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Ambassador Jørn E. Gjelstad on Business Development and Innovation

Ambassador Jørn E. Gjelstad´s speech at the stakeholder conference for the EEA Grants program on business development and innovation. The conference took place 13 December 2017.

Kalimera-sas, Distinguished guests, friends,

I am excited to launch this new programme of the EEA Grants on innovation and business development – the first of its kind in Greece.

We are most happy to have Innovation Norway and ETEAN on board for the management and advisory support of this programme.  I am sure that they will give direction and chart a course that will yield results. Innovation Norway is the Norwegian Government’s most important instrument for innovation and for helping businesses internationalize. They give advice to Norwegian companies across the globe. We are happy that they now will be active in Greece and draw on their expertise and experience. Greece desperately needs new growth impulses in its economy, and this programme might be contributory to that endeavor by its creativity and forward looking profile. Innovation Norway already has experience in launching such business development programmes in other EEA grant recipient countries, and I am confident that they will successfully do so here in Greece.

Innovation has become a topical issue across the world. A huge part of the global economy has reached the stage of necessary transformation. In Norway, we have come to realize that our economy can not be based solely on oil or gas forever. Diversification is the mantra of the day, and such measures need to be stepped up even further. My Government has taken a proactive role in encouraging entrepreneurship, the growth of new industries and a shift to a greener economy. We have seen almost an explosion in startups within the new ecosystem This is basically due to a determined strategy to provide incentives for start-ups – such as tax incentives and incubators. We see a critical mass of new companies expanding in green technology, financial technology (fintech) and new medical innovations. We hope to see some of these companies partner themselves with Greek companies.

Another aspect of the Norwegian ecosystem that might be of interest is our cluster-system. Clusters is a key word when it comes to Norwegian innovation and business development. A cluster is a geographical concentration of enterprises and research communities linked by a complementarity of interests and needs. These clusters are financially supported by the Government. By joining a cluster, enterprises can gain access to important production factors and inputs, they can share ideas for innovation and, not at least, cooperate on strategies to entering foreign markets. The Norwegian clusters have fostered our most competitive and internationally successful businesses within areas such as the maritime sector, aquaculture or renewable energy. We have 14 established clusters today. Through this form of cooperation, the industry has proven to become much more competitive. And sharpening the competitive edge is largely what this is about.

Let me please also dwell a bit on the Norwegian business culture. I think it is fair to say that Norwegian companies have a more horizontal organizational structure than what we can observe in countries further south in Europe. What we see is a structure that makes it easier for employees to address their ideas and opinions across the entire organization, the whole way up to the management team.  This organizational structure caters for synergies by its inclusiveness. It brings the experience of professionals ‘on the ground’ to the top management, and this free flow and exchanges of ideas, concepts and initiatives are not only productive; it serves as the very baseline for renewal and adaption to an increasingly more complex environment. This is also the spirit of holding the stakeholder consultation today. Everyone here brings their own experience, vision and perspectives. This is essential in order to develop new concepts and ideas to be included in to our programme.

Let me know turn to Greece and the backdrop for our meeting here today. Greece is about to turn a page, moving from recession to growth. And with a new growth strategy soon to be presented, we hope to see specified measures that will enhance the competitiveness of Greek businesses as well as increase foreign investments in Greece. This requires a strategic focus on innovation, technology development, the restructuring of industry and service sectors as well as the framework for foreign investments and business management. New growth impulses will also require a stronger focus on areas that have traditionally not been strong in Greece – and with this programme we hope to contribute to such an endeavor.

The programme we are here to discuss today has three core areas – green energy, blue growth and ICT.

In the area of green energy, we know that the Greek Government has declared its ambition to increase energy efficiency as well as the share of renewable energy within the energy mix. Diversification of energy sources is also a priority. The programme should look closely at how we can underpin strategic priorities and needs already set out by this Government – to meet its commitments and to facilitate the green shift. This area offers, not at least, significant commercial opportunities. Interesting innovative initiatives has taken place in Norway within this area based on a close cooperation between commercial enterprises and technological entities. I believe  it is time for investment capital and green technology to unite into a viable partnership also in Greece, in order to lay the foundation for future growth.

The area of Blue growth includes also several opportunities. Norway’s maritime industry aims to be one of the most global, innovative and forward-looking industries in the world. This sector will go through profound changes in the years to come, as opportunities for fueling ships and ferries with electric power, biofuel and gas will become cost effective. The requirements to reduce emissions will drive the process. Traditional transport patterns will change as a result of this.

Finally, ICT is a third area of focus. Norway has a “Digital Agenda,” launched by the Norwegian Government last year. The agenda describes how ICT can be used to renew, simplify and improve the public sector, but also how ICT can facilitate innovation and competitiveness in business. Norway is a forerunner in some fields, like our banking system and our fiscal digital solutions. In this context I would also draw your attention to our comprehensive digital platform Altinn, the web portal for electronic dialogue between the business/industry sector, citizens and government agencies.

The EEA grants that provide the funding for the Innovation and Business Development programme comes from Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, with Norway providing  96% of the grants. A Memorandum of Understanding between Greece and the Donor countries was signed 31 October. Out of the total allocation of 116.7 million euros, 21.5 million have been allocated for this programme. The challenge we all have to take on is how to use this allocation smart in order to make a difference.

In the context of the new EEA grants period, we will not only see a strong focus on entrepreneurship and innovation. We will also keep a strong focus on enabling factors that can give the young educated people a renewed hope and opportunities in this country. Opportunities for the new young generation is key and have to be created. There will be a continued strong focus on migration and asylum management, digitalization of the Greek public administration, the Greek civil society organizations, the Greek Ombudsman and the support to the poorest segment of the Greek society. All these areas stand out as important benchmarks for us.

We hope you will all be really entrepreneurial in your take on this programme - let ideas flow, keