In top regions innovation is part of the entire economic system, not only in specific high-tech sectors such as biotechnology or ICT. Indeed, innovation is broader than innovations based on the traditional R&D in sciences, the hard innovation factors such as patents. A company can bring a new product or a variant of an existing product (product differentiation) to the market without having conducted R&D. It can also entail purchasing innovative knowledge, technologies, equipment, software and licenses that companies have not developed themselves, but can provide an important boost to their competitiveness.

VARIO refers to the broad, integrated vision on innovation in Figure 1, in which combinations of technical innovations (with or without R&D), business model innovations, human-centered design, marketing innovations, consumer-driven innovations, etc. play an important role. In Flanders we need to think much more commercially; consumer-driven innovations and societal challenges such as ageing, climate change... play an increasingly important role. For example, we refer to the Netherlands which jumped on the e-commerce cart much faster than Flanders and is now economically more resilient in response to COVID-19.

In Flanders, non-R&D-related expenditures on innovation are still too limited. An important role and redefinition of that role should be addressed by VLAIO and its partners, including the sector federations, VLAIO’s Team Bedrijfstrajecten[1], the Universities of Applied Sciences (Blikopener[2]), other knowledge institutions... VARIO asks the Flemish Minister of Economy and Innovation to commission VLAIO to develop a proposal to better integrate the holistic vision in innovation policy and its instruments.

[1] Business processes; VLAIO’s Team Bedrijfstrajecten is a fusion of the former regional innovation centers at the provincial level.
[2] The Flemish Universities of Applied Sciences provide innovative practical knowledge to companies, not-for-profit organizations… through the Blikopener project. https://www.blikopener.vlaanderen/