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Business in Smart Specialisation. Entrepreneurial discovery process as driver in the RIS3 design

The case of Andalusian Region (Spain)

Written by Carmen Sillero, Manuel Arroyo, Carlos Fernández-Palacios, Antonio Galán and Maria Angeles Ruiz

Reviewed by David Walburn


The concept

How to implement it?

Step in the RIS process

What can be expected?

A quote


The Andalusian experience

Expert's comments


The concept

Following the Smart Specialisation Guide issued by IPTS, the entrepreneurial discovery is the interactive and bottom up process in which  entrepreneurial actors discover and produce information about the most promising areas for future regional development,  providing the regional policy makers the basis  for setting up the smart specisation priorities.


How to implement it?

The essence of the entrepreneurial discovery lies in its interactive nature, as a result of the wide range of innovation actors working together in a collaboratory leadership process all along the regional RIS3 setting up. Innovation actors must be understood in the broad sense, firms, independent innovators, technology and competence centres, universities and public agencies, science and business parks, business angels and venture capitalists, civil society…  

To involve those enterprises and innovators, panels can be set up to identify the innovation opportunities existing in the region, besides the current innovation process. Different ways of forming and managing panels can be put in place. This will ensure a large number of stakeholders, as well as a fair number of initial ideas/areas of innovation opportunities, to influence the design of the smart specialization strategy.

Within the frame of this article, we will consider as entrepreneurs those regional companies that have demonstrated a commitment to innovate, as they are currently investing on innovation projects or have introduced new products/services into the market. In addition to those regional companies, individual innovators who are assuming the risk of exploring new business opportunities in the region, such as starts-up/spin-off are also taken into account. Those are the best placed to know or/and discover which are the region’s most promising areas for future and, above all, they will be the real performers of these promising areas' exploitation in the future.

Below is a description of the Andalusian experience, which focuses on how they introduced Andalusian stakeholders in the design of their RIS3. It focuses on the deployment of the entrepreneurial discovery process.


Step in the RIS process

A sound entrepreneurial discovery process involves all the steps of the RIS3 process.  Governance of the monitoring and evaluation phase and the involvement of the business representatives’ deployment are essential to allow the RIS3 loop to provide learning, to correct the route and to be able to adapt to change.


What can be expected?

Commitment, cooperation, learning capacity and moving forward.


A quote

"Vision is not enough. It must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps; we must step up the stairs.” by Vaclav Havel




The Andalusian experience

Coming to the Andalusian experience, we have customized the RIS3 phase sequence foreseen by the RIS3 Guide, changing the order of the steps, starting with the definition of the Governance, as in our view, gathering the commitment of the business actors from the very beginning is the key to ensure their participation and ownership.

Once the Council of Regional Ministers of Andalucía launched the RIS3 design process in December 2012, the Economic Policy Commission, (regional competent body which assumed the political leadership of the process), appointed the members of the RIS3 Steering Committee, chaired by the General Director of the Agency of Innovation and Development of Andalusia, Agencia IDEA, and the General Director of the European Funds at the Regional Ministry of Economy,  Innovation, Science and Employment, performing as Secretary.General Directors representing all the regional ministries concerned by innovation, andalusian Universities’ Rectors, Research institutes’ presidents, the Andalusian network of technological infrastructures (RETA) and public and private partnership for innovation (CTA) are members of the Steering Committee. As Technical Secretary of the RIS3 was designated Agencia IDEA’s Strategy and Programmes Division, which would issue all the working documents and additionally manage as coordinator of a task force participated by technical consultants from all the regional ministries participating at the steering committee. This organization design would guarantee interdepartmental coordination and coherence among all the regional strategies that were being developed in the region for the frame 2014-2020, which should be aligned with the RIS3: Andalusian Industrial Strategy, Andalusian Energy Strategy and the Andalusian Internationalisation Strategy, and all of them with the Operational Programmes of the European Cohesion Policy. 

In order to create ANDALUSIAN RIS3 Expert’s panel, 70 persons were invited, 30 representing technology and competence centers, universities and public agencies, science and business parks and 40 representing individual companies.

