Project summary

         ... successful innovation policy combines the need to set directions from above with the ability to enable bottom up experimentation and learning. 

                                                                          Mariana Mazzucato, Mission-Oriented Innovation Policy

SMEs greatly benefit from ecosystems that enable cross-sectoral collaboration, learning, creation and experimentation. Access to smart and integrated (inter)regional policy instruments throughout the entire process of innovation, a vibrant (value chain) ecosystem and relevant competencies will pave the way towards demand-driven and thus efficient, effective and sustainable solutions.

The overall objective of ACSELL is to sensitize the public sector, innovation intermediaries (e.g., chambers of commerce, technology transfer offices, etc.) and SMEs towards          

          • expanding SME competencies by promoting open innovation ecosystems; and          

          • integrating the user early in the innovation process with (interregional) living lab                                approach.

Moreover, ACSELL will facilitate complex policy orchestration and promote network thinking and openness through 1) concerted twinning activities in the form of study visits based on comprehensive self-assessments; 2) knowledge transfer and mutual learning between regions coping with the same challenges by identifying transferable good practices and hacking regional policy challenges; and 3) accelerating innovative capacities in the participating regions through improved (innovation) policy instruments.

What is the optimal framework for nudging that paradigm shift towards open and demand-driven innovation? How can mutually reinforcing value propositions be attained in a multi-dimensional ecosystem? These questions will guide activities that will feed into the action plans for each region. 


from 1 Aug 2019
to 31 Jul 2023

SME competitiveness

Open and Demand-Driven Innovation

Mega trends like ageing populations and digitalisation are transforming different areas of our lives, our work and our economies, ranging from new needs, new products and services to new organizational forms and business models. 

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are also affected by these changes and consequently need to acquire new skills and cross-industry knowledge in order to remain competitive. So-called open innovation ecosystems and user-centered approaches (e.g., living labs) can make an important contribution by using external know-how cooperatively in order to align new products and services with the needs of customers and thus significantly accelerating innovation processes. 

Especially SMEs are affected by poorly designed regulatory frameworks and lack the resources or capacities to deal with these dynamic and increasingly complex market conditions. The ACSELL project thus focusses on creating favorable (innovation) policies and framework conditions for SMEs. 

What are Living Labs?

Living Labs (LLs) are defined as user-centred, open innovation ecosystems based on systematic user co-creation approach, integrating research and innovation processes in real life communities and settings.

LLs are both practice-driven organisations that facilitate and foster open, collaborative innovation, as well as real-life environments or arenas where both open innovation and user innovation processes can be studied and subject to experiments and where new solutions are developed.

LLs operate as intermediaries among citizens, research organisations, companied, cities and regions for joint value co-creation, rapid prototyping or validation to scale up innovation and businesses. LLs have common elements but multiple different implementations.

                                                                          Definition by European Network of Living Labs (ENOLL)

What policy instruments does the project address?

Baden-Württemberg’s Budget for 2014-2020 from ERDF is € 246.585.038,-


Aim: to strengthen potential for research and innovation


Impact: expand cluster development and regional innovation infrastructures to more SMEs (also in rural areas), support to and increase of innovative SMEs (including the RIS3 clusters), more new products and services, faster innovation processes and better time-to-market


Enhancing the SME competitiveness and cluster development are both integral parts of the Baden-Württemberg innovation policy. But the dovetailing between research (universities) and application (SMEs) as well as between technology and services is often missing – and so is the match of supply and demand (needs), especially with regards to SMEs. Thus the State Government of Baden-Württemberg is using OP to foster programmes, that support exchange, knowledge-transfer and collaboration in (open) innovation processes throughout multi-stakeholder-networks (universities, cluster agencies, chambers, Transfercenters, SMEs, users), also in rural areas, in a more effective way. This policy instrument however could be improved by integrating the demand side into the innovation process much earlier – i.e. by using instruments like Living Labs, Design-thinking workshops and hackathons. This offers a great opportunity for tackling the specific targets 1, 2 and 3 of the Operational Programme (ERDF, Priority A 01 1b) and to strengthen the cluster development in Baden-Württemberg significantly.

Which partners are working on this?
  • University of Tübingen

The objective of the instrument is to generate economic added value and increase competitiveness of Flemish enterprises by improved collaboration between enterprises, knowledge institutes and government (triple helix). The cluster program provides funding for cluster organizations based on a long term competitiveness program. The cluster organization can thus organize activities for the member companies to generate collaborative activities and projects – from R&D to demonstration and pilot projects, from idea generation to roadmapping and development of the cluster strategy.

Furthermore the cluster program provides funding for collaborative cluster projects through specific calls tailored to foster collaboration between the enterprises in these clusters.


The Flanders Cluster Support Program is also indirectly linked to the Flemish ERDF Operation Program 20142020. The collaborative activities and projects can potentially be supported from 2 specific objectives (SO): SO 1.1 “Promote cocreation for improved valorisation of R&D results” (27.8 MEUR ERDF available) and SO 1.2 “Support the transfer/dissemination of technologies in view of knowledge valorization and commercialization” (41.7 MEUR ERDF available).

