UTCB \ Cercetează \ Programe MDLPA \ PilotInnCities

PilotInnCities (Pilot-based Innovation Ecosystems for Smart Cities) is a strategic project led by the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic, in which an 11-member consortium from six countries of the Danube Region participates. The aim of the project is simple: to support the introduction of innovative Smart City solutions into the practical life of cities and municipalities and, in particular, to initiate across-the-board, systemic changes in this direction. The project relies on the method of agile piloting, which supports small innovation experiments on the principle of living laboratories taking place in teamwork of actors across the innovation ecosystem. The consortium has received a grant of EUR 1.98 million for the period from 1 January 2024 to 30 June 2026 from the Interreg Danube programme.

The importance of cities in the context of the future of humanity and the planet is greater than it might seem at first glance. Cities produce around three-quarters of all emissions, consume a similar percentage of energy and primary raw materials, are at the centre of most economic activities, and determine the quality of life of three-quarters of the European Union’s population, for whom cities are their home. Challenges such as adaptation to climate change, energy transition or ensuring sustainable mobility have no solution unless they include a radical transformation of cities. To change the status quo, innovation is needed, and not just in the form of technology. In many cases, there is no shortage of innovations, but the process of putting them into practice is proving to be a fundamental problem. In particular, solutions whose target group is municipalities encounter financial, administrative and knowledge barriers on the customer side at an early stage. Practice shows that this hinders innovative companies from obtaining the first reference projects and thus from expansion, which could benefit cities and their citizens not only in Europe.

The answer of the PilotInnCities consortium is the agile piloting method. Agile piloting consists of supporting small innovation experiments in which there is a solution provider (usually an innovative company) on one side and a municipality as a beneficiary on the other. A third party enters the process, taking on the investment risk and encouraging cooperation with an amount that is not high, but is sufficient to set things in motion and eliminate the original market dysfunction. The agility lies in the fact that it is a temporary and limited experiment with significantly reduced bureaucracy. The aim is only to initially verify the viability, practical benefits and possible business model of the new solution and then to raise awareness of good or bad practice. This paves the way for scaling and prevents multiple entities from independently inventing the wheel. At the same time, the agile pilot becomes the centerpiece of ecosystem cooperation, where the experiment in the living laboratory actively involves the local community in the process of introducing innovation, as well as expertise and capacities from the nearest universities, innovation centers and other regional and national institutions. In this way, the actors learn teamwork and synergistic merging of their strengths, which materializes in practice what is called the quadruple helix in the theory of innovation ecosystems.

The project is divided into three sub-objectives, or stages:

1. Improving Smart City Cooperation of Actors Across the Quadruple Helix

In the first year (2024), the consortium will map the state of national innovation ecosystems, with an emphasis on the role of academia, industry, public administration and civil society. The main output will be an analysis that will assess the potential for systemic development of the Smart Cities topic in the Danube region through the lens of the quadruple helix and evaluate the similarities and differences between individual countries.

2. Designing and Practical Verification of Agile Piloting Methodology for the Danube Region

Ihe key task is to adapt agile piloting to the specific conditions of the region. The consortium will develop a methodology that will be tested on the first agile pilots in the second year (2025). At least 22 of them will be implemented in the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia, and one agile pilot can be supported by up to 20,000 euros. The ticket to piloting is participation in an open competition, in which innovative companies can submit their solutions – preferably already in tandem with a municipality willing to become a living laboratory for a pilot experiment.

3. Creating conditions for the adoption of agile piloting by national and regional institutions

Systemic support for innovation and competitiveness cannot be built on one-off projects co-financed by the European Union. PilotInnCities aims to create a practical guide for long-term, programmatic support for agile piloting from national and regional budgets. It will be based on a universal methodology fine-tuned with the help of the first wave of pilot experiments and an action plan that will recommend steps to national and regional authorities to set up an effective support system. The main argument for the adoption of agile piloting by public administration is a consistent focus according to the Pareto rule: it is an activity that requires very little investment but offers a robust positive impact with the potential to transform the entire innovation environment.

More information can be found on the www.interreg-danube.eu/projects/pilotinncities website.

Florin Băltărețu – UTCB Project Coordinator, florin.baltaretu@utcb.ro

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