How can IPAs effectively foster regional innovation and strengthen cross-border R&D partnerships?

By Lisa Niebler-Sparwasser
July 14, 2020

Experience in day-to-day contact with clients has shown that not only for large organizations but also for SMEs and Start-Up companies, international co-operations in terms of R&D partnerships are often a highly welcomed opportunity to engage in new markets, test the grounds and grow expertise when developing new and improved products and processes. So how can IPAs support and grow local innovation capabilities cost and time effectively and foster these partnerships long term?

Best Practices
The competition among IPAs is fierce and often similar key location advantages and investment arguments are promoted to international companies. To stand out as a region, investment promotion agencies need to do more and offer a distinctive value proposition - for instance by including services which enable international companies to also grow within the region and beyond.

One of the key drivers for economic growth is technological advancement through innovation. Economists have calculated that approximately 50% of U.S. annual GDP growth is attributed to increases in innovation. The right framework of access to capital, infrastructure and skilled workforce is supporting innovation locally and IPAs who are fostering an innovative environment have a clear USP when attracting FDI.

There are multiple examples on a national and more regional level that show how IPAs can economically support R&D-partnerships and cross-border innovation. Below three examples from Invest in Canada, Business Sweden and Basel Area Business & Innovation are highlighted:

Invest in Canada promotes, facilitates and accelerates foreign direct investment (FDI) into Canada. Unlocking investment opportunities and facilitating expansion in Canada is a priority for successful investment promotion. Services are strongly aimed at providing clear and easy access to information on R&D-related programs and incentives as well as connecting all relevant players from industry, academia and government. For instance, one possibility for foreign companies to get involved directly in Digital Technology, Protein Industries, Next Generation Manufacturing, AI Powered Supply Chains and Ocean is through the Innovation Supercluster Initiative promoted by Invest in Canada. Foreign companies can join projects, provide and get access to technology solutions, meet the industry and access project funding.

Overall, relevant programs and incentives are clearly structured online, and each key sector description include information on available incentives as well as relevant clusters and research institutes. Interested investors can sign up directly to newsletters on specific topics as well as learn about individual programs through free webinars, in-person seminars and other self-assessment and learning-tools. The information presented is clearly structured, transparent and to the point.

“When global companies are looking to innovate and develop R&D partnerships, they turn to Canada. Canada’s highly skilled workforce and access to talent supports a mature innovation ecosystem. Invest in Canada works directly with those global companies at each stage of their investment, providing concierge service and world-class aftercare, identifying potential partners and government programs.”

Nathalie Béchamp, Chief, Investor Services

For more information on programs and incentives in Canada please visit:
Invest in Canada Website

Business Sweden has introduced an interactive map highlighting for instance the Nordic battery value chain as well as key infrastructure. For this national target sector, the map highlights relevant clusters as well as key companies. Also, there is the option to apply a filter and only look for companies/institutes active in Research & Development. You can then easily scroll through the results and read a short statement on individual research fields.

The website itself highlights the agency’s competences by providing a set of relevant and most common challenges for foreign investors in form of Q&As. Alongside the common challenges Business Sweden provides a statement on how they can help with this specific inquiry. Finally, they have pledged to answer to all incoming requests within 48 hours which acknowledges their professionalism.

It does not have to be an interactive map, however, to have one platform that bundles up relevant information on clusters and companies involved in R&D combined with a list of most relevant Q&As are highly effective tools to react and adapt to changes and new trends quickly. At the same time these online tools enable IPAs to present their companies to the global community and push international R&D-cooperations constantly.

“We have stepped up our efforts to provide powerful digital services to international companies looking to innovate, invest and expand in Sweden. Our location intelligence tool has been very effective to present ecosystem strengths and help clients find opportunities for establishments and R&D collaborations. We can offer insights on a map to paint the full picture of an industry or cluster with key companies, institutions, universities, test beds, competence, R&D capabilities, infrastructure and other useful data. This, along with a unique site selection tool, has been a great advantage for us, and our clients, now and in the future.”