Which partners are working on this?
  • Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship

The SMEs sector is insufficiently developed, with negative impact on competitiveness of regional economies. In order to ensure competitiveness and create jobs, supporting the business environment in terms of increasing the size and activity of companies becomes a priority.


The West Regional Operational Programme for 2014-2020 allocates € 80,43 MM for activities developed under Priority Axis 2 aiming at improving the capacities of SMEs.


The intended improvements for this policy instrument envisage the promoting of entrepreneurship, especially by facilitating the economic exploitation of new ideas and by encouraging the creation of new businesses, inclusively through the support of business incubators. Other proposed measures include the expansion of cluster development to a wider range of SMEs (also in rural areas), the support for increasing the number of innovative SMEs, products and services, as well as decreasing the duration of innovation processes and ensuring better time-to-market.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Timiş County Council

For the ERDF-OP TO1: Research & Innovation, the North Denmark Regions’ action plan 2014-2018 has the following focus:


Strengthening the organisation in clusters.

• The development and running of cluster organisations in relevant business areas as an efficient tool for growth and development. The activities must focus on collaboration, innovation and the creation of business in companies.

• Innovation activities. Supports projects that can develop new concepts for products or test concepts at the relevant target groups.


This has been implemented in the shape of Public-private innovation (PPI) collaboration through clusters.

It is a goal to be able to build one cluster organisation in the North Denmark Region in the fields of health- and welfare technology that includes all regional actors with an interest in these fields. This will build mainly on relevant PPI collaborations.

One function of the cluster is to initiate and develop different arenas for innovation. In the healthcare sector, the interaction with hospital staff and patients is essential. However, the potentials for developing new solutions, support entrepreneurs and innovation in SMEs have not been fully exploited.


Improvements to the current policy should focus on the remaining barriers. These include a drop in the number of successful PPIs (Evaluation by KORA 2014) and that it is notoriously hard for SMEs to go from development to sale in the health- or welfare tech market.

Which partners are working on this?
  • North Denmark Region

Regarding FVG ROP ERDF 2014-2020 two thematic objectives are concerned: 1.Strengthening research, technological development and innovation; 2.Improving access, use and quality of ICT. In this framework priorities of investment and specific objectives are: to promote business investments in R&D by developing links and synergies between companies, research and development centers and the higher education sector, in particular for the development of products and services, technology transfer, social innovation, applications in public services; to support demand-driven innovation, networks, clusters and open innovation; to support technological and applied research, pilot activities, and actions for early validation of products, advanced manufacturing capabilities, especially in key enabling technologies; to increase business innovation activities.

In a governance perspective specific objectives are: to strengthen ICT applications for e-government, e-learning, e-inclusion, e-culture and e-health; to strengthen the ICT demand of citizens and businesses in terms of using IT services, digital inclusion and participation.

Improvements to the policy should aim at strengthening the capacity of SME to address demand-drive innovation, at scaling-up their innovative services and products and at exploiting better R&D outcomes in their business development, through the definition of supporting environments and service support systems.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Central European Initiative – Executive Secretariat CEI-ES

We refer to two investment priorities (IP):

- IP1: Promoting entrepreneurship, in particular by facilitating the economic exploitation of new ideas and fostering the creation of new firms, including through business incubators.

- IP2: Developing and implementing new business models for SMEs, in particular with regard to internationalization.


There are two specific objectives (SO) addressed in the IP1. SO1 refers to promoting and accelerating the creation of new firms, especially start-ups, whereas SO2 addresses increased added value of SMEs. According to the OP, it is “crucial to improve access to capital and funding, training, mentoring, networking and other support services” for the SMEs as it will “contribute to improving the skills and competences at the level of companies and at the level of inter-company cooperation”. Support under SO2 will be, among others, given to: growth and development of SMEs by links to creative industry, introducing tech and non-tech innovativeness. Objective of the IP2 is to enhance the international competitiveness of SMEs.


Improvements of the policy should outline new opportunities related to accessibility of funding for SMEs, recommend additional incentives for enhancing internationalization by integration into global value chains and address new mechanisms designed specifically for so called scale-up companies. Etrepreneurial support system should support SMEs to address demand driven innovation.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Technology Park Ljubljana Ltd.

Scotland will focus on thematic objective 01 – strengthening research, technological development and innovation.

In this framework, priorities of investment and specific objectives are – promoting business investment in R&I by developing links and synergies between enterprises, research and development centres and the higher education sector, in particular the development of products and services, technology transfer, social innovation, public service applications to support demand-driven innovation, networks, clusters and open innovation; to support technological and applied research, pilot activities, early product validation and advanced manufacturing capabilities, particularly in key enabling technologies; to increase business innovation activities.


The priority will be to strengthen the capabilities and capacities of citizens, services and businesses in using digital solutions for health and wellbeing, learning, culture and service delivery.


Improvements of the policy aim to have more businesses investing in innovation to maintain and increase their global competitiveness. Interaction of key parts of the innovation ecosystem – public authorities, SMEs, researchers, ICT networks – facilitated through living labs will seek to improve investment in products, service development and enabling technologies. Local businesses will benefit from support that will allow them to become more profitable and to take steps to innovate and invest

Which partners are working on this?
  • Scottish Government