Clusters Meet Regions Kosice - European Clusters Integrating Ukrainian Clusters and Companies into EU Value Chains
On 29 and 30 March 2023, the European Cluster Collaboration Platform organised the Clusters meet Regions conference in Košice, Slovakia. Designed to integrate Ukrainian clusters and companies into EU value chains, the event represented the first EU-led business cooperation gathering between the EU and Ukraine. The Prime Ministers of Slovakia and Ukraine, Eduard Heger and Denys Shmyhal, addressed the audience and stressed the importance of cooperation and the large effort of the Ukrainian reconstruction ahead of us. They were followed by speeches from Mr Peter Švec 1st deputy of the Minister of Economy of the Slovak Republic and Maive Rute, Deputy Director General DG GROW, European Commission. All attendees, of which there were 200 onsite and 100 + online, were united under the shared goal of fostering collaboration and strengthening ties between the EU and Ukrainian clusters and companies.
The two-day meeting was held at the Kasárne/Kulturpark, providing an ideal environment for networking, knowledge exchange, and strategic partnership-building. The event featured a diverse programme, including panel discussions, pitching and matchmaking with a view to integrating Ukrainian clusters and companies into the EU Single Market.
We started the first day with site visits to Magna PT s.r.o plant and Košice IT Valley to get to know the industrial landscape of the local area. Whilst this was happening there was also the first-ever Slovak cluster conference, where the goal was to create new and deepen existing links between Slovak clusters, making their national-level coordination more efficient.
At the same time, the national cluster associations from Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Romania signed a memorandum of cooperation.
The first session of Day 1 was kicked off by Renata Magulova of the Slovak Innovation and Energy agency who introduced the cluster ecosystem of the Eastern Slovakian region. This was followed by a warm welcome from Jakub Boratynski (DG GROW), Matej Ovčiarka (Košice Self-governing region), Taras Holub (advisor for the Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine) and Alexander Duleba (Ukraine advisor for the vice-Prime Minister of Slovakia), with the latter calling for attendees to “Help us to make Ukraine safe, free and fully integrated [into] the European Union".
Welcomes were followed by the session on Regional Economic Development which included a presentation of the input paper on Slovakia, Ukraine and the Danube region from Dr Jan-Philipp Kramer. From this session emerged the sentiment that “Export is not an option now, it’s a way of surviving for [Ukrainian] businesses” (Denys Shemyakin). This was accompanied by the statistics from the Danube macroregion, where “more than 120 relevant cluster organisations [have been] identified for collaboration with Ukraine". Accordingly, it was made clear that clusters can play a specific and important role in the Ukrainian reconstruction through their capacity to act as local actors in the regional innovation ecosystems.
Next on agenda, we heard inspiring keynote speeches from Eduard Heger, Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic and Denys Shmyhal, Prime Minister of Ukraine. Heger’s speech was compelling and uncompromising, stating that “War cannot stop us, that’s why I am glad that we are here, planning a future where Ukraine will be the winner”. He then went on to emphasize the critical significance of Europe’s position, saying that “Europe must play the most important role in helping Ukraine because Ukraine is Europe, and Ukraine belongs to the European Union, and it is for the good of the European Union that Ukraine will be a member...Cooperation is our future, and [the] future is our cooperation". Denys Shmyhal’s speech echoed this feeling of hope and togetherness, with the Ukrainian Prime Minister saying that the “reconstruction of Ukraine will be the most ambitious project of the 21st century, and [one that] we will realise together. We are interested in cluster collaboration with the EU as a basis for the successful integration of Ukraine into global chains of added value”.
Next up was Peter Švec (Deputy Minister of Economy for the Slovak Republic) who spoke on how clusters in Slovakia and Ukraine can be significant economic drivers across both countries. Maive Rute (DG GROW, EC) then concluded this session’s talks with the rallying statement that “Ukraine is not only fighting the war, but for values that the EU holds dear: the rule of law, human rights and to come to a Europe of diversity where the smaller member states also have rights and where their voices are heard”.
The afternoon session got underway with a talk on Interregional Collaboration. As well as an outline of some of the EU programmes and initiatives supporting interregional collaboration, the discussion included what Ukraine requires and why, for them, interregional collaboration is so important: “To support us, do business with us”. This was the resounding message delivered by Ukrainian cluster manager Olga Trofymova, and one that was echoed by Ukrainian participants over the course of the event.
Day 1 came to a close with a session on the practical aspects of doing business with Ukraine. Participants discussed some of the current difficulties such as a decline in revenues, disrupted supply chains, lost customers and political/economic instability, but also the multitude of services, systems and incentives in place to aid businesses and investors, both in Ukraine and in the EU. The key message from this session: now is the time to invest in Ukraine, Ukrainian companies are working, looking for contracts and opportunities and the frontrunners put themselves in the best position to gain from their investments.
Day 2’s proceedings opened with a talk on funding opportunities where we ran through the funding opportunities available to support Ukraine including cohesion policy funds, the Single Market Programme, EU4Business, EIB and World Bank activities. Andriy Dligach (Center for Economic Recovery) highlighted that the funding and grants from EU institutions are “not the only way[s] we need your help, Ukrainian clusters and businesses also need technological help and technology transfers, as well as export promotion and possibility...We need your help to promote Ukraine as a country that is good for investment even now”.
Pitches from a range of clusters and companies followed, mostly from Ukraine and the Slovak Republic, each of which presented a brilliant opportunity for investment or collaboration. We heard pitches from across 9 different industrial ecosystems, from smart cities and construction to the automotive industry.
As part of Clusters meet Regions Košice, we also ran a matchmaking event with almost 100 registered meetings and over 150 attendees. These meetings provided an opportunity for attendees to establish direct contacts, explore potential synergies, and lay the groundwork for future collaboration. In addition to the scheduled activities, there was also ample opportunity for informal networking. Participants had the chance to engage in conversations and establish new connections, further strengthening the collaborative spirit of the event.
Finally, we came to the wrap-up session of Clusters meet Regions Košice. Moderated by Marek Przeor (DG GROW), we heard from Daniel Acs (Union of Slovak Clusters), Alexander Yourchak (Ukrainian Cluster Alliance) and Antonio Novo Guerrero (European Cluster Alliance) on their key takeaways and messages from the event. The enduring thread running through what each said: this event has provided a new impetus for reinforced EU-Ukraine industrial collaboration. We heard a lot over the two days about what we can do and how we can do it, now it's time to go and get it done.
The Clusters meet Regions event in Košice was a resounding success, with participants praising the ECCP for providing an exceptional platform to foster dialogue and collaboration between European and Ukrainian clusters. The event paved the way for increased integration and mutually beneficial cooperation in the near future.
Looking ahead, the ECCP will continue to support and facilitate similar events, empowering clusters across Europe and neighbouring countries to foster innovation, competitiveness, and sustainable growth. The Clusters meet Regions event in Košice has undoubtedly set the stage for even more significant progress in integrating Ukrainian clusters and companies into EU value chains, fostering a long and illustrious future of shared prosperity and economic growth.
ℹ️ For more information on the event, please visit the Clusters meet Regions Košice page.
🗣️ Join our EU Clusters Support Ukraine Discussion Group on LinkedIn.
📸 Check out the ECCP Flickr for photos from the event.
🤝 Take a look at our upcoming Clusters meet Regions events to join our next exciting missions.