The hybrid conference “Innovation Parks as Models for Strengthening Regional Ecosystems” was successfully held at the JOIST Innovation Park on Thursday, the 19th of May, 2022. The conference’s primary objective was to highlight the importance of innovation and the vital role of Innovation Parks as funnels of innovation, knowledge, research and development, and technology.
The conference was organized by JOIST Innovation Park in Larissa, which houses a dynamic innovation ecosystem. JOIST’s main focus is to assist in the creation, dissemination, innovation, and knowledge management, and to enhance entrepreneurship and cooperation networks. The conference was co organized with “Lifelong Learning Programs” of the Lifelong Learning Center of the University of the Aegean and the University of Thessaly, under the auspices of the Region of Thessaly and the Larissa Chamber of Commerce.
The conference began with Mr. Tasos Vasiliadis, President of Institute of Entrepreneurship Development and founder of JOIST. In his welcoming remarks, he stated:
“With our eyes focusing on the phygital future, and as the connection of the physical and digital world remains important to us, we have designed and developed a new model at JOIST Innovation Park. Therefore, it is our honor to have you here with us today, sharing our perception of the future.”
Mr. Margaritis Schoinas, Vice-President of the European Commission, hailed the conference as an essential event for the development of the European region through video, stating:
“Our ambition is to promote an inclusive European innovation ecosystem, where citizens, businesses, industries can benefit from innovation and thrive on equal opportunities and competition rules. “Innovation Parks like JOIST in Larissa and regional universities, such as the University of the Aegean and the University of Thessaly, have and must play an important role, with Europe with their side.”
Ms. Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, and Youth, also greeted the event, saying:
“Innovation Parks, like JOIST, will play a leading role in the new European Innovation Agenda. Innovation, education, and research are the key drivers of competitiveness and modern, prosperous societies. This especially applies in Europe, where our strength lies in our citizens, businesses, and ability to invent and commit without limits.”
Moreover, as a recognition of the importance of such an innovative venture in the capital of the Thessaly region, Mr. Christos Dimas, Deputy Minister of Development & Investments, represented the Greek Government with his participation as a keynote speaker on the role of innovation in local economies, where he pointed out the following:
“The contribution of Innovation Parks to the development of the country and especially to regional development, is significant. The Greek periphery has the ability to innovate on a global scale, similar to JOIST Innovation Park. What makes JOIST special is that it is located in the regional city of Larissa, wherein a short time from now, it will be the beating heart of Thessaly in terms of research and innovation. This is the future, and this is a glimpse of the future that we are all proud of, and we want to explore ways to support it even more.”
The conference was structured into four discussion panels (roundtables), each discussing different aspects of innovation.
The first panel discussion, “Development of Local Innovation Ecosystems,” was moderated by Mr. Michalis Stagos with the participation of prominent speakers such as Mr. Konstantinos Agorastos, Regional Governor of Thessaly, Ms. Chrissi Vitsilaki, Rector at the University of Aegean, Mr. Charalampos Billinis, Vice-Rector & Professor of Virology – Viral Diseases, School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Thessaly, Mr. Dimitris Tzovaras, Chairman of the Board of Directors CERTH, Researcher A’, Mr. Antony Cassano, Business Development Director at Uni Systems, and Mr. Georgios Roupakias, President of the Association of Thessalian Enterprises and Industries.
Mr. Agorastos pointed out the need for innovation in the region of Thessaly, saying,
“We need innovation to produce competitive products and services. Here in Thessaly, we have a comparative advantage. We have a unified front with a competitive supply characterized by seriousness, responsibility, and synergy of forces”.
The second part of the conference continued with the roundtable on “The Contribution of Innovation Parks to Regional Development: The JOIST Innovation Park and Similar Examples from Europe.” Ms. Kristina Eskenazi, Chairwoman of Health & Life Sciences Cluster Bulgaria, Cofounder of AI Cluster Bulgaria, Bulgarian Employer Association for Innovative Technology (BRAIT) and Bulgarian Innovation Forum, coordinated the discussion with Mr. André H. R. Domin, Chief Executive Officer of Technologiepark Heidelberg GmbH & Technologieförderung Heidelberg GmbH, Mr. Federico Menna, Head of Staff & Operations of EIT Digital, Mr. Aureliusz Gorski, Founding Executive Director of Venture at Venture Café Warsaw Foundation and Co-founder at CIC Warsaw Innovation Campus, Mr. Nikos Efthymiadis, Chairman & CEO of Thess INTEC SA, Mr. Todor Mladenov, Executive Director of Sofia Tech Park, Ms. Maria Konstantinou, Technology Transfer Partner at the Science Park of Patras (EPP) and Mr. Tassos Vassiliadis as speakers. During the roundtable, participants discussed the critical role of Innovation Parks as drivers of economic growth and technological development following the European values.
