Few weeks ago I wrote about the then-upcoming mid-term even of the Top Technology Cluster, an initiative started by companies and institutions from the Euregio Meuse-Rheine to foster cross-border colaboration between SMEs (and potentially additional larger consortia partners).
Last friday the event headed off here in Aachen. About 130 participants representing companies, academia and NGOs from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany came together to follow the presentations which were charmingly moderated by Simone van Trier.
After the official welcome and interoducing words by our city's mayor, Marcel Philipp, my dear guest Prof. Joel West gave a comprehensive overview over the term "Open Innovation", it's roots and implications.
Following his presentation I helt my own talk about how OI can impact the research and development opportunities of SME and help them to discover completely new solutions to problems they might have never been able to solve without the crowd.
The first block was completed by Jingshu Du's discussion of the impact of OI on SMEs in the Euregio.
In the following interview that Simone van Trier conducted with AGIT representative Ralf Meyer and Theo Hommels from the Industriebank LIOF it became obvious which great opportunities the TTC initiative offers to SME in the Euregio.
Companies having promissing ideas for cooperative business and research but lacking sufficient funds to kick off can apply for innovation vouchers, worth 5.000 Euro each. Furthermore, more though-out consortial cooperation projects can receive grants up to 250.000 Euro under the Bordercrossing Cluster Stimulus program.
After a short refreshment break we headed into the second part of the conference. Five innovative companies from the Euregio each got 10 minutes on-stage to present their business and it's revolutionary idea as well as problems they are facing in bringing the product to market.
These five managers (Jeroen Rondeel, Pulseform, Rolf Call, Irmato Industrial Solutions, Edwin Currie, Kriya Materials, Ulrich Wirtz, WSE ltd. and Dirk De Keukeleere, AnSem) then assembled on stage to get into a lively discussion with Simone van Trier and the audience.
During this debate it came across that many companies do already use OI to support their business growth (even though they do not necessarily recognize that there is an actual term, OI, for their activities).
However, one issue entrepreneurs are often facing appears to be the cultural differences between people in the three neighbouring countries. While these can be overcome in most cases, language and different levels of openness towards new, external cooperation proposals do at least cause a certain delay and require dedicated work before would-be partners can actually dive into the core materia of their potential common venture.
The TTC vouchers and grants have been seen as a great help to get some new initiatives started and up to speed. The combination of the easier to get vouchers, fostering research of possibilities, and the actually incubating stimulus grant are perceived as an incentive and support to look into new possibilities cross-border.
Overall it was a successful, very nice event in a familiar atmosphere. Despite the unusually sunny weather and the heat that came with it, many good and interesting points were debated with a cold head and in the concluding get-together, lots of new contacts were made, opinions exchanged and new ventures discussed.
I am certainly looking forward to the next TTC event and to see how the program will develop until then. If you happen to work for an SME in the Euregio, the TTC website might be worth to stop by for you for further information.