ESSPO Online Conference

The Final Conference of the project ESSPO was held online on the 29th of June from 13:00 to 15:00 (CET). The objective of the conference was to show the wider audience (authorities and agencies running SME support programs) how the results of ESSPO may be used in the challenging new reality expected in the post-COVID era.

This conference was a great opportunity to became familiar with innovative and effective policies for supporting SMEs, as well as how the project has impacted the nine regions of the partnership and what good practices the partners have exchanged concerning the identification of issues that SMEs face in their work (access to finance, administration and regulatory burden, and shortages of skilled workers). These good practices include Bind 4.0., a public-private acceleration programme focused on Industry 4.0 early-stage start-ups; Economic Developers University, aimed at developing effective, coordinated, and professional business ecosystems by training and educating innovation intermediaries; ICT Innovation Vouchers, a grant issued to support the uptake of ICT services in SMEs, and SPARK Demo, a meeting platform between B2B, B2G, and B2C actors.


No one is able to predict what will happen in the economy as the result of the pandemics as well as a social and economic lockdown. But the preparation for the “new normal” should already start. There are already some traits for the future trends, i.e.: diversification of the supply chains, especially re-establish/re-transferring manufacturing activities, acceleration of digitalisation of services and products, a decline of demand for certain services (e.g. tourism). At the moment the policies are focused on the most needed temporary aids such as solvency and jobs maintenance subsidies. The experts of the ESSPO Interreg Europe project have more to say on the next steps, that is: 

  • Recognition of the needs of SMEs: Support instruments need to address the real needs of SMEs. There are experiences with practical solutions for the recognition of SME needs, as groups (segments) and individual companies as well shared good practices on how to generalize the knowledge on individual needs for better targeting the support for the whole groups/populations.  
  • Identification of the target groups and reaching the right segments of SMEs: It is well-known that SMEs are different and the policies must be more precise in addressing the support to a specific segment. Regional economic practitioners decided to target different segments for different policy objectives.  
  • Accessibility for the SMEs provided by a well-functioning network: The SMEs have difficulties in understanding the complex support system. It is the system to make the right support easily accessible. The best practices analysed are based on proximity of advisers, who collaborate within networks in order to bring the competency needed for a single SMEs. From the policy point of view, networked implementation brings a critical mass of results needed to reach the policy goals. 
  • Flexibility and speed of the support service adapted to a single SME needs: SMEs operate in competitive markets that press them to respond quickly and efficiently. The support to be effective needs to aligned with the requirement and be as quick as the company action before the market opportunity window closes.


12h30 – Welcome participants, practical information and rules

Moderation: Richard Tuffs

13h00 – Setting the scene – Welcome session

Interreg Europe: Programme input for COVID and post-COVID interventions
Erwin Siweris. Interreg Europe Programme Director

Keynote speech: Post-COVID era challenges SME will face and need support
Christian Saublens. Former director of EURADA

ESSPO lessons learnt to support SME competitiveness
Elżbieta Książek. Poznan Science and Technology Park (PSTP)

Online poll about SME needs

13h30 – How to address the needs of SMEs in the post-COVID

Relevance of SME oriented policies
Vaido Mikheim. Tartu Science Park 

Needs of SMEs in the COVID area, results of interviews with 1700 companies in Centre Val-de Loire
Nathalie Boulanger. Dev’Up 

Results of the SME survey
Desislava Koleva. Municipality of Gabrovo 

Online poll about SME policies. Comments, questions and answers  

14h00 – Solutions and lessons of ESSPO regional partners

Designing the SME support instrument with the stakeholders (living lab) 
Elżbieta Książek. Poznan Science and Technology Park (PSTP) 

Smart Tourism
Juan Garate. Tecnalia 

Accessibility of support all over the territory: Networking as the key to improving services for SMEs 
Beatriz Casado. ICE Castilla y Leon 

Weserbergland: Innovation & technology transfer scheme in subregions adapted to the SME needs related to the COVID situation
Dieter Meyer. MCON 

Flexible support service delivery
Venceslava Yanchovska. Innovation Norway Sofia

Online poll about SME support measures. Comments, questions and answers  

14:45 – Final conclusions

Elżbieta Książek. Poznan Science and Technology Park (PSTP).
Richard Tuffs. Moderator 

Speakers list

Nathalie Boulanger
Nathalie BoulangerDEV'UP Centre-Val de Loire

Nathalie is the head of European policies in the Regional Development Agency of Centre-Val de Loire (Dev’Up). She is a recognised expert on smart specialisation strategies, leading the operational implementation of the strategy in her region and coordinating the Interreg Europe project Beyond EDP. She supports the economic actors of her region to seize the opportunities offered by European programmes and coordinates the node of the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN). Nathalie has an important activity on widening the use of strategic intelligence and information-seeking methods, strategic analysis, within private companies and organisation from the region Centre-Val de Loire. Nathalie holds an industrial applied PhD on strategical information. She has a bachelor degree on technology watch and transfer. Dev’Up is member of EURADA.

