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VARIO MEMORANDUM 2019-2024

In the run-up to the Flemish elections of 2019, VARIO wishes to give its priorities for the future with regard to its field of science, innovation and entrepreneurship to the next Flemish Government in the form of a Memorandum.

Strong content should form the basis of this first VARIO Memorandum. "What is important for the policy areas Science, Technology, Innovation, Industry and Entrepreneurship for the future? Which items should be on the agenda of the next Flemish Government" are the core questions. To this end, a broad consultation of the professional field will be organised.

VARIO will do so on the basis of an evaluation of the policies pursued over the past five years, together with an analysis of the budget and, in particular, of the additional resources to be allocated.

In order to maximise impact, it is important that the VARIO Memorandum is handed over to the political parties timely. VARIO is also planning an event in the autumn.

 

CREATING ADDED VALUE THROUGH FRUITFUL COOPERATION.

In the year 2018, the innovation paradox is still an important issue in Flanders. Although investment in research and development leads to excellent scientific output and performance at lower TRL levels, it is not yet sufficiently translated into economic and social added value.

Research shows that the innovative capacity of companies is positively influenced by government-funded forms of cooperation between knowledge institutions and companies. The Flemish range of instruments therefore includes a rich mix of hybrid channels aimed at valorisation and cooperation.

The best-known hybrid structures are the Strategic Research Centres (SOCs): imec, VIB, VITO and Flanders Make. They occupy an important position in the Flemish R&D&I landscape. Each SOC is aimed at a specific technology/theme/domain that Flanders considers to be strategic.

Recently, five spearhead clusters (Catalysti, Flux50, VIL, SIM and Flanders' Food) and a number of 'innovative business networks' (IBNs) have been added. They are the result of the new cluster policy launched by the current Flemish government. The spearhead clusters develop and implement an ambitious long-term strategy and competitiveness programme for a strategic domain for Flanders, in a partnership between companies, knowledge institutes and the government. The business networks, which are smaller than the spearhead clusters, are expected to implement a concrete action plan through intensive cooperation between the companies, with demonstrable economic added value for the participating companies.

The focus for VARIO embraces among other things:

  • What role do the different actors play in the Flemish R&D&I process? How is the cooperation going? What is their added value in the valorisation process of knowledge?
  • What are the bottlenecks that stand in the way of more valorisation? In terms of the division of roles between actors? When it comes to financing, .....
  • Is the research landscape as it stands today (with universities, colleges of higher education, SOCs, spearhead clusters and IBNs) and as it develops further, optimal?

When drawing up recommendations, importance will be attached to stimulating valorisation through cooperation, next to the specific features of the various structures, research excellence and new forms of interdisciplinarity.

INNOVATIVE HIGH-GROWTH FIRMS WITH IMPACT

Stimulating high-growth innovative firms is a point of concern according to the RIO Country Report Belgium 2016. High-growth firms are also an important policy issue. Most jobs are created by a limited number of fast-growing companies, while employment remains stable in the vast majority of companies. This requires more than just R&D: the sparkle of ambitious or growth-oriented entrepreneurship. High-growth firms are also crucial for a vibrant and dynamic economy. However, we note a decline of the number of high-growth companies in Belgium for the period 2000-2013.

A higher dose of healthy ambition and enthusiasm will be essential at all levels, not least at the level of the number of entrepreneurs with ambition and risk appetite to innovate and grow. And here Flanders scores (still) relatively weak.

How can we strategically make a difference with innovative high-growth companies in Flanders? As levers for employment and economic growth? ... and of which the whole society is reaping the benefits? ... In his advice VARIO wants to put forward a global, integral strategy to increase the number of successful high-growth firms in Flanders based on an entrepreneurial ecosystem approach. The focus is both on young and older innovative high-growth companies in all economical and societal domains. A small, centrally located region such as Flanders with innovative companies and top knowledge institutions in near proximity to each other, is in any case unique, and an important asset for the further development of Flemish high-growth entrepreneurial ecosystems. The advisory process is based on extensive quantitative and qualitative analyzes and a thorough review of the (academic) literature.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Technological advances over the last decade have made applications of artificial intelligence (AI) truly break through: the market for 2025 is estimated at $39 billion, compared to $660 million in 2016. Especially the branch of machine learning, with artificial neural networks with the capacity to 'learn', is developing rapidly.

One of the most common consumer applications of AI is probably the Google search engine; inadvertently, therefore, the Flemish are already using the technology on a daily basis. But the full potential has not yet been realised. AI is a technology that can play an important role in almost all areas of human activity, and that will thus lead to a far-reaching transformation of our economy and society. The European Economic and Social Committee provides important examples of societal challenges that can be addressed by AI, such as safer transport, more sustainable production, better medicine, higher competitiveness, etc.

The US and China are today at the forefront of investment in AI. However, more and more states are becoming aware of the potential. In the UAE, for example, an AI specialist minister was appointed last year. In Europe, the Finnish Ministry of Economy sees artificial intelligence as the cornerstone of the future economy. The Danish Prime Minister chairs a so-called 'Disruption Council', which aims to ensure that the labour market can absorb technological (r)evolution.

VARIO will look at how the Flemish government should anticipate these developments. Strategic action is not only necessary in order to avoid undesirable social effects. AI can make an important contribution to our future prosperity, for example by providing additional opportunities to anchor industrial sectors that are currently suffering from high labour costs.

Examples of issues that inspired VARIO to start up an AI advisory process:

  • How can AI maximally contribute to the societal challenges and opportunities in our education, health, safety, environment, mobility, renewable energy...?
  • Which framework must be created by the Flemish Government with a view to a maximum contribution of AI to the future Flemish competitiveness, prosperity and well-being, including regulations, subsidies and/or tax incentives...?
  • How can Flanders successfully position itself in the global struggle for AI leadership, which often takes place between major powers? Which are the most important levers for this?
  • •…