Macedonia: One in two businesses innovate

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The title of the most innovative students and promising entrepreneurs of the future has been secured by two groups of students from the 2nd Experimental School of Kilkis.

Last year in Tallinn, Estonia, the Pan-European GEN-E 2022 Competition was attended by the best female and male startup students, out of the 370,000 young people both from the “Virtual Business” 2022 programme  in Europe (JA Company Program 2022) and from JA Start Up student programme. Among them, the five-member team from Kilkis, presenting the project “Microgreens- Magicgreens”, was named the best student business in Europe. In the same competition, the Greek student start-up Drug n Drop won the third European prize in its category.

Winning the first GEN-E Youth Entrepreneurship and Innovation Award GEN-E  out of 40 countries is undoubtedly a “magical” achievement for Greek entrepreneurship and innovation with a present and future.This is because a group of students from the same high school (different composition) that took part in this year’s competition “Virtual Business” of Junior Achievement Greece qualified again in the national final with the project that brings “the ultimate solution to the problem of urban agriculture” and won the Innovation Award at the student trade fair of JA Greece in Thessaloniki.

As regards to the background of the story:  the innovative idea of the Microgreens-Magicgreens students concerns the reuse of old computer towers in which micro vegetables and super foods can be grown at record speeds using IT. This year’s idea under the title “Top Harvest” involves small autonomous, automated greenhouses that will produce energy with solar panels.  They can be placed anywhere, even balconies or rooftops of apartment buildings to grow vegetables and power gadgets and batteries. 

The student teams from Kilkis are clearly not the only ones that carry the dna of entrepreneurship and innovation. About 90 schools from all over the country (35 schools in Northern Greece with 600 children) participate every year in the competition of Student Virtual Enterprises and “impress with their innovative “businesses”, giving solutions to social ecological problems with the use of new technologies, by presenting innovative proposals for the development of tourism and agricultural production”, says Aryiris Tzikopoulos, general manager of JA Greece.

 

Innovation DNA 

The message sent by this new generation becomes even more optimistic if we take into account that 18-20 years ago the largest percentage of mature enterprises in Macedonia had no special place in innovative systems, while Greece was in 23rd place among the 25 EU countries that were innovating in key sectors. even though innovation as a new and innovative idea of new product development and as a desirable step in production existed in universities and research institutions due to the great changes brought by the digital revolution. 

Twenty years later, with a 10-year economic crisis in between, with ups and downs, with programs and European…. stimulus aid, Innovation has “occupied” significant percentages in research and business in Thessaloniki and Macedonia. Five years ago “innovative solutions”, “outward-looking” started to increasingly link research with development, major universities (AUTh, UoM, International Hellenic University, Region of Western Macedonia) with the market, industry, employment and the economy, while foreign investment by digital technology companies has now shaped a new reality in Thessaloniki, with optimism as its main accompaniment.

Center of Research and Technology Hellas, Alexander Innovation Zone, Technopolis, Incubators, hundreds of IT companies and the dozens of start-ups (which are generally outward-looking and produce innovative tools) as well as the arrival in the city of five international and high-tech business giants , who have a global reflection in the world economy (such as Cisco, Pfizer, Deloitte, Deutsche Telekom, Accenture), offer now in Thessaloniki the opportunity to become a technology and innovation hub in Southeastern Europe.

Drone, MPU RX4, designed by the Laboratory of Fluid Mechanics and Turbomachinery of the Department of Mechanical Engineering of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Thousands of new jobs

Five centres that have been designed and their creation is expected to be completed in the coming years mark the establishment of Innovation in Thessaloniki (and Macedonia) which already equals, in thousands of new and specialized jobs, the increased international recognition from the investments of large multinational companies. The greatest optimism, however, comes from the emerging strengthening of its innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem, which now rests on a strong academic and research community.

 

Six thousand research programs 

The dynamic contribution of universities in this direction through research and innovative programs and through the collaborations that are implemented is demonstrated by statistical data. In the last five years (2018-2022), AUTH alone has implemented over 6,000 research projects, has 1,100 international partners, over 2,000 members of teaching research staff and a turnover of EUR 50 million.

Two of the five Innovation Centres have already been completed and the completion of the other three is a reference point for “the bet to be won”.

Within five years the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki has implemented 6000 research projects.

