European regions who see opportunities in bioeconomy now benefit from an online toolkit called BERST. This supports regional policy makers in identifying areas with development potential in their region and helps them get started. The toolkit is the product of an eponymous EU project organised by research institutions and regional organisations. Wageningen UR is leading the project, which will be completed at the end of November 2015.
According to scientist Myrna van Leeuwen from LEI Wageningen UR, the online BERST toolkit (BERST stands for BioEconomy Regional Strategy Toolkit) helps regions determine how they score on a number of specific factors related to the bioeconomy and see which opportunities are available: “The database allows regional policy makers to generate dynamic reports online with just a few clicks for approximately 200 other European regions, including their own if the data is available.
“The result is a brief description of strengths and weaknesses concerning the current status of the regional bioeconomy, and recommendations to make the most of them. This includes the availability of biomass, the quality of the infrastructure and the presence of companies that can play a role in the bioeconomy. In addition, the toolkit comprises an overview of instruments and measures which local authorities can consider deploying in order to give the regional bioeconomy a boost. An example is vouchers which companies use to invest in research and product development.”
“The aim of the toolkit is to stimulate the formation of new business clusters in regions and to jointly develop sustainable end products that are also affordable for consumers,” Van Leeuwen says. “The toolkit therefore also includes a catalogue of best practices. These are examples of biocluster initiatives which successfully combine factors such as innovative entrepreneurship, R&D and sustained access to funding sources.
“The Biobased Delta, which consists of the Dutch provinces of South Holland, Zeeland and western North Brabant, is a pioneering region which focuses on the intelligent use of its excellent infrastructure and the availability of sufficient biomass. The regional report indicates that another strong point of this region is cluster management. To get the bioeconomy off the ground, it is crucial to be versatile: partners have to be brought together and the right knowledge unlocked. But it is equally important to have good knowledge of markets and sectors. The bioenergy region of Central Finland also excels in this.”
Inspiration from other regions
The purpose of the user toolkit is to inspire European regions other than the seven BERST pilot regions to explore and develop bioeconomy opportunities. This has already happened a few times, Van Leeuwen points out. “The province of South Holland has used benchmark data from the toolkit to create a smart strategy plan for the European Vanguard initiative. This focuses on new growth based on innovative entrepreneurship. And in Germany, the state of Bavaria has used information from the toolkit to carry out a SWOT analysis of the regional bio-economy.”
The BERST project will end in November 2015. The community of practice, a network of professionals who exchange knowledge and practical experience, will be permanently maintained. The participants in BERST are also looking into opportunities to improve or expand the components of the toolkit and/or integrate it into existing European regional platforms. The project also comes with recommendations to the European Commission on ways to better measure and monitor the progress of the bioeconomy. One of them concerns bridging gaps in data availability and consistency, which currently hinder objective comparisons between regions.