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EURADA Summer School 2024: discovering the Maltese regional ecosystem

Article written by Giacomo Frisanco – Communication, Policy and Membership Manager and Nora Scantamburlo – Project Officer

EURADA, in collaboration with its Maltese Members Malta Enterprise and Gozo Regional Development Authority, organised the EURADA Summer School 2024 in Malta last 7 and 8 May. The event had primarily two main focuses: supporting startups to scale up at the regional/national level and the preservation of cultural heritage.

On the first day of the EURADA Summer School 2024, several sessions were dedicated to in-depth analysis of the current scenario regarding startups in Europe. For this reason, our keynote speaker was Dan O’Brien – Chief Economist at the Institute of International and European Affairs, Dublin – who provided the participants with a
Europe-wide perspective on entrepreneurialism and startups. He pointed out that Europe is not as entrepreneurial as the world’s most dynamic regions (e.g. California) and there is a lack of financing opportunities for startups who would like to scale up. The European Innovation Council offer a maximum of 60 million euro grant, while unicorns quite often need more than 200 million. That is the reason why successful startups launched in Europe sooner or later are moving their headquarters to the US.

The first day of the EURADA Summer School continued with the presentation of Pierre Bugeja, Founder & Senior Conservator at PrevArti. The company is specialized in the conservation and restoration of fine arts in Malta. Prevarti boasts the largest laboratory on the island, equipped with the latest state-of-the-art technology in the industry. In 2005, when the company was established, Malta Enterprise provided Pierre with assistance and tutoring in the initial phase of the startup.

A dynamic session on “regional policies to support startups” was also included in the agenda of the first morning. Giacomo Frisanco, EURADA secretariat, presented the RAISE projects - Regions’ Alliances for Interconnected Start-up Ecosystems - and how the EURADA network is supporting startups at the regional level. Vlad Gliga, from ADR Nord Est, presented the successful story of Rubikhub. Its mission is to develop the entrepreneurial ecosystem of North-East Romania by connecting, educating, and empowering people to create successful global businesses. Its bold vision is to achieve a world where people reach the best version of themselves and drive positive impact. This bottom-up and local initiative quickly scaled up to the national level. RubikHub is currently in the process of establishing its headquarters in Bucharest. Another practical example of a successful startup that managed to scale up from local to national level with the support of the regional authorities was presented by Philippe Sejalon, CEO at INGAGE, an insurance company based in Switzerland. Philippe created several companies in his career, from Hong Kong to Europe.

The former Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fishery, Karmenu Vella, highlighted the importance of developing a Blue Economy for the future of the EU. If we count the oceans as a country, its GDP would be the 7th in the world, therefore blue economy is a huge opportunity for growth. The blue economy includes coastal tourism, desalination, shipbuilding and repair, port activities, marine renewable energies and maritime transports among other activities. Each year the commission releases a report on this topic which points out the positive growth outlook of the blue economy suggesting new investment in this peculiar ecosystem.

Martins Zemitis, Economic Analyst at the European Commission representation in Malta held an interactive workshop session on effective communication and lobbying on specific legislation under the European Green Deal. The exercise consisted of developing an effective communication campaign against the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the European Union from 2035.

The afternoon sessions were also dynamic, in fact, we first had a study visit at the SuperCharger Ventures, an accelerator which has supported over 85+ EdTech startups from across the globe through our flagship accelerator program. This accelerator has a 12-week programme to help 15 startups. Participants in the EURADA summer School had the chance to interact with several CEOs of startups to better understand why they opted for Malta for their company and to know what kind of services they are receiving from SUperChargher. This sharing of knowledge could help the EURADA members in re-thinking the portfolio of services that they are providing to their local ecosystems through their accelerators, digital innovation hubs etc.

The last meeting of the day was the visit to the Saint John’s Cathedral of Valletta.

If the first day of the EURADA Summer School 2024 was mainly organised and hosted by our Maltese members from Malta Enterprise, for the second day the participants had to take a ferry to travel to the Gozo island to visit the premises of another EURADA Maltese member: Gozo Regional Development Authority (GRDA).

Mario Borg, CEO at GRDA welcomed us at the Gozo Innovation Hub and presented the challenges that peripherical areas like Gozo are facing in nowadays society. Over the last 20 years, Gozo noticed an incredible growth of their GDP and a fall in the unemployment rate from 7% to 1%. In September 2023, GRDA published a new Regional Development Strategy for Gozo based on the concept of Gozo as an Island of villages. The strategy aims to create a prosperous, inclusive, and environmentally responsible future for the Gozitan community while preserving the unique identity and charm of the region.

Ronald Sultana, Director of Tourism & Economic Development, Ministry for Gozo & Planning, showcased some incentive schemes carried out by the Gozo government aiming at supporting stakeholders to establish their companies on the island. As the Maltese Islands become established as regional centres of excellence sustained by economic growth, Gozo is now drawing interest from savvy investors and a dedicated single point of contract called Business First has been established to facilitate the process. Business First offers a range of services, including information and guidance, access to government services, and assistance with incentives and grants, catering for both new and established businesses.

In the framework of the EURADA Summer School 2024, one meeting of the EURADA working group on Smart Heritage also took place. The Smart Heritage Cities Working Group (WG) was established to gather expertise on the topics of smart cities and communities and Positive Energy Blocks (balance between energy consumption and production at the local level) in cultural heritage areas. The session was entitled ‘Regional sustainability – Protecting biodiversity, traditional and historical heritage’ and foresaw a roundtable debate. The panellists were Josep Cutajar – Director ECO GOZO, Ministry for Gozo & Planning, Stephen Cini – Assistant Director, Gozo Cultural Heritage Directorate, and Mágui Lage – R&D Engineer/Project Manager, Centre for New Energy Technologies - EDP NEW.

Joseph Cutajar presented EcoGozo. Its concept represents actions circulating the pillars of sustainable development namely the economy, environment, society and culture. It aims to be the benchmark example of local government achieving an increasingly sustainable society through committed grassroots involvement by the Gozitan community. One of the most relevant activities was the restoration of rubble walls in Gozo. Stephen Cini illustrated the main activities of the Directorate for Cultural Heritage in Gozo. They daily protect and restore their historical heritage sites such as the Cittadella, Taċ-Ċawla and Għar Gerduf. The financial injection into the cultural and artistic sector brought a high multiplier effect on the community at large. Magui Lage presented the case of Evora (Portugal) where they are trying to lead the smart evolution of heritage sites.

The programme of the EURADA Summer School 2024 concluded with a visit to the Gozo Experimental Farm where participants had the chance to see innovative test practices in the agricultural sectors.

In conclusion, 13 participants coming from 11 different countries attended the EURADA Summer School 2024 in Malta. It was a great opportunity to learn from our Maltese colleagues and share examples of successful best practices developed in other European regions.

European Regional Practitioners appreciated this in-person immersion in the Malta ecosystem. Some participants already offered the venue of his/her development agency to host the EURADA Summer School 2025.