Pfizer and Cisco centers ready

CISCO International Centre for Digital Transformation and Digital Skills and Thessaloniki Pfizer Digital & Global Hub former Shopping Centre “EAST PLAZA” are the two centres that for months now have entered the “post-establishment and installation” period. The CISCO Centre (15th in the world) aims to “foster innovation, accelerate digital transformation, enhance digital skills, and promote digital culture in Greece. It includes an education section – Cisco Networking Academy, as well as STEM and Robotics sections. For the Pfizer Center (conversion of a former shopping center of 5,750 sq.m., in the Municipality of Pylaia – Hortiatis into office space), the Special Urban Plan in the area of the shopping center “East Plaza” needs to be altered to allow the construction of an additional building, for 300-350 new jobs, in order to function as a “pole of hyperlocal services and activities with international scope”.

 

ThessIntec, the key to the future

However, the future of Innovation in Thessaloniki depends to a large extent on the establishment of the 4th Generation Technology Park THESSINTEC on the eastern coast of the Thermaikos Gulf (Perea) in an area of 757 ha. It is a host of advanced technology companies and tourist companies with three zones: The first is “Technopolis” which will include research centres, business incubators, advanced technology industry. The second is the leisure tourism zone and will include tourist accommodation, leisure facilities and a conference centre and the third zone will be the green zone. Among the aims are “to increase the attractiveness of the Thessaloniki Metropolitan Area, to promote Thessaloniki as a research and innovation hub of South-Eastern Europe”. 

The National Rage Logistics Center of North Greece- Camp Gonou concerns the conversion of the former camp into a logistics centre. The Centre will link the port of Thessaloniki with the Balkans and Eastern Europe through combined road and rail transport networks. The advantages of the area where the former Camp Gonou is located are the port of Thessaloniki, the Egnatia Road, the railway network that is being upgraded and especially the proximity to the Balkan hinterland.

The Thessaloniki Logistics Center is expected to evolve as the the most valuable tool for Greek exporters. The auction of the project is expected to take place by the end of 2024. Speaking at the recent 1st Development Conference of Halkidiki the President of Panhellenic Exports Association, Simeon Diamantidis, pointed out that “this centre will promote export business and will make a major contribution to regional development”. The creation of the Thessaloniki Logistics Center will bring benefits of €300 million in terms of Gross Added Value and will create 3500 new jobs.

In Western Thessaloniki, the Kalochori Reclamation Business Park is planned to operate and is a government project.It is the largest informal industrial concentration in Northern Greece, with an area of 11,293.86 sq.m. and 875 companies installed.

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Analyses by a group of American Farm School students in an earlier participation in an innovative product competition.

One in two businesses innovate

The most positive sign for the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem are the main conclusions of a survey that showed that in recent years dozens of Macedonian companies have been integrating new products, new applications and innovative services into their production and operation lines. 

The survey conducted by the One Stop Liaison Office of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Support Mechanism of the Region of Central Macedonia, concluded that one in two companies operating in Central Macedonia now applies at least one innovation in its products, in the services it provides or in one of its processes. The sample concerns 150 businesses in the intervention areas of the local LEADER/CLLD, namely businesses in the regions of Kilkis, Thessaloniki, Halkidiki and Serres, and was carried out in the period May-June 2023.

 

The qualified staff is not…absent

Enterprises that did not implement an innovation answered that this was because they lacked sufficient information (27%) or financing (26.4%) or considered the cost of implementing the innovation to be high. An equally encouraging conclusion from the recent survey is that the lack of skilled human resources is very low on the list of reasons hindering the development of innovation (only 4%). 

The participating companies as a whole were satisfied with their staff, since – as they point out – they have specialized knowledge and high skills, characteristics that are necessary to strengthen their innovative profile. n fact, companies operating before 2000 now recognise the need to develop partnerships with other institutions in research, development and innovation in order to boost their competitiveness and extroversion.

Speaking at a conference on “Innovation in Northern Greece and the institutions that support it 4.0”, the professor of the Athens University of Economics and Business Christos Tsantilis points out that the benefits of spreading innovation do not only concern an economic, scientific or intellectual elite, but the whole of society and citizens, since, among other things, through increased exports of innovative products and services, it is possible to reduce taxes “The research produced in Greek universities and research centres is considered to be of a very high standard worldwide”, Tarantilis said, adding that in recent years the first companies – technoblasts – have been established within universities and research centres, funds for research have increased, while the Elevate Greece register of start-ups has been created and tax incentives have been given for investments by individuals.

 

 

Editor: LINA TSINGANA

English Version: LINA TSINGANA

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