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ASTER: Driving Innovation in The Wider Emilia-Romagna Region

Surrounded by a river on one side and Apennine mountains on the other, the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy is widely known for its breathtaking views, byzantine mosaics, and a rich culture rooted in its ancient civilization. In addition to its natural beauty, a major development that is destined to make the region a centre of attention in the 21st century is its regional innovation ecosystem, which mobilizes universities, research and innovation centers, companies, and local governing bodies towards the creation of a unified and collaborative approach to knowledge and technology generation.

The coordination of regional innovation in Emilia-Romagna is undertaken by ASTER, a consortium consisting of the knowledge producers and consumers in the region. The turning point in ASTER’s history was its re-founding in 2002, this time as a joint-owned institution. Legislation to restructure the governance system of ASTER through a stakeholder buy-in option was put in place, promoting a model that is atypical to the Italian culture of managing regional organizations. All the major relevant stakeholders, including the six universities of the region, three national research centres, and the regional chamber of commerce, joined forces to partner with the Emilia-Romagna regional government to run the newly rejuvenated consortium.

But how does ASTER stimulate regional innovation?

Under the umbrella of creating a well-integrated, open and internationally competitive entrepreneurial eco-system, ASTER engages in a wide range of specific initiatives that aim to build the capacity of local institutions. Among other activities, ASTER provides training and personalized consultation for startups and medium-sized companies on the topics of financing, e.g. European funding, crowdfunding and local sources, the protection of intellectual property, partnership, and sustainability. ASTER, in collaboration with the regional government, also actively promotes the training of graduates aiming to work in industrial research and development.

As a principal managing body of the region’s ‘High Technology Network’ which consists of 82 laboratories, 14 innovation centres, and 10 Technopoles, ASTER is also responsible for creating a synergetic relationship amongst the local innovation actors. In line with this, the organization has jointly designed a number of open innovation platforms that facilitate coordinated and collaborative action in the region. These include incubation centres, open spaces for entrepreneurial work, and fabrication laboratories for developing high-tech prototypes. Additionally, ASTER hosts an online database that provides pertinent information about prospective partners, mentors, and past and present projects undertaken by members of the network. The periodic meetings between the various committees that make up the governing body of ASTER also provide an excellent opportunity to envisage and implement joint projects.

Accomplishments thus far

Understandably, ASTER’s daunting ambition of streamlining the innovation system of the region is not easily achieved. Bringing academic researchers, who are often confined within their universities and mainly motivated by curiosity-driven research and discovery, onto the same wavelength as companies who are much more interested in the immediate applicability of knowledge, has of course proven to be a challenge. Nevertheless, ASTER is transforming the entrepreneurial culture of the region steadily. Since its inception, the organization has helped more than 1000 companies in the region to form fruitful collaborations with universities. The regional government’s initiative to train industrial researchers has also resulted in 600 PhD graduates, 50% of whom have already found employment within companies that are located in the Emilia-Romagna region. In addition, ASTER has been active in securing European-level grants: As of 2016, the consortium had won 100 competitive projects.

Having built the capacity of local institutions, ASTER is now moving to strategic projects with long-term benefits for the region as a whole. As things stand, the Emilia-Romagna region is set to preserve its status as an attractive region, not only for its natural beauty, but also for its successful regional innovation agenda.

Want to learn more about ASTER and its role in the regional innovation system of the Emilia-Romagna region, you can find the case study here



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