Beatriz Casado Sáenz
Beatriz Casado Sáenz ICE - Castilla y León

Beatriz is the director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Department of the Business Competitiveness Institute from Castilla y León (ICE) since 2015. The regional development agency has a staff of more than 200 people, it gives financial support and offers specialized services to the companies of one of the largest regions in Europe. ICE manages a substantial part of the Operational Program ERDF 2014-2020 and participates actively in European projects to enhance competitiveness and innovation. Beatriz Casado represents ICE in EURADA’s Board of Directors. She is Agricultural engineer by the Polytechnic University of Madrid.

Dieter Meyer
Dieter MeyerMCON

Dieter Meyer is the founder of Meyer consulting (MCON). A consultancy with 13 employees based in Oldenburg (Lower Saxony). MCON was created 25 years ago. Its client portfolio is mainly organisations from the public sector and SMEs. The company provides a broad range of activities with the keywords funding advice and application, project development and management, regional development and innovation advice. Europe is particularly important for MCON; it is the Europe Direct contact point of the European Commission in Germany. In addition, MCON supports young people in the European youth information network Eurodesk. MCON is a member of EURADA.

Vaido Mikheim
Vaido MikheimTartu Science Park

Vaido has 8 years of experience in startup ecosystem development sphere and 8 years before that in the manufacturing industry. He is an expert on Start-up Environment, Business Development (early phase startups, mostly EU but a bit scouting SEA markets as well) and EU-wide cooperation projects. He has contributed to the organisation of many public events from small scale hackathons (Garage48) to large business festivals (sTARTUp Day 2016-2019). He is a recognised specialist on incubation, acceleration, mentoring, pitching and strategies (including Smart Specialization Strategies). He is mentoring a  variety of startup teams.

Desislava Koleva
Desislava KolevaMunicipality of Gabrovo

PhD Eng. Desislava Koleva is a chief expert “Projects and economic development” in Gabrovo Municipality, Bulgaria. Her experience includes more than 25 years in public and private sectors – industrial management of a large company and economic development, and strategic planning in public sector with a focus on regional development and smart specialization. Her main competencies are in business development and innovations. She has a Doctoral degree in „Effectiveness and management of telecommunication services“, Master degree in engineering and Master degree in Industrial management. Ms. Koleva is a certified specialist in local economic development. She has developed and implemented many projects for local economic development, innovations and energy efficiency (transport, mobility, environment protection etc.), financed by EU and other donors. Desislava Koleva is mentoring Gabrovo stakeholders group for innovations, with wide participation of companies, Technical University of Gabrovo, Chamber of commerce and industry, district government, “Gradishte” Foundation, NGOs and experts. She is a manager of the Bulgarian network for sustainable and innovative public procurement (SPPI) and a coordinator of Gabrovo Sustainable Energy Action Plan in Covenant of Mayors. Ms. Koleva is a Project Manager of important international projects – project KNOW-HUB, Enhancing the regional competences in strategic management of innovation policies, Interreg IVC and project ESSPO, Efficient support services portfolios for SMEs, Interreg Europe. She facilitates the implementation of project “RIS 3 in lagging regions” and project HESS “High Education in Smart Specialization” of JRC, EC in North Central Region. She is an external expert of JRC in RIS3 Governance group.

