Technological innovation takes off in Hainaut
The process of industrial reconversion in the province of Hainaut in the south of Belgium has been given a welcome boost thanks to a centre set up in July 2001 for the promotion of R&D and technology, the CeRDT. In sectors as wide-ranging as chemicals, food, metallurgy, IT and electrical equipment manufacturing, the centre has been helping small businesses to harness the potential of technological innovation.
“There are many issues for which there is no one available to provide advice. I’m thinking mostly about knowing how to structure an innovative project. CeRDT fills this gap. It is unrivalled in the support and training it offers.”
François Guillotin, NCA technologies
Raising awareness of the advantages of R&D among small businesses and helping them to make these a reality by facilitating cooperation with universities and research centres were the two main objectives which underpinned the work of the CeRDT. Over 1 000 businesses benefited from the services provided and over 60 partnerships were created with research institutes.
Innovation and improvement
Innovation in small business has been a priority for the Walloon region since the early 1990s when the area was seriously lagging behind in innovative entrepreneurship and technological innovation. The CeRDT attended to this priority by bringing together all of the main players in the region’s economic development. These included: the Walloon Union of Enterprises (UWE), Hainaut Chambers of Commerce, municipality associations and government research representatives.
A multidisciplinary team of 12, including legal adviser, communication specialist and several engineers, coordinated the activities of the project. These included organising meetings between companies and the CeRDT in order to foster technological innovation and encourage the company to invest more in R&D, as well as highlighting the benefits of collaboration with research institutes and taking the initial steps to set up such partnerships.
After one year of activities, the CeRDT revised its approach having concluded that its methods could be made more effective. The result was a set of tools to support the companies in their approach to technological innovation, thereby giving them added value.
The CeRDT has gained a reputation as a key player in the provision of advisory services to small businesses and in the supervision of technological innovation projects. Its ability to adapt and modify its approach while maintaining awareness-raising and promotion activities has guaranteed the popularity of the venture.
The targets set by the CeRDT were surpassed in several areas: the centre met with 1 710 companies when its goal was 450; it supported 1 014 companies when its goal was 600; it organised 91 events when its goal was 56; it created 11 technological clusters when its goal was 8.
In general, the CeRDT has promoted the technological expertise of research institutes among businesses, changing the image of the region and showing that R&D is accessible even to the smallest of businesses. It has instilled a new attitude to innovation and encouraged investment in R&D related activities. Companies in the region are seeing the difference as they reap the benefits of a more competitive offer.