Clusters meet Regions in Milan: Navigating the Twin Transition & Innovation

Submitted by ECCP Team on 05 April 2024

The first Clusters meet Regions of 2024, and the first to ever be held in Italy, took place on 26 and 27 March in Milan. The event spotlighted the twin transition, sustainability and digitalisation challenges, particularly focusing on Lombardy's complex industrial landscape.

Organised by the European Cluster Collaboration Platform (ECCP), Regione Lombardia, and Associazione Fabbrica Intelligente Lombardia (AFIL), the event drew over 160 participants from across Europe to discuss ecosystem models, clusters and innovation strategies, diving into new challenges, particularly within Lombardy's intricate industrial landscape. Highlights included discussions on leveraging clusters for regional development, the EU's role in fostering competitive advantages and integrating research and industry for sustainable economic growth.


Day 1 kicked off with stimulating discussions on regional economic development, featuring insightful remarks from Elisabetta Confalonieri, General Manager for University, Research and Innovation of the Lombardy Region, who emphasised the pivotal role of clusters in Lombardy's Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3).

"Clusters carry out an important function in mapping the area of specialisation and ecosystems of innovation identified by the Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3)," said Ms. Confalonieri.


Highlighting Lombardy's work, she underscored how fostering a collaborative ecosystem among 750 member entities spanning companies, research centres and universities could accelerate innovation and tackle new challenges head-on.

Christian Colombo from AFIL and Gianluigi Viscardi from Cluster Fabbrica Intelligence (CFI) discussed how EU initiatives could enhance competitiveness and sustainability in the manufacturing sectors.

"We need to create new competitive advantages," Mr. Colombo noted, highlighting the necessity for support in digitalisation and sustainability.

Gianluigi Viscardi echoed this sentiment, pointing to the strategic communities being built across Italy. "We believe that [the] EU can become a place of strong aggregation that looks to the future, embracing innovation with society, industry and sustainability."


A key highlight of Day 1 was the inspiring speech by Prof. Tullio Antonio Maria Tolio, Member of the Lombardy Region Forum for Research and Innovation 2023-2025, who articulated the essential balance between economic and social integration in addressing the twin transition, asserting, "This is not a trade-off".

The workshop then explored Lombardy’s regional economic landscape with the newly published ECCP Input Paper, highlighting that Lombardy, Italy's economic powerhouse, still has room for growth, especially in R&D investments.

As discussions unfolded around Lombardy’s regional economy and the megatrends shaping its future, participants were offered a glimpse into the opportunities and complexities that lay ahead, including:

  • Demographic change;
  • Population growth;
  • The growth of the urban population;
  • Migration flows;
  • Climate change and environmental impact;
  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“Capacity of adaptation to new challenges is our top priority”, said Maria Grazia Pedrana, Head of Unit for Investments in Research, Innovation and Technology Transfer at Regione Lombardia.

The European Commission has been taking into consideration these new challenges while working on its new Industrial Strategy and has provided an updated overview and assessment in the newly released 2024 Single Market and Competitiveness Report. Marek Przeor, from the European Commission, encouraged the creation of a unified Italian cluster voice to be represented at the EU level, which would represent an important added value not only for Italian clusters but for the whole EU cluster ecosystem in order to respond to such challenges.


Next on the agenda was an interesting panel discussion on ecosystem models, looking at both the Italian way and the EU approach. The Italian way is characterised by 12 national clusters guided by regional institutions that indicate the macro areas each cluster should approach. This approach also supports Italian clusters to internationalise, gain access to EU funds and explore possible partnerships e.g. within the Horizon Europe programme, by putting together companies with the same ideas and helping them find partners.

José Vilar, from Instituto Valenciano de Competitividad Empresarial (IVACE), mentioned that his region has a substantial number of things in common with Lombardy, not only thanks to the fact that both are Mediterranean regions, but also given that both are classified as “Moderate Innovator +” by the 2023 Regional Innovation Scoreboard.

