Latvia: Vidzeme Innovation Week 2020
At the end of February, the most prominent annual event dedicated to the development of innovation in the Vidzeme region, Latvia – Vidzeme Innovation Week 2020 – was organized by Vidzeme Planning Region and it’s cooperation partners, where science, business, agriculture, finance, culinary and other sectors were represented by multiple experienced Latvian and foreign experts, ready to share their stories on responsible innovation in lectures, masterclasses and workshops. During the conference, three parallel sessions were held, focusing on innovations in circular bioeconomy, food and gastronomy, sustainable use of resources and development of innovative services for public administration. During the parallel session “Bioeconomy Innovations in Food Production and Gastronomy” Interreg BSR 2014. – 2020. programme project “Unlocking the Potential of Bio-based Value Chains in the Baltic Sea Region” (BalticBiomas4Value) was presented in a workshop and follow-up discussion involving experts and bioeconomy area business representatives from Latvia, Austria, Finland and Estonia.
Workshop and following panel-discussion was moderated by the BalticBiomass4Value project manager in the Vidzeme Planning Region and Managing director of the project Associated partner “Latvian high added value and healthy food cluster” Kristaps Ročāns. The focus of the workshop and discussions was the presentation of the project, in particular, the results of the analysis of the good practice business models and example small and medium scale pilot business projects for sustainable bioenergy and side bio-products production in the Baltic Sea Region, and the gathering of input from the experts and entrepreneurs on the viability of various circular bioeconomy business models and most important trends shaping agri-food sector in particular.
Ants-Hannes Viira, director of the Institute of Economics and Social Sciences at the Estonian University of Life Sciences (EE), presented a variety of innovative circular bioeconomy example business cases and business models in the Baltic Sea Region and their analysis, emphasizing the necessity to focus on the sustainable biomass processing economic potential in the whole value chain:
“If we look at the policy discussions with the EU Green Deal, we have to admit that the environment and climate debate right now is very much related to energy issues, therefore it’s needed to focus not only on the top of the biomass cascade pyramid, but also on the bottom,” emphasized Viira. While sharing the knowledge on business models in BSR he noted: “In Baltic States there’s a need for stable policies. We are not used to long-term planning. Business models and cases help in understanding the business logic and inspire new ideas and applications”.
Follow up panel discussion with experts and bioeconomy area business representatives reflected on the necessity to think on the food bioeconomy business potential not only from the food processing and market focus but considering much broader value chain view.
Panelist, one of the conference keynote speakers – Johannes Kisser, Managing Director at Alchemia-Nova (AT), gave several inspiring examples regarding biomass conversion to high added value products via biorefinery innovations.
“We can divert organic waste into insect protein and then feed the insect protein to get even a better protein, higher protein fish. It is a good example of a cycle. We believe in these systems of small cycles. There are many possible combinations and symbiosis between heat producers, waste and agricultural residues. Especially small companies should create these symbiosis networks as part of their business model.”
The founder of the Institute for Environmental Solutions, entrepreneur and organic farmer Gundars Skudriņš spoke about current market and technological trends shaping bioeconomy sector businesses globally and emphasized the need to separate noise from the actual signal, because, as of now there is a lot of noise that creates false business trends, stating that globally, currently there are many companies who portray themselves as nature-friendly while simultaneously making a negative impact on the environment during the whole product production value chain. Jānis Garančs, Chairman of the board of “Latvian high added value and healthy food cluster” and general director of the Ltd. Aloja-Starkelsen – organic plant based products, food and feed ingredients producing company (one of the good practice business cases analyzed in the framework if (BalticBiomass4Value project)) stressed that the consumers must think along as they make up their food basket. Garančs encouraged everyone to learn and understand the deep meaning behind sustainability, eco friendliness, and other current trends, when creating new bioeconomy business or products – not to stay on the same small aspect that is solved already, but to look at and retain the bigger picture. He reflected on the current discussion about the new EU Greed Deal, and stated that the focus on the “farm to fork” strategy and policy level discussions is insufficient, and it should be expanded to “soil to soil” strategy, including discussions and measures across whole value chain – food, feed, fertilizer, energy, side streams valorization.
Experts and companies in the audience also discussed the challenges faced by farmers and food processing companies regarding the cooperation with scientists and bigger companies. Latvian Food Bioeconomy cluster was mentioned as a good solution for SMEs who do not have enough resources to attract knowledgeable scientists. Panelist Dr. Pekka Kilpeläinen, research manager at Oulu University in Finland (FI) provided several good practice models on natural product research and business cooperation in Finland.
“Quite often we form consortiums where several companies from our region and one or two bigger ones are represented so that an ecosystem could be formed and everyone would benefit from it,” Dr. Kilpeläinen commented.
As an example of successful R&D and business cooperation the participants were acquainted to lingonberry characteristics and various end-products from the berry processing and side streams one of which was Proanthocyanidin-rich lingonberry powder. Speaking of successful circular bioeconomy business models Dr. Pekka Kilpeläinen inspired the local entrepreneurs by saying:
“You don’t always need a big, magnificent invention to create a good, successful product. There must be a real need for it, you have to market it properly and you have to do something a bit differently.”
The session “Bioeconomy Innovations in Food Production and Gastronomy” was organised by Interreg Baltic Sea Region programme projects “Rural RDI milieus in transition towards smart Bioeconomy Clusters and Innovation Ecosystems” (RDI2CluB), “Unlocking the Potential of Bio-based Value Chains in the Baltic Sea region” (BalticBiomass4Value), Interreg Estonia – Latvia programme project “Design and promotion of tourism product based on Livonian culinary heritage” (Livonian Culinary Route) and Institute for Environmental Solutions.