The innovation support programme ZĪLE (ACORN) provides support to existing companies, start-ups, and freelancers to encourage innovations, development, export, the creation of new jobs, public and private partnerships, and social entrepreneurship. The gaps in the innovation support ecosystem and the need for more innovations and innovative companies in the region inspired Valmiera Development Agency to develop a business support programme ZĪLE together with the local municipality and other stakeholders.

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Strong points 

  • Superlow bureaucracy, supereasy to implement.
  • Training sessions available for participants.
  • Consultancy during both application and implementation phases.
  • Advance payment and superquick reimbursement of funds after the final report.
  • Wide communication and public relation activity promoting businesses, including videos.
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Key stakeholders 

  • Municipality - financial support to the business development policy initiative, one of the owners of the practice.
  • Business support organisations - informative support and active involvement of companies in the programme, providing experts and mentors for small & medium enterprises (SMEs) and for training sessions.
  • Business clubs and associations - informative support and active involvement of companies in the programme, providing experts and mentors for SMEs and for training sessions.
  • Higher and vocational education institutions - informative support and active student involvement in the programme.
  • Media - informative support and dissemination of programme results.
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City Strategy 

The city is attracting foreign direct investment and building business infrastructure, companies have access to support tools and programmes, talent is attracted and educated, a prototyping co-creation workshop is available, and young people engage in career development support activities and develop their business skills. Although various broad national and European Union financial instruments are available in Latvia, regional SMEs are not always ready to engage in them due to various bureaucratic obstacles that can reduce the emergence of new innovations, new companies and jobs in the region. Seeing this gap, the Valmiera Development Agency created the innovation support programme ZĪLE (ACORN), which is funded by the municipality of Valmiera and has become an integral part of the local business support and innovation ecosystem.

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Results and impacts 

In 8 years, the program has:
-81 business projects supported.
-68 new jobs were created.
-37 innovative products, services or prototypes.
-230 000 EUR total fund allocated to the companies throughout the years.

 

  • Economic impact: new SMEs, new jobs, new innovative products, increased turnover and profit, higher volume of paid taxes.
  • Social impact: raised awareness about innovations, raised business skills and spirit, active networking and community, contribution to local quality of life.
  • Environmental impact: environmental awareness and education, more business projects contriuting to sustainability, more circularity practices in SMEs.
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Challenges 

  • Rather low level of business skills and knowledge of start-ups and freelancers.
  • Supplyer issues that participants sometimes face.
  • Uncertainty about the annual budget for the programme, as it depends on municipality council decision.
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Enabling conditions 

  • Programme administration processes made very simple and very quick.
  • Simplification of implementation and reporting system and processes.
  • Pitching the projects face-to-face allowing us to truly see the motivation of the proggramme participants.
  • Encouraging networking among participants which fosters mutual issue solving and mentoring.
  • Including stakeholders in evaluation committee which significantly increases their involvement and interest in the programme.
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Transfer tips

  • Engage early-on your local entrepreneurs and residents to make sure you answer their needs
  • Closely cooperate with your local ecosystem. You won't succeed without them.
  • Conduct a funding opportunities scan early on.
  • Include an effective monitoring and evaluation system to monitor progress, evaluate impact and make necessary adjustments. This is key to sustaining your programme as well as increasing the chances of securing further funding.

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