InnoRegio is a success story. With this programme, the BMBF has developed a new approach to innovation policy which has also proven its worth in subsequent programmes after the end of InnoRegio in 2006.
In the late 1990s, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) found itself facing the task of drafting an innovation policy for the New German Länder. No easy undertaking to be sure.
The East German business and research landscape was marked by small and medium-sized companies, a low level of innovative ability in the economy, a lack of employment and training positions as well as the migration of young people to West Germany. In the light of these specific structural deficits, the innovation policy concepts used elsewhere could not be implemented there.
In order to take East Germany’s special situation into account, an entirely new type of support programme was hence conceptualised and launched under the name "InnoRegio" in 1999.
The basic ideas behind "InnoRegio" and the subsequent programmes which build upon its framework are as follows: new creative ideas arise where disciplines, industries, institutions and particularly people come together. The success factor of a region is the formation of an innovative network with specific abilities and technologies which provide it with competitive advantages. In particular for small and medium-sized companies in East Germany it is of vital importance to strengthen their innovative ability through new forms of cooperation with science and research.
Innovation-related activities directed towards new or growing markets and segments have the greatest potential for growth. Successful regional networks thus do not necessarily require the best economic infrastructure as a pre-condition but can be created on the basis of a specific competence - even in regions with previously weak structures.
Based on these premises, “InnoRegio” was advertised by the BMBF as a broad, open-themed competition. The goal was to develop self-supporting innovation networks and create locations with long-term competitive ability.
The jury selected 23 networks from a total of 444 applicants: alliances of companies, educational and research institutions, alliances between greatly varying industries and with a diverse array of focuses. The initiatives chosen for support have turned their innovation concepts into reality since 2001 - with outcomes they can be proud of.
The results from accompanying research under the leadership of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in Berlin confirm the "InnoRegio" approach: between 2000 and 2004 the number of employees in InnoRegio companies rose by 11%. In approximately one third of the companies every second employee is working in R&D. 44% of the InnoRegios were able to apply for patents and 40% of them even introduced entirely new products.