Elżbieta Książek
Elżbieta KsiążekPoznan Science and Technology Park

Development Expert in Poznan Science and Technology Park (PSTP). She is responsible for the Park’s development strategy and the customer and stakeholder relationship management system. She is a specialist on knowledge transfer instruments and innovation policy. Currently, among others, he coordinates the Interreg Europe ESSPO project “Efficient support services portfolios for SMEs” (2016-2021), with 9 partners from 7 EU countries. She was the managing director (2004–2008) of the Network of Innovative Regions of Europe (IRE) in Luxembourg – a platform for networking and contacts between policymakers and practitioners of regional innovation, founded by the European Commission. In the years 1997-2004 she worked in the Poznań Science and Technology Park, participating in the design of the regional innovation strategy “RIS Wielkopolska”, in the first years of operation of the innovation transfer center (initially FEMIRC, then IRC), and she created and managed in 1999  the Regional Contact Point for European Research Programs. Elzbieta works as independent expert for the European Commission and Interreg programs.

Christian Saublens
Christian SaublensFormer EURADA's director

Christian is commercial engineer and has been for more than 30 years a leading representative of regional interest in Brussels, giving the innovative views of the regions to EU institutions and participating in a continuous dialogue and exchange of ideas for economic development. He founded the European Association of Regional Development Agencies (EURADA) in 1991, before he was working in a European association of local and regional authorities and started his career as lobbyist in the European association of glass manufacturing industry. Christian promoted the creation of the European Business Angels Network (EBAN), promoting the stimulation of informal venture capital at regional or national level. Christian has written several papers regarding the impact of EU regulations on regional development and the role of development agencies in Europe.

Erwin Siweris
Erwin SiwerisInterreg Europe

Erwin is responsible for the overall programme management and relation to the programme governance institutions (the Partner States, the Hauts-de-France Region as managing authority, the European Commission etc.). He is also in charge of managing the secretariat’s team of 28 members.

He has experience in managing finances for the transnational programmes INTERREG IIC and IIIB Baltic Sea Region in Rostock, Germany; and two years with the Investitionsbank Schleswig-Holstein in Kiel, Germany, advising SMEs about EU funding schemes. Erwin was Deputy Programme Manager in the INTERREG IIIC West and the INTERREG IVC Programme.

He holds a diploma in Political Economics and Banking and has worked as a consultant in political economics.

Daniela Tchonkova
Daniela Tchonkova ARC FUND

Daniela is programme manager of the Bulgarian think tank Applied Research and Communications Fund (ARC Fund) since 2002. She is responsible of the entire project cycle management, starting from proposal development, contract management, project implementation management, through to research and technical reports, monitoring, sustainability beyond project, and follow-up – H2020, COSME, Interreg Europe, Danube Transnational Cooperation Programme, EIB, World Bank. She is a recognised specialist on innovation, R&D and SME policy research, delivering consultation and SME support services. Projects She is the National Coordinator of Enterprise Europe Network. Daniela combines perfectly the practice of innovation support for economic development with her academic activities. She is the same teacher and has written several publications to divulge her knowledge.

Richard Tuffs
Richard Tuffs

Richard is a strategic thinker and expert on EU affairs, particularly in research and innovation policy, regional policy, smart specialisation and regional economic development. Richard is a developer and has been involved in creating and leading European regional networks and platforms and contributing to enhancing the regional dimension of EU policies and programmes related to R&D and innovation and growth. Richard has good managerial skills and has contributed to the development of ERRIN as a strong and recognised regional network in Brussels. Richard has excellent communication skills and is an appreciated speaker and is often asked to present to international conferences and moderate events.

Richard has good synthesis skills and is often asked to play a role as a rapporteur in groups and conferences. He was the rapporteur for the EU’s Advisory Group for Science With and For Society (SWAFS) 2014-2016 and was also the rapporteur for the Commission report on the now established and successful Capital of Innovation prize. Richard is a founder member of the Friends of Smart Specialisation – an informal group of independent experts promoting strategic thinking around the concept of smart specialisation.

Richard was honoured in May 2017 with the Eurada’s Christiane Bom Award for services to fostering regional economic development. His speech to accept the award can be found here.

Venceslava Yanchovska
Venceslava YanchovskaInnovation Norway Sofia

Venceslava Yanchovska is an economist, with a specialisation in Bank management. She worked for almost 10 years for the Swiss cooperation in Bulgaria. Currently, Ms Yanchovska is the Manager of Innovation Norway’s office in Sofia, Bulgaria. Together with her colleagues from the EEA Grants team in Oslo, Venceslava is involved in the administration of programmes in Bulgaria, part of the Norwegian Financial Mechanism (Norway Grants). The main programme for the period 2014-2021 is the so-called “Business development, innovation and SME” Programme aiming at increased value creation and sustainable growth in Bulgaria’s private sector.