Smart Story: Smart Specialisation in Västra Götaland
Västra Götaland is one of Europe’s innovation leaders. It is the second largest region in Sweden and home to several large industries such as Volvo Cars, Volvo Group, SKF and Astra Zeneca. The region is strong in research and innovation with above average spending on R&D and five well renowned universities. Industry is at the heart of the regional economy and the region is a testbed for new sustainable technologies.
The regional Smart Specialisation Strategy is an integrated part of the overall growth and development strategy for the region, Västra Götaland 2020. The strategy points out thirteen prioritised sectors with a specific emphasis on six areas of strength in the region: life science, transport, green chemistry, materials, textiles and the maritime sector.
Each area of strength thematically matches with one of the six science parks in Västra Götaland. These science parks provide neutral arenas, enabling long-lasting collaborations between academia, the private sector and the public sector. In addition to the science parks, Region Västra Götaland has thirteen thematic programmes for regional development, covering the S3 priorities and other enabling areas such as skills demand and supply. Furthermore, the programmes support innovation and sustainable development actions. Representatives from academia, industry and enterprises or public sector organisations can apply for funding from the programmes for regional development. Funding can be granted for innovations building on long-lasting structures for cooperation, testing and demonstrations.
Turning the traditional textile industry into an innovative and sustainable specialisation field
The investments through the programmes for regional development have contributed to a robust and agile regional economy more prepared for economic change. Older, outmoded industries have managed to transform and stay competitive in the knowledge economy. One such example is the textile sector in Borås which has managed to stay relevant although large number of jobs disappeared through reoccurring economic crisis, especially in the seventies, when production moved abroad.
The new textile businesses in Borås have moved from fast fashion to innovative products where new materials are being introduced with smart sensors in fabrics. The new innovative products can be applied in sectors such as health care, hence enabling cross-sectorial collaboration. Region Västra Götaland supports the textile hub in several ways. Two examples are worth mentioning: the programme for Circular Fashion and Sustainable Interiors, where funding has been allocated for innovation and to enable new business models, creating a new demand for sustainability in the sector. The second example is the co-investment by Region Västra Götaland for the establishment of the national textile cluster in Borås. The investments symbolise a strategic importance and orientation for textile innovation, which is significant, with two thirds of the Swedish textile sector being employed by a business in Västra Götaland. Many of these companies can be found at the Textile and Fashion Centre where the Swedish School of Textiles and many support functions to the innovation system, such as incubators, are located. The building alone is well worth the visit: a former textile factory renovated to modern standards while maintaining its industrial heritage.
The case of sustainable transport and road safety systems
Västra Götaland is also the main Swedish hub for sustainable transport R&D, employing almost half of Swedish automotive sector. Automation, electrification and vehicle ICT are among the industry’s competitive sectors. Several large demonstration projects are currently in progress in Västra Götaland, including ElectriCity, a platform for the development and testing of services and products contributing to more attractive public mobility. One example is Volvo electric buses which are tested in real life in the city’s public transport fleet. An example of synergies between funds connected to the smart specialisation strategy is the unique test facility for road and vehicle safety, Asta Zero. Asta Zero opened in 2014 and is the world’s first full-scale independent test environment for future road safety. The facility is unique in that the different traffic environments make it possible to test advanced safety systems and their functions for all kinds of traffic and traffic situations. This enables research, development and certification of future road safety systems, and functions as an international arena open for vehicle manufacturers, suppliers, legislators, universities and colleges throughout the world. This investment was achieved through regional and national funding, complemented with funds from the European Regional Development Fund, and a unique contract signed by the automotive industry, promising to use and pay for the facility for several years. The multi-level governance in Västra Götaland is a form of historical embedded practice, acknowledged by public and private actors working on R&D. The multi-level coordination has shown to be an efficient way of setting bigger development processes in motion. A clear and common goal has shown to be vital for the successful long-term investments and long-lasting collaborations.
Sustainable regional development as a basis for regional stakeholders’ dialogue
Regional innovation policies in Västra Götaland, as well as actions, are a result of continuous dialogues and collaboration with business representatives, academia and public sector organisations. Region Västra Götaland offers structured dialogues with stakeholders and discussions linked to specific sectors or topics. Forums worth mentioning are the Principals network, the CEO network for Science Parks, the Sustainable Development Advisory Committee with municipal representatives, the structured business dialogue, and the Future Västra Götaland forum which gathers representatives from the triple helix. The frequency of the forums varies from a bi-monthly basis to an annual basis. Common for all forums is the focus on sustainable regional development.
The introduction of Smart Specialisation in Västra Götaland has brought more clarity of roles, competences and areas of expertise among actors in the region. This has resulted in a stronger collaboration between science parks and incubators, avoiding overlaps of actions and thus enabling a more efficient innovation ecosystem where actors get high quality support when needed. Another result following the implementation of the Smart Specialisation methodology are new international partnerships, such as the Smart Specialisation partnership for textile innovation. National partnerships and platforms for knowledge exchange between regions on S3 implementation, in addition to dialogue with national institutions are other positive side effects.
Quote: “Region Västra Götaland has the ambition to act as a forerunner within sustainable development and as test bed for new ideas and innovations”.