some partners have extensive experience with organizing trainings for (early stage) start-ups, others have never even attempted them before starting Danube Energy+ project.
Activities of mutual learning:
- Regular monthly virtual meetings
Considering the lack of face-to-face meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the consortium changed the structure of virtual calls: from WP lead presentations to a more agile approach. At all meetings there were constant updates of the overview about the Pilot in all territories. The system proved particularly useful from mid-March 2020 on. The consortiums put all the communication (GoToMeeting tool) and work on-line and switched to virtual and digital solutions if possible. The idea was to prevent stopping or fully postponing the project’s implementation and avoid risking the project’s overall objective.
This activity has proved to be important in reaching the project specific objective. It has provided for structured space dedicated to discussion of project activities and transfer of good – and less good – practices. This has enabled transfer of knowledge, not only know-what (steps of preparation of a jury for a demo-day, for example) but also know-how (how to attract more participants? What has worked for other PPs?). Given the relatively large size of consortium and the different starting point of the partners, this was especially important.
- One-on-one interactions between the different PPs and ASPs and RA members
A short Google Form questionnaire was prepared to ask the PPs about their experience in the DE+ project. The questionnaire is presented in the annex; in electronic form, it is also available at https://forms.gle/mjZFGKiNxr8XW8PA9 ). Its aim was to obtain an honest in-depth look on the knowledge gained by each partner.
While majority of the partners expressed their appreciation also for the ASPs and RA members and claimed they helped them both with motivation and implementation of the pilot, others saw no such benefits. In some ecosystems, the Danube Energy+ Tool Pilot was welcomed as necessary while in others it was perceived as an unnecessary competition. Naturally, the motivation for YIs to join the Pilot was lacking especially in the latter cases, which caused some difficulties for the partners.
While partners agree that the project’s approach to trainings of the YI was perhaps not highly innovative, it was effective, as most YIs trained show willingness to start a company and have assessed the knowledge gained as excellent. Those partners who have never implemented such trainings before, feel encouraged to continue with the approach. An important learning point was also the implementation of the DE+ Tool learning programme online, which took place in the spring of 2020 in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic against wide offer of online training.
In the mutual learning process, partners transferred the knowledge further, by introducing the ideas of the YIs and the experiences gained to the members of the RAs. Mostly, the members were satisfied with the results presented and have expressed interest to be updated or even work with the YIs in the future. Partners in general feel that the project has helped them strengthen these ties.
However, partners expressed concern that part of the possible benefits of the projects were overshadowed by excessive reporting and a sheer number of deliverables and output reports.
Partners felt that the reporting needs of the consortium should not overshadow the needs of the YIs and the time needed for the implementation.
This burden was especially heavy for those new to the Interreg scheme. In the end however, this too can be seen a positive outcome somehow, as partners expressed that they have learned a lot about the project management itself along the way. This has been an unintended but positive outcome of the project.
- The most valuable outcome of the DE+ project in the opinion of the PPs
The most valuable outcome for majority of PPs was working with 9 partners, exchanging good practices, and sharing knowledge between project partners. Connecting points within 9 regions that could establish a long-term support for YIs in terms of starting up their business in energy sector as well as combine the regional efforts within all 9 participating countries in terms of creating new start-ups, new jobs and therefore bringing the economic wealth forward.
DE+ project created the valuable team skills, from how to structure educational content, to how to manage participants and keep them engaged and how to collaborate with stakeholders.
For some PPs it was a good source of resources to test a new product and field in general, because they did not have in their portfolio before.
- Lessons learnt from DE+ project and the suggestions for future pilots and projects
As the DE+ Tool pilot implementation was also aimed at testing and gathering experience in the process, here important lessons have been learnt that are to be used in any future implementation:
- A period of one month for the open call is too short. For many partners, as the process of identifying and motivating the YIs was not easy and they have welcomed the chance to prolong the deadline.
- F6S system is not suitable for young innovators who do not have any companies established. With hindsight, the use of F6S has led to more trouble than it was worth, as it attracted “professional applicants” from regions and ages which were completely out of the scope of the project.
- Implementing the pilot online as opposed to in person is absolutely not “almost the same”.
- Partner mutual learning during the DE+ Tool pilot implementation is a crucial positive outcome of the project. The partners supported each other in practical issues (how to prepare demo day jury and to leave the workshop “on” even when on a break, because it helps create small talk and feeling of community, for example).
- While majority of the partners expressed their appreciation also for the ASPs and RA members and claimed they helped them both with motivation and implementation of the pilot, others saw no such benefits. In some ecosystems, the Danube Energy+ Tool pilot was welcomed as necessary while in others (the majority) it was perceived as an unnecessary competition. This needs to be avoided in any future implementation.