The next panel discussed the importance of conjugating research and industry, making sure that an effective methodology is in place. This involves using both a top-down and a bottom-up approach, involving all research centres working in Lombardy, with the aim of identifying research trends and assessing congruencies and disparities among them. For this very reason, AFIL is currently working on R&I Priorities for enhancing Artificial Intelligence applications in Manufacturing in Lombardy to ensure that AI is fully integrated into this process and that it is used in Lombardy, Italian and European manufacturing industries. During the event, Prof. Marcello Urgo (Politecnico di Milano) and Prof. Fabiana Pirola (Università degli Studi di Bergamo) presented the main contents of the document to the audience.

Prof. Tolio, member of the Lombardy Region Forum for Research and Innovation for the term 2023-2025, highlighted that Industry 4.0 and AI should prioritise the product, enhancing its design and usability. This approach not only can position Lombardy as a frontrunner in defining AI applications in machinery but also leverages the advantages of easy distribution and usability, presenting significant opportunities.

Day 1 also featured a vibrant start-up pitching session, showcasing the innovative prowess of startups like SnowIt, SiWeGo, H3CUBE, and BTF- SKI SYSTEM. These pitches not only highlighted the inventive spirit thriving in Italy but also set the stage for a future where technology and sustainability intersect to create impactful solutions. All these technologies can prove useful for single users but also to serve the needs of bigger communities, e.g. in the occasion of international events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games Milano-Cortina 2026.


The day culminated in panel discussions focusing on interregional collaboration and international networks, moderated by Antonio Novo from the European Clusters Alliance. Notable highlights included discussions on the European Institute of Innovation and Technology's (EIT) role in fostering sustainable manufacturing across EU regions, and insights from Kyle Winters of the World Economic Forum on the importance of infrastructure for facilitating the green transition in global supply chains.

Day 1 concluded with an excellent opportunity for networking among participants, laying the groundwork for further discussions on the following day.


The second day delved into discussions around smart communities, citizens' perspectives on sustainability and industrial sustainability enablers.

During the panel on Smart Communities and the citizens’ perspective on sustainability, Pierluigi Petrali from Digital Innovation Hub Lombardia emphasised the importance of understanding companies' perceptions of sustainability and the need for efficient resource allocation.

Massimiliano Brigonzi of Mind the Bridge highlighted the role of municipalities in facilitating open innovation and connecting local ecosystems with global networks. Beatrice Diano from Valore Italia discussed the significance of sustainability in cultural heritage preservation and the role of urban hubs, like MIND-Milano Innovation District, in fostering sustainable practices.


A pitching session followed, featuring diverse projects from clusters, development agencies and technology centers across Europe. This session highlighted various initiatives including:

In the panel discussion on Industrial Sustainability enablers, speakers such as Marcello Colledani from Politecnico di Milano and Alessandra Grimoldi from Retail&Industry EMEA Digital Solution emphasised the role of technology and digitalisation in promoting sustainability within manufacturing processes. Michele Petti, Innovation Specialist at ICIM Group highlighted the importance of compliance with environmental regulations in driving technological innovation and sustainability initiatives. Fabrizio Guarrasi from Lombardy Energy Cleantech Cluster and Ilaria Re from Lombardy Green Chemistry Association both emphasised the shift towards sustainability in various sectors, including the chemical, and the need for partnerships and digitalisation to enhance efficiency and resilience.

The day concluded with reflections from Marek Przeor, Team Leader of Cluster Policy at the European Commission, who highlighted upcoming priorities and funding opportunities for clusters at the EU level, announcing the launch of a new Euroclusters call towards the end of the year.


The workshop concluded with two site visits: one to MIND - Milan Innovation District, and the other one to the Vanguard Efficient and Sustainable Manufacturing (ESM) Pilot Plenary meeting. The visit to MIND offered an insightful glimpse into a new urban district dedicated to building the city of the future, a place where collective well-being, sustainability, and social inclusion are foundational elements. The visit to the Vanguard ESM Pilot Plenary meeting provided participants with opportunities for further collaboration and experimentation in sustainable manufacturing practices, with a particular focus on the battery value-chain.


📸 For a visual journey of the event's proceedings explore our photo gallery and share the memories!

📑 Read more about the event’s agenda & the Lombardy region case study

Read more about next Clusters Meet Regions events.

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