In order to guarantee the transparence of the procedure for inviting the companies, three rankings were defined: one for start-ups, one for SMEs and one for big companies, all of them taking into consideration the following three criteria.

  • Companies which have developed innovation projects in Andalusia,
  • Companies which  have been subject  to a technical assessment in the previous 5 years in the frame of European funded calls for innovation projects: 7FP and national and regional  call funded by ERDF

The score of each company was calculated by the addition of its innovation projects’ weight, in terms of the impact generated by its projects, measured by the incentive obtained and the total investment mobilized.

On the basis of these three rankings, the best 40 companies were invited to participate in the Group of Experts. From this selection, the first eleven were appointed as members of the Reference Group, which would co-lead the process, with the same decision power as the steering committee.  

Once this governance has been set, all the working documents elaborated by the technical secretary have been submitted to all these bodies using a web platform created for this purpose. All expert panel members have been actively involved in this mission, amending and documenting the drafts. All their contributions have dully registered, traced and commented. 

The first document, the Regional Innovation System Analysis and its SWOT was approved separately by the Reference Group and the Steering Committee. But hereafter, the two bodies united in just one entity, we have called “Co decision Committee”.

Coming into the third step of the Andalusian RIS3 process, focusing on the entrepreneurial discovery process, a sound methodology has been designed to make emerge from our experts’ contributions, genuine proposals of specialization opportunities for research and innovation in Andalusia. In order to avoid preconceived approaches such as sectors or clusters, a bold and intentionally naïf open questionnaire was distributed to the experts attached to the invitation to the kick off meeting of RIS3. The purpose of this questionnaire was to discover the assets, the actual resources, the business capacities and the knowledge associated with the ideas of Andalusia as Crossroad territory, as Healthy living space, Talented people, Sustainable territory and Location of advanced industry.

All the answers provided by the experts to the questionnaire were the first inputs for the discovery process. Thereinafter the technical secretary undertook the tasks of analyzing and documenting these elements, interconnecting them and organizing six workshops addressed to the experts, during which their initial ideas were fed back in terms of areas of opportunity for specialization, with the purpose to be discussed, completed and voted by the experts in a very participative event. More than sixty opportunities for smart specialization in research and innovation where voted taking into consideration the following criteria:

  • Possible impact of the opportunity in the Andalusian GDP 
  • Possible impact of the opportunity in the regional internationalization
  • Possible impact in job creation

The result of this process has been a 60 opportunities Catalogue for smart specialization in research and innovation in Andalusia, widely documented that is the baseline for the prioritization process.

The setting of the Vision was the moment when the consensus about the challenges to be faced and the regional development model to be assumed were achieved. To do so, we submitted to our experts a “cloud of tag” including terms to be considered in the Vision, since these terms had been repeatedly used along the work done up to that moment. We asked our experts to vote each of them and to add as many as they considered.

The result of the work done by the Experts at the web platform was very interesting, and finally when our  Co-decision committee approved the Vision, it was consider as a lens filter  for the prioritization process where eight priorities were selected.


Expert's comments

This is a useful paper in that practical examples of how one region has started to implement any particular programme can be of great value to others attempting the same. The clarity and detail of the paper is especially helpful, with the explanation of how the various stakeholders became involved, and how the outcome of opportunities for Innovation interventions has been achieved.

It will be even more valuable if information on further progress here can be disseminated.


Mr David Walburn

After a career in business David Walburn joined Greater London Enterprise in 1986 where he was responsible for venture capital and other small business support, before becoming Chief Executive of the organisation. He was the Chair of the London Business Angels Network and played a key role in the setting up of the European Business Angels Network. He has worked with the UK government and the European Commission on developing public policy initiatives to improve the financing of small and medium-sized enterprises. He was the Chair of Capital Enterprise, the umbrella body for organisations supporting micro business development in London, until 2012.

For the last ten years he has been a Visiting Professor at London South Bank University where he headed the Local Economy Policy Unit and was the managing editor of the journal Local Economy.

He has served as President of EURADA, and been a member of a number of advisory bodies of the European Commission.  He has been an active member of the International Economic Development Council in Washington DC and has a wide range of international contacts with economic development organisations.

He continues to write and lecture on small business finance and regional economic development.