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Second National Innovation Forum Takes Place in Sofia October 25, 2005

ARC Fund organized the Second National Innovation Forum at the Sheraton Sofia Hotel Balkan on October 25th, 2005. The event was organized in cooperation with the Ministry of Economy and the World Bank Sofia Mission, with the support of DG Enterprise of the European Commission, the Austrian Embassy in Sofia, the EPIQ Electronic Assembly company and the Center for the Study of Democracy. The Forum was held under the patronage of the President of the Republic, Mr. Georgi Parvanov.

The main objective of the Forum was to continue the dialogue and networking among the stakeholders in the country’s national and regional innovation systems and serve as a platform for the exchange of ideas and cooperation between the government, business community and research organizations. It additionally sought to promote the RIS (i.e. Regional Innovation Strategies) process in all planning regions of Bulgaria and the on-going RIS BRIDGE initiative for the South West region of Bulgaria. By presenting ARC Fund’s annual report the Forum also served as an open mechanism for benchmarking the local innovation knowledge and expertise with the European and international best practice.

The forum’s agenda featured presentations by representatives of the European Commission, DG Enterprise, ARC Fund, the State Agency for IT and Communications, the Bulgarian Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion Agency, National Science Fund, University of National and World Economy, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Centre for the Study of Democracy, Coventry University Enterprises Ltd., UK, Cambridge University, UK, URENIO Research unit at the Aristotle University, Greece, the Regional Governor of Stara Zagora, EPIQ Electronic Assembly company, Ludogorie-91 Ltd. and Point L Bulgaria Ltd.

Dr. Ognian Shentov, Chairman of ARC Fund, welcomed the participants and underlined a number of key factors for achieving qualitative economic growth amongst which he underscored the need for strong political will at the highest level, a new long-term political vision and intensive public-private partnerships.

Mr. Oscar de Bruyn Kops, Country Manager of the World Bank’s Bulgaria Office, stressed upon Bulgaria’s challenge to sustain high growth level and productivity despite the unfavorable demographic situation in the country. Mr. de Bruyn Kops also emphasized the crucial needs for human capital improvement, labor market performance optimization and decrease in long-term unemployment. He highlighted the support which the World Bank provides to reforms in Bulgaria, in particular structural reforms, strengthening of institutional capacity and social sustainability.

In his keynote address President Georgi Parvanov recognized the importance of the second National Innovation Forum as an evidence for an emerging and necessary tradition. The President suggested a possible and successful approach for bridging the gap between SMEs and the pool of innovative information. This should be sought in the application of the popular formula “business trains business”, as well as in the active cooperation among NGOs, professional associations, academic community and the partners from the EU and USA.

The forum continued with the award ceremony announcing the winners in the second national Contest for Innovative Enterprise of the Year – 2005. The contest was open to participants from all industrial sectors with innovative ideas, products and services. Awards were given in two main categories according to the companies’ size: for small innovative enterprise (of less than 50 employees), and medium-sized and large enterprise (over 50 employees). The winners in the contest were announced by the chairman of the jury, Prof. Marin Petrov, and awards were presented by Mr. Plamen Vachkov, Chairman of the Agency for IT and Communications.

The first thematic session devoted to the State and Perspectives of the National Innovation System was opened by Mr. Yannis Tsilibaris, Deputy Head of Unit, Support for Innovation at European Commission’s DG Enterprise, who gave an overview of the Commission policy on raising European competitiveness and innovation for overcoming the persistent gap of some 30 % in GDP per capita between the EU and USA, for addressing the disparities in economic development among European regions and the variations in the regional innovation performance. Mr. Tsilibaris introduced the audience to the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) and its objective to promote the coordination between regions in terms of Regional Innovation Strategies. Mr. Plamen Vachkov, Chairman of the Agency for IT and Communications at the Council of Ministers listed the necessary factors for the development of innovation in the ICT sector as one of the most important sectors for the Bulgarian economy. The need for more flexible economy was stressed upon as a necessary means of deploying the potential Bulgaria has in the ICT sector – 15,000 IT specialists, which is 12% of teh total number of IT specialists in Eastern Europe, 500 software companies and 110 Cisco academies. However, the investments in R&D remain highly insufficient – they are four times smaller than those in the EU countries.

Mr. Ruslan Stefanov, Project Coordinator at the Center for the Study of Democracy, presented the objective and main findings of the Report, which is intended to facilitate the process of shaping a new long-term vision for innovation. The approach that underpinned this report is based on the consolidation of all aspects of the innovation policy in a single document. The key aspects of the EU innovation policy, as well as an overview of the new initiatives and different policies in the area of innovation were outlined by Prof. Milanka Slavova from the University of National and World Economy. She drew the audience’s attention to the fact that the only strategic plan which includes concrete measures for promotion of the innovation is the National Plan for Regional Development. Ms. Zoya Damianova, Program Director of ARC Fund extended this issue by presenting the role of the RIS initiatives for the development of the regional innovation systems and the successful absorption of the EU Structural Funds in the future. She announced ARC Fund’ initiative of creating a National Network of RIS regions by signing a Memorandum of Cooperation, which was welcomed by the coordinators of all the other RIS projects in Bulgaria.

