Many European citizens hope to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. Yet currently, virtually no economic sectors or products are truly sustainable, thereby creating demand for suitable alternatives. Meeting the demand would require transition to a circular bioeconomy (i.e. complete recycling), for which European SMEs are well positioned. The problem is that although the EU funds numerous bioeconomy projects, only a few have successfully developed market-ready products. Many more face significant barriers to developing and marketing sustainable products. The barriers are numerous, but the most important one concerns obtaining financing. Doing so obliges developers to prove market demand, yet this requires access to customers who want to understand the potential product and ensure its quality, which itself requires financing. The EU-funded BioLinX project supported EU projects in overcoming the financing hurdles to more effectively progress innovations to market. Supporting projects and regions BioLinX selected projects active in the bioeconomy field that also focus on developing commercial processes or products from agro and/or forest materials as feedstock. The team assessed each project according to expected impact and the existence of a market. “Regions play a vital role in Europe,” explains Dennis van der Pas, BioLinX project manager. “Despite globalisation and world markets, regions are the real nodes for innovation.” In the case of bioeconomy projects of the kind BioLinX supported, regions represent the scale at which meaningful interaction among participants most effectively leads to innovation. It is at the regional cluster level that information about markets, connections and biomass producers is most detailed. BioLinX developed a network of key regional bioeconomy clusters. These were also coordinated into a larger-scale network, called the Vanguard Initiative. This is a network of European regions dedicated to advancing industrial innovation in Europe, and includes the bioeconomy as one of its pilot projects. Brokerage events BioLinX organised a series of brokerage events, which enabled people from across the value chains to meet. “Despite all the technological ways of connecting people, and the often technical nature of bioeconomy projects, the actual development of the economy is still ‘people-business’,” says van der Pas. Such projects attract many entrepreneurs, all of whom seek connections with universities and knowledge institutes, advocacy organisations, value chain partners and governments. “By giving people the opportunity to meet others and present their own cases, we broadened their networks. This was one of our main goals for the events,” he continues. The team discovered the difficulty of activating stakeholders beyond their own project or network interests. Only a few out of over 500 projects directly contacted expressed interest in BioLinX services. The services included project incubation, the BioLinX intelligence platform (for patent applications or acquiring project partners) and skills such as entrepreneurship or obtaining finance. However, the brokerage events provided an opportunity to make sufficient participants aware of BioLinX services and from these events, BioLinX have supported 269 EU projects. BioLinX also compiled a set of nine detailed policy recommendations for the European Commission. These address themes for supporting projects through to successful commercialisation. Although BioLinX ended mid-2018, many of its elements will continue under the BIOPEN project. As a result, future EU bioeconomy projects will be better equipped to transfer their products to market. That will help the transition to sustainability.
BioLinX, bioeconomy, products, innovation, sustainable, financing, marketing, European regions