At the beginning of her speech, Ms. Kristina Eskenazi expressed her admiration for JOIST, saying:
“Seeing the transformation of an old factory into a place for innovation is amazing. I recognize a very strong community, with innovative thinking, common work, and challenges.”
To continue, Mr. Federico Menna commented on the positive aspects of European fragmentation and how we can turn a disadvantage into an advantage. In particular, he said,
“Europe is historically fragmented, which gives us our diversity and a huge market that we aspire to make businesses understand it as a domestic market.”
The third discussion panel, entitled “Turning Digital: The Digital Health Sector and its Ecosystem,” was coordinated by Mr. George Megas, EIT Health HUB Coordinator, Lead NCP for Cluster 4 (Digital, Industry, Space) of Horizon Europe, EKT, with Mr. Dimitris Vlachakis, Assistant Professor of Genetics, Second Level Researcher in Precision Medicine, Collaborating Researcher in Neurodegenerative Sciences and Visiting Professor of Bioinformatics, Mr. Panagiotis Vlamos, Chairman of the Board of university Research Center Laboratory of Bioinformatics and Human Electrophysiology of the Ionian University, Mr. George Dafoulas, Scientific Collaborator ELKE-UTH and Clinical Coordinator of Digital Health Services eTrikala/CitiesNET SA to the Municipalities of Central Greece, and Mr. George Dimitriou, Cluster Manager of the Hellenic Digital Health Cluster as speakers.
Mr. Megas mentioned,
“We prioritize connecting research with the market, harnessing the potential of technology, and exploiting data, especially in Health and Pharma, due to the rich medical records. This untapped data is the basis for the development of innovative solutions.”
The conference was concluded with a discussion on “Turning Digital: The Educational Sector and the New Technologies.” The coordinator was Mr. Tassos Vassiliadis, and the speakers of the panel were Ms. Elena Zaglaridou, Learning Solutions Specialist at Microsoft Greece, Cyprus and Malta, Mr. Stavros Pitsikalis, EduTech DIH, Lifelong Learning Programme of the University of the Aegean, Scientific Associate – Export in EEK and Emerging Technologies, IEP Advisor, Coordinator of Scientific Units of Vocational Education and Apprenticeship (EEM) and Teach Training (MEE), and Mr. Tom Kolokithas, President of VRARA Greece. The panel participants pointed out ways to integrate technology into the formal and non-formal processes of education and the technological trends that will influence its future.
Sponsors of the conference were Microsoft and iQnovus, Innovation Center of Quest Group powered by Uni Systems. Communication sponsors were the press organization 21 admedia, startup.gr, and epixeiro.gr. The supporting partners were the Association of Thessalian Enterprises and Industries, Thessaloniki Technology Park Thess INTEC, the I4byDesign Capacity Center, the candidate European Digital Innovation Hub Health Hub, the PYTHeIA Competence Center in the Health and Pharma Sectors, the Institute of Entrepreneurship Development, EIT Food, EIT Health, the National Documentation & Electronic Content Center (ΕΚΤ), L- Stone Capital, Industry Disruptors Game Changers (ID-GC), and Spirito Group.
“Innovation Parks as Models for Strengthening Regional Ecosystems” was the inaugural conference of JOIST and the first of a plethora of such upcoming events.
Health & Life Science Cluster Bulgaria is a non-profit organization that unites businesses and organizations with Key Activities focused on practical application of life sciences & health. Innovative companies in the field of drug discovery, genetic research, 3D human tissue printing, software solutions for medical and outpatient care, drug manufacturing, nutrition supplements, green technologies, bio-based technology, foodtech, agritech and many more.
The cluster participates in the Management Board of the Bulgarian Bioscientific Society and in the Management Board of the Bulgarian Employers’ Association for Innovation and Technology (www.brait.bg), which is legal successor of the Bulgarian cluster association), together with Automotive Cluster, Mechatronics Cluster, BAIT, BASCOM, ICT Cluster and others. The founding members of the cluster are into the core of the creation of The AI Cluster Bulgaria (www.aicluster.bg) in order to stimulate and create high value cross industry projects.
The Cluster focuses its efforts on the development of a technology program at all levels: regional, national, and international.