Anton Rop, Slovenian Prime Minister, with Vanja Rangus and SLORITTS partners from Ireland and Umbria.
lovenia reacted to the liberalisation of the 1990s by seeking foreign investment to help regain the employment lost when large state industries were broken up. The recently completed RIS-NAC project, SLORITTS, to develop the regional innovation strategy, began while Slovenia was still negotiating EU membership. It has concluded that Slovenia needs to create and expand innovation culture. The work covered the 12 Slovenian regions, and was undertaken with help from two Member State regions, Umbria (Italy) and Shannon (Ireland), and took nearly three years. The final report, published in April last year, presents the strategic innovation plan for Slovenia. Although Slovenia is a nation of nearly 2 million inhabitants, it is regarded as an innovating region for this purpose. The plan is to convert local expertise into new business opportunities so that the country can become more self-supporting.
“The RIS-NAC study was very wide-ranging,” says SLORITTS coordinator, Vanja Rangus. “Our steering committee had 17 regional and national organisations – enterprises of all sizes, support groups and those responsible for finance, education and training – which gathered opinions throughout the regions. We held two conferences on ways to boost the innovativeness of Slovenia as a European region,” she adds. The working groups analysed needs and trends and carried out a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. Their recommendations included improving the legal system, increasing financial support, better co-operation between academia and industry, and management of human resources, as well as raising general awareness of innovation.
These recommendations form the basis of a national innovation system action plan. “The plan was very well received,” comments Rangus. “Discussions with our Prime Minister and Ministries of the Economy, Regional Development and Structural Policy show consensus at the highest level. They feel that the time is right for structural change and a new infrastructure to support innovation.”
Over 90% of Slovenian companies employ just a few people. Nevertheless, when SLORITTS surveyed innovation activity it found more than 70 projects under way. Some of the most promising could be grouped into three subjects – healthcare, technology and tourism. The plan focuses on these three ‘umbrellas’ and progress is already being made in all of them.
Opening up umbrellas
The growth area of tourism is attractive to Slovenia because of its proximity to Western Europe and its natural features which include the world’s largest underground canyon at the Sì kcojan caves. With so many potential players, coordination is difficult, but numerous operators, hotels and tourist boards expressed interest in working together to try and increase the number of overnight stays and tourist spending levels, to create integrated products and entice out-of-season travellers.
The Slovenian Power of Tourism Association, SPOT, set up mainly to exploit new direct no-frills flights to Ljubljana from the UK, now plans connections with Russia, Scandinavia, Spain and elsewhere. Its membership fee is used principally to support marketing, although it is acknowledged that this cost may put off some prospective members. A survey of visitors showed they liked cheaper flights, attractive and different resorts, relatively low prices and good services from friendly people. Now the task is to spread knowledge of Slovenia as a tourist destination.
The healthcare umbrella will improve the standard of healthcare for citizens and offer specialist services that can be marketed abroad. It is setting up a centre of excellence for the treatment of pulmonary disease and allergies. A new consortium, coordinated by the University Clinic of Respiratory and Allergic Diseases in Golnik, has already received expressions of interest from 13 hospitals, institutes, academic departments and private companies. Cardiac care and rehabilitation after paralysis may also come under the umbrella in the future. A project for using EU Structural Funds has been agreed, and links with both technology and tourism will be fostered.
Under the technology umbrella, the aim is to turn Slovenia’s skills and know-how into business opportunities. The plan uses the proven mechanism of business parks, where small companies can set up close to research facilities to encourage new ventures. An association of technology parks has been formed from three existing parks and a further regional technology park is just being set up. They plan to improve the physical infrastructure infrastructure by introducing pre-incubation units, incubators at the university, and creating more space for growing companies. SLORITTS contributed common strategies for developing the ‘national knowledge valorisation shell’. The soft infrastructure focuses on better motivation and improved support for the many potential start-ups through identification, verification, selection, start-up and seed funds in all regions.
“We are delighted that stakeholders are buying into these developments that promise a better quality of life for all Slovenians, and contribute to European economic development,” concludes Rangus.
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