The EUROACE Euroregion was established in 2009, with the aim of reinforcing and boosting cross-border cooperation. It is made up of three regions: Alentejo and Centro in Portugal, and Extremadura in Spain. The region is one of the major food suppliers of Europe, yet its ecosystems are increasingly threatened by climate change, and in particular droughts, which pose a major risk for agriculture production. In addition, it faces several challenges common to rural regions such as high unemployment, lack of business opportunities and depopulation.
To this end, the INNOACE project aims to strengthen business networks, favouring the creation of synergies among enterprises and R&D centres, turning scientific knowledge into new processes and products and thus increasing businesses’ competitiveness. The main goal is to overcome businesses’ reluctance to invest in research and innovation. INNOACE tries to address the region’s low R&D investment rates, particularly, in key areas of smart specialisation. This problem is felt most severely among SMEs, whose R&D investments are only partially compensated by public and research institutions.
To take innovation from the laboratory to the market, project activities are organised into three main categories:
- Entrepreneur discovery: developing tools and structures to promote tech entrepreneurship and knowledge transfer to businesses in key areas of smart specialisation; as well as carrying out trend analysis in the participating regions’ areas of specialisation;
- Innovation in products and processes: aiming to create a favourable environment for collaboration between knowledge centres and enterprises;
- Co-knowledge: encouraging cooperation between companies and research centres, facilitating interaction, exchanging knowledge and promoting co-creation, as part of an open innovation process.
The project brings together 13 partners: universities, technology parks and technological and research centres, with expertise in the agricultural sector, led by the Centre for Science and Technology Research of Extremadura - CICYTEX (Spain); a public organisation part of the Regional Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure.
The project is co-financed by the EU Regional Development Fund in the framework of the INTERREG Programme V-A Spain-Portugal, under priority axis 1, “Innovation”. The ERDF contribution amounts to €3,415,000. The project run from July 2015 to December 2019.
The project promotes links between urban and rural areas encourages entrepreneurship and has helped stimulate socioeconomic growth in the EUROACE region.
More in detail, project activities from the “innovation in products and processes” category resulted in:
- AGROMAP, a map assessing the number of agricultural by-products generated in certain areas to be able to use them more efficiently either individually or by blending them in production or seasonal proportions;
- A catalogue of harvest indices – the difference between a crop’s potential and actual yield – and fruit quality;
- Research on the use and analysis of satellite images from the European Earth Observation Programme to ensure better management of Mediterranean crops;
- BIM (Building Information Modelling) implementation in the EUROACE to increase enterprise competitiveness, ensure technological connectivity, foster competition, and encourage the development of the construction sector;
- Efficient management of fertilisation in irrigable fruit plantations;
- Development of an integrated fertilisation system;
- Improved food safety in traditional dairy and meat production using new technologies;
- Production of new cosmetic products using vegetable extracts;
- Valorisation of traditional food products;
- Designing and production of healthy products from fruits such as snacks made of cherries or almonds to tackle the decrease in fruit consumption in Spain;
Activities related to reducing carbon emissions were carried out by developing acoustic and thermal insulation materials for buildings from natural fibres and agricultural waste. Finally, the project disseminated information about its activities, among others through demonstrations and training sessions for businesses and citizens.