18th of July 2019
Competitiv'eko, a cross-border collaboration project between the Basque Country, Aquitaine and Navarre, has closed its doors after three years of intense collaboration. As Henar Alcalde pointed out, ‘the outcome has been a milestone both at the European level and in the three territories where it has operated’. Orkestra researcher Alcalde, along with Usue Lorenz, research facilitator from the same institution, have contributed to this European project by bringing their knowledge, methodology, analysis and issues for debate.
Some 82 companies joined a project that concentrated its efforts on promoting emerging sectors with potential for innovation, including additive manufacturing, manufacture of custom medical devices and artificial intelligence.
While business collaboration is full of opportunities, it is not without its challenges, which they recommend paying special attention to. These are reflected in the publication entitled ‘Challenges of cross-border business collaboration: experimentation in the New-Aquitaine Basque Country-Navarre Euroregion’ that we discuss in the interview below.
3 consortia, 6 innovation platforms in the health sector, 82 associated companies ... in your view, what were the key aspects?
HENAR: From the point of view of the research institute, the most important thing was to design a methodology that promoted cross-border collaboration. In other words, to be able to channel spontaneous collaboration into a series of stages to ensure that the potential of these synergies is maximised.
USUE: We have worked on a project that has combined analytical spaces with action spaces. This has meant that there was a structured process and the lessons learnt were reflected upon. This is not that common in these types of European projects where action is sometimes considered to be more important, fostering collaboration, identifying market opportunities and so on. From our point of view, this process has contributed to seeing the contribution that institutes like ours can make from the point of view of analysis and learning.
There was a strong business focus, and this contributed to the results and was appreciated by the companies involved.
Last year you mentioned that ‘although it seems logical at first glance for neighbouring territories to collaborate with each other, the reality is that there is a lack of awareness of what is on the other side of the border in order to take advantage of strengths and create synergies’. Do these neighbouring territories know each other better now?
HENAR: A lot of progress and significant effort has been made by the Chambers of Commerce and Sodena to bring companies from different territories to the same space. Four companies in the sector have been brought together, which has allowed them to share their challenges and opportunities. The seed has been sown, but there is still some ignorance about neighbouring territories and it is difficult to collaborate across borders because they continue to be perceived as competitors. It is difficult to move towards a rationale of collaboration when they are companies from the same sectors and even different territories or geographical areas where the vision of the competitor is even clearer.
USUE: The project has certainly helped people from these three territories to come together and talk about industrial and specialisation policies. Competitiv'eko has made it possible to further showcase and focus on cross-border collaboration, both at business and policy levels.
How has this collaboration been translated into achievements?
HENAR: In the health field, for example, the pole has resulted in specific collaborations between companies, as both the large corporate groups that drive the sector’s performance and SMEs were eager to maintain the project’s momentum. This was partly because it is a strategic sector across the three territories. It meant that 82 companies have joined the pole in three years, which is an important milestone for us.
USUE: Different types of knowledge have been intensively integrated. An example of this is the construction of value chains. This job is usually carried out by analysts or consortium members, but in the project’s work sessions we were able to enhance it by integrating the companies’ knowledge into the generation and construction of these chains. In turn, the process also allowed the companies to define the activity of the poles. There was a strong business focus, and this contributed to the results and was appreciated by the companies involved.
SMEs that would otherwise be more restricted in developing a product or business idea, find that this type of collaboration enables them to share and work together to perform this task
The border was presented as a space for opportunity throughout the project... What are the advantages of cross-border collaboration?
HENAR: Collaboration has great advantages from the point of view of generating a critical mass. As an example, SMEs that would otherwise be more restricted in developing a product or business idea, find that this type of collaboration enables them to share and work together to perform this task. Likewise, a pole of 15 companies, for example, makes it possible to create a sufficient critical mass to bid for projects, identify and maximise opportunities, technological resources, human resources, manage bureaucratic and administrative procedures, etc.
USUE: The cross-border space has opened new markets. A clear example of this is how the hospitals in each region have been able to begin to have contact with hospitals in other regions within the INNOV MEDICA pole; and companies from different regions have been able to access hospitals across the border, thus accessing new markets and opportunities for innovation.
What barriers is cross-border collaboration faced with?
HENAR: The main barriers are bureaucratic ones. When financing these practices, it is difficult to request funding from a government for a business activity that will be carried out in a different territory, because this generates spillovers and positive externalities that are beneficial for the territory where the activity is located. This leads to political tensions that can sometimes affect the sustainability of these poles. The practice goes beyond the cross-border collaboration policy, and here it is important that public administrations take a step forward and not only think about the specific territory, but also about the Euroregion in promoting political and public instruments that support this collaboration, regardless of where the activity will be physically carried out. I think this is quite a challenge.
USUE: There are also culture and language barriers, because despite being close, we work differently and sometimes it is not easy to reach an understanding. A lot of progress has been made in this regard, but even so, it is a major obstacle. The sustainability of the project is also a challenge, from the point of view of momentum, support, financing and spaces. Although public institutions are willing and committed to collaborate, how and through what means this collaboration can be achieved is still to be determined.
To conclude, you have emphasised the need to think about the outcomes generated throughout the project and their future. By quoting a study on the political instruments for inter-regional cooperation, you have argued that it is necessary to make a greater effort to develop a strategic intelligence for agents and policies. What do you mean by this?
HENAR: We believe that it is important to study where there are opportunities for collaboration, identify them, analyse where there may be mutually complementary resources in certain sectors. It is important to examine which companies can work in this area and support them in terms of public policies and of obtaining funding for these projects. In Orkestra we believe that this can contribute to the improvement of the territory's competitiveness.
In your publication you also recommend organising the work on a middle-term basis, instead of looking for short-term impact. How different would the project have been if it had been planned for the medium/long term?
HENAR: If we had been able to act on a longer-term basis or had had greater flexibility, we could have extended the space for reflection and analysis. Relying on additional analytical input would have enhanced our support for the project, which would have resulted in more specific achievements.
USUE: It has been demonstrated that the long term helps the challenges that arise in a project to be more successfully addressed. In this particular case, there is a willingness to continue, both from a political point of view and from a business point of view, including the agents who contributed to the process. We believe that the poles that have been built in this first phase of the project will be more or less successful according to the strategic vision of cooperation that exists. This should be built with long-term prospects in mind, both from within and from outside the project.