Within the Second Thematic Session on Regional Innovation Strategies Dr. Clive Winters, Program Director at the Coventry University Enterprises Ltd, UK, shared with the audience the experience of the West Midland Region in the RIS process and made an overview of pilot and emerging projects suggesting the mechanisms for changing the innovation landscape in the region. The sharing of RIS experiences was continued by Prof. Nicos Komninos, Director of URENIO - Research Unit at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece who presented some successful RIS initiatives that could serve as models for wiring up a successful innovation system in Bulgaria. The experience from the implementation of the pilot RIS in the South Central Region of Bulgaria, along with some conclusions, lessons learned and recommendations were presented by Ms. Maria Neikova, Regional Governor of the Stara Zagora Region. She appealed to the coordinators of the current RIS initiatives to clearly formulate at the very beginning the expected results and measures to be undertaken so as to achieve synergy. The session was concluded by Ms. Daniela Tchonkova, RIS BRIDGE Project Coordinator at ARC Fund, who presented the new RIS BRIDGE initiative for the South West Planning Region. She put strong emphasis on the specifics of the RIS BRIDGE initiative - in contrast to the standard RIS concept – which takes account of the intra-regional disparities and applies a differentiated approach tailored to the Sofia-city subregion and the rest of the SW planning region. Ms. Tchonkova explained that some foresight elements would also be incorporated in the RIS process and the latter should result in one Regional Innovation Strategy with two individual Action Plans for both sub regions.

The thematic session of Technology Transfer and Financing of Innovation was opened by Prof. Stefan Hadjitodorov, Secretary of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAS), who focused on the innovation activities of the BAS research institutes so as to build a system which facilitates the application of science in practice. He gave a number of examples such as utilization of the innovative potential of the PhD fellowships and the effective exploitation of internet for advertising and brokering innovation products and services. The session continued with the innovation perception from the business point of view. Mr. Nikolay Berov, Executive Director of EPIQ Electronic Assembly, Botevgrad, shared this company’s experience in developing a successful innovative strategy. He stressed on the importance of the human potential that needs to be well-qualified and experienced as well as internally and externally motivated. The floor was taken by Ms. Kalina Miteva, Executive Director of Ludogorie 91 Ltd., Kubrat, who presented the firm’s participation in the global innovative network together with the Swedish giant IKEA. She highlighted the importance of the professional cooperation and exchange of experience with foreign innovative firms. At the end of this part of the session Mr. Petar Petrov, Manager of Point L Bulgaria Ltd. , Sofia - winner of the Innovative Enterprise Competition 2004 (in the category for innovative small enterprise), described the problems facing the small enterprises (micro-firms) in Bulgaria, as well as the effectively strategies and working mechanisms applied by Point L in overcoming the significant risks and high-level of uncertainty.

The concluding part of the session was dedicated to the financial mechanisms for boosting innovation. Ms. Albena Vutzova, Director of the National Science Fund at the Ministry of Education and Science, pointed out that (unfortunately) most of the R&D financing comes from international programs and not from the national government or the private sector. She presented the activity of the National Science Fund and its new schemes for improving the innovative performance of SMEs and the scientific potential of research organizations. Ms. Vutzova recommended the establishment of a monitoring system in order to trace the life cycle of the innovative products as well as the consequent economic development of the company. Mr. Stanimir Barzashki, Executive Director of the Bulgarian Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion Agency, listed the instruments through which the state supports and promotes the innovation-related activities of the firms with special attention to the National Innovation Fund – its objectives, types of projects supported and results of the first round of grants awarded by the fund. Dr. Ilian Iliev from the University of Cambridge, UK, presented the various forms of venture capital financing, along with the need for venture capital in support of innovation and introduction of new technologies in the context of transition economies. He underlined that the major barriers faced during the development of venture capital (VC) in CEE and Bulgaria are the low level of development of the firms, lack of local VC funds, low access to networks, low managerial capacity, lack of developed networks between the companies, universities and industrial partners, and low development of the clusters in which the VC could have maximum impact.

Agenda and presentations
Agenda (PDF, 1,32 MB)
National Contest: Innovative Enterprise 2005 Report (Available in Bulgarian, PDF 6.43 MB)
Media Coverage (in Bulgarian)

Photo gallery

Previous National Innovation Forums
First National Innovation Forum - 2004


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