Europe needs to make a step change in its research and innovation performance. As the Innovation Union pointed out, this requires that research and innovation be better linked. Breaking away from traditional compartmentalised approaches, the EU should focus more on challenges and outcomes to be achieved, linking the research and innovation funding more closely to the policy objectives. To help achieve the ambitious goals of the Europe 2020 Strategy, the Innovation Union must involve all regions thus avoiding an innovation divide between the strongest innovating regions and the others.

In the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region, AREA’s Innovation Management System has at its core “Innovation Network”, a regionally funded project which in recent years has led to a direct positive impact in both occupation and revenues for the companies who have participated. The program has led to numerous innovation projects, which in turn have created new products and processes and successful patents. The secret of this success the application of a straightforward methodology in which trained technology brokers from specialist competence centers interact with entrepreneurs to identify innovation opportunities. They identify the right competences in the local or extended research community to address the projects needs and then work with the business and the researchers, following the innovation project through to its final conclusion. This model has now been successfully contextualized in the southern Italian region of Basilicata and could also be applied elsewhere in Europe if the right funding model were in place. The model not only leads to successful innovation projects but to the creation and continuous improvement of a highly skilled regional infrastructure linking the business and research communities.

The Tuscany Region has also developed a series of innovative services to strengthen the competitiveness of SMEs. These include efficient instruments for the valorization of intellectual property that represent a rare example of IP merchant banking in Europe.

The debate focused on different research and innovation funding tools developed at the regional level across the EU and promoted best practices to foster growth and competitiveness in line with the Innovation Union policy.