VInnovate Launch Marks a Decade of Vanguard Initiative's Interregional Innovation

Sponsored by: Vanguard Initiative
07 Dec 2023 |

On its 10-year anniversary, the Vanguard Initiative (VI) makes a significant stride with the introduction of VInnovate, a groundbreaking interregional funding instrument. The launch, celebrated in Brussels, reflects VI's commitment to shaping European industry through collaborative innovation.

The Vanguard Initiative is a network created in 2013, gathering almost 40 industrialized regions determined to lead by example in fostering European innovation ecosystems through interregional collaboration in the framework of its eight Pilot projects.  

In line with their original political commitment made in Milan in 2013 to promote and facilitate access to combined funding for co-investment projects, ultimately contributing to the renaissance of European Industry, the Vanguard Initiative is proud to announce the launch of VInnovate, an innovative interregional funding instrument to support interregional collaborative projects and technology uptake towards the development of European value chains.

The Vanguard Initiative (VI), gathered in Brussels on 5 December to celebrate its 10-year anniversary and take a major step forward: Regional Ministers have signed a Letter of Intent to launch ‘VInnovate’, a financial instrument to support interregional business oriented innovation projects. VInnovate first call will be launched in 2024.

  • With this accomplishment, VI members deliver on their original commitment, signed in Milan in 2013, to promote and facilitate access to combined funding for co-investment projects to support interregional collaboration, with the ultimate goal to contribute to the renaissance of European Industry. [1]
  • The meeting gathered a number of senior high-level representatives from various EU institutions, such as one of the founding ‘fathers’ of VI, the current Vice-President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) and former Minister President of Flanders, Kris Peeters:

I am happy to be here with you to celebrate this foundational episode because the success ingredients of the initiative are more than ever relevant now, in times of economic transformation.

I want to recall the three principles that were constituent then and are still vital success conditions in the DNA of an alliance of lead-regions.

First we wanted the Vanguard Initiative to be a coalition of regions with strong industrial ambitions. 

Second we wanted the Vanguard Initiative to represent the political leadership of the member regions in their commitment to play a role at European level. 

And third we believed that this political leadership had to be translated in ‘leading by example’ in agreed areas of cooperation. 

On the basis of these three winning success principles the Vanguard Initiative has a role to play in the years to come in which the twin transition and the implementation of the net-zero industry act will require full mobilisation of all resources at European, national AND regional levels.”

  • The Director-General for Research and innovation of the European Commission, Marc Lemaitre celebrated this achievement together with the VI regional Ministers during a High-level Dinner.

He expressed admiration at this next step, which he see ‘as the demonstration of a superior level of maturity as compared to other regional associations(...).

We need to be very attentive and supportive of such approaches which are clearly not that obvious to put in place (...) we shall reflect on how to join forces in the best way possible on how to maximize opportunities for such joining of intentions and means (...) under the label of synergies between European instruments.

  • The President of the Board of the European Innovation Council, Michiel Scheffer, among other distinguished guests contributed to the afternoon 10-year anniversary conference and explained why the ‘Vanguard Initiative is an important network, perhaps the most important one for the EIC.’  

Mr Scheffer insisted on the need to concentrate more efforts to translate research into innovation, which is exactly what the Vanguard regions want, and what the EIC influence can help to achieve. So let’s get to leverage new technologies that lead to new models.’ 

  • Erwin Hoogland, Regional Minister for the Economy and International Affairs, East Netherlands opened the launch ceremony of VInnovate, recalling ‘the three main concepts defining it:

Regional ownership: with VInnovate we are in the driver's seat: we determine the regional funds we use, we set the scope of our projects and we manage and assess the projects ourselves. Self-done is well done, because we know the needs and challenges of our regions best. Great!

Tailormade: with VInnovate we finance innovation of SMEs in our regions adapted to their specific needs. The project results will be shared across the Vanguard regions. We begin with a regional and place-based approach after which we connect the best ideas. Eventually, the outcomes of the projects can be implemented by other European regions to accelerate innovation. Better!

Leverage: in the European Union we are constantly working on societal challenges. We are in the midst of the green and digital transition. Innovation is pivotal for our SMEs in order to continue thriving through these transitions. Which is why the VInnovate instrument is there to support SMEs. After our pilot projects and the success of the new European interregional investment instrument, known as i3,  VInnovate is the next step in the European financing landscape. Our financing instrument is an example for Europe and the multi annual financial framework after 2027. Best!

  • After its foundation in 2013, the Vanguard Initiative has grown up to 38 regions from all over Europe, all of them committed to lead by example and to foster interregional innovation collaboration based on the complementarities identified in their industry focused smart specialisation strategies. [2]
  • VI’s industrial collaboration is channeled through its eight Pilot projects[3], which have been developed through the active participation of companies, clusters, science parks, research institutes and (applied) universities in the member regions. Pilot projects match complementarities between different actors in the value chains they each cover and support them in maturing technologies. To achieve these concrete results, VI has designed it’s so called “four steps methodology” (learn, connect, demonstrate, and commercialise) which has been embraced by the EC in its support for Thematic Smart Specialistion Partnerships[4]. With the experiences and remaining needs of Vanguard Initiative’s Pilot Project in mind, the EC has developed, in co-production with VI, and approved the new 570 mEUR funding programme “I3-Interregional Innovation Investments” which is operative since 2022.


[1] The expertise of Vanguard Initiative in the field of Industry has been acknowledged by the European Commission which has involved the network in the EU Industrial Forum expert group advising the Commission on the Industrial Strategy the EU. 

[2] Vanguard is currently involved in the Partnerships for Regional Innovation (PRI), a new approach to place-based innovation policy which builds on positive experiences with S3 strategies.

[3] By bringing regions and their stakeholders together, the 8 VI Pilot Projects aim to accelerate the market uptake of innovations in 8 thematic areas: Bio-Economy, Efficient Sustainable Manufacturing (ESM), High Performance Production through 3D-Printing, Advanced Manufacturing for Energy Related Applications in Harsh Environments, New Nano-Enabled Products, Artificial Intelligence, Smart Health/Personalised Medicine, Hydrogen (H2). More information:

[4] The Thematic Smart Specialisation Platforms are joint initiatives between several Directorate Generals of the European Commission that encourage regions and their innovation actors across the EU to build strategic partnerships, promoting complementarity of regional funding for innovation in specific smart specialisation areas; more information:

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