Anna Hammarberg, Investment Cooperation Manager, Business Sweden

For more information on services provided by Business Sweden please visit:
Business Sweden Website

The Swiss IPA Basel Area Business & Innovation is placing a huge emphasis on innovation and acceleration for foreign businesses. The extensive services range from consultations and connections to helping companies and start-ups launch and grow the business, including introductions to local networks, invitations to events, seminars & workshops, catalyst projects, acceleration programs as well as collaborative workspaces. Every year, over 100 events, workshops, panel discussions and conferences with more than 5,000 participants are hosted to help companies accelerate their business. With a focus on growing the region’s cutting-edge industries, the non-profit agency has also launched several initiatives and accelerators aimed at developing the future oriented life sciences, healthcare and production technologies ecosystem.

Basel Area Business & Innovation also manages the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, which serves as a catalyst for innovation and progress, and offers co-working spaces and shared research facilities across three locations. Soon, a fourth location will open up on the Novartis Campus in Basel.

In case of Basel Area Business & Innovation, an in-house innovation team of specialists across various key segments is enabling and enhancing local innovation and offers companies a direct point of contact. The more human resources can be assigned to the challenging tasks of fostering local innovation, the better; however, there are synergies for smaller IPAs and ways to link other important activities such as company retention and networking to promoting potential R&D-partnerships or start-up promotion.

“Our great advantage is that we can offer an all-round package. We not only advise and support companies that want to settle in the Basel Area, and embed them in our ecosystem, but we also promote project ideas and develop innovative initiatives that can lead to the founding of a company. This service portfolio is unique in Switzerland.”

Christof Klöpper, CEO Basel Area Business & Innovation

If you would like to be connected to other innovators and experts in the Basel Area please visit:
Basel Area Business & Innovation Website

Cost-Benefit Analysis
From our day to day work with small and large companies we understand that they would welcome more information on global science opportunities. Whether updates on governmental R&D focus areas or R&D efforts and plans by local companies and universities – these insights can be the starting point of new and international innovation within a region. From a standpoint of company retention increasing interactions and exchange with current investors about potential R&D needs is a highly valuable approach to ensure stability within the region. Also snowball effects might occur attracting other related businesses along the supply chains.

IPAs can support these efforts by helping to gather and promote local R&D news, by providing an overview into international funding opportunities and by helping to find local partners. The level of involvement is highly variable and depends on aspects such as key industries (IT, high- and medium Tech have stronger R&D needs than F&B, metals, oils and gas), infrastructure (number of universities, institutes etc.) and of course financial capacities.

Some IPAs may assign a direct workforce to the task and potentially link it to retention programs; some may indirectly offer collected information and connect subject-specific players through platforms and websites.

In any case gathering transparent and up-to-date information is key and making this information accessible to the international audience is key. Whether getting involved directly or indirectly in supporting innovation and R&D, IPAs need to constantly review the impact of the measures taken to stay effective long-term. Therefore IPAs should define the key stakeholders interested in innovation and R&D regionally (key companies, universities, investors) and confirm expectations; also, IPAs should focus on gathering relevant information and promoting events/workshops, clusters, partner networks, specific data and funding availabilities etc. and act as a facilitator; lastly, IPAs should not over-collect information and really stick to what’s critical for international companies.

Regular surveys and interviews with key stakeholders, monitoring attendance at events, tracking, and analyzing external clicks on own website/downloads and conducting internal assessment of planned programs are a few ways to quantify the success.

Key Takeaway Lessons
Creating business opportunities through R&D and innovation has become part of the DNA of successful IPAs. From experience and in relation to current events, these regions still strive also in more challenging political and environmental circumstances. Below are key takeaway lessons:
  • Know and understand your key sectors and their needs for R&D by introducing effective stakeholder management.
  • Engage with local universities and multipliers and formulate key R&D focus areas.
  • Do not try to be a scientist, but rather focus on the promotion of local capabilities (including listing key players, research institutes, cluster maps etc.).
  • Create platform to centralize information (on key contacts, key events, key funding opportunities etc.).
  • Provide the framework, promote it effectively and focus on being a facilitator.
  • Direct vs. Indirect involvement - use synergies and effectively combine work of employees on R&D/Innovation with company retention activities.
  • Try to quantify and measure level of engagement of international companies by regularly talking to key shareholders, by tracking events and analyzing/reviewing own website as well as internal assessments.
  • Lisa Niebler-Sparwasser

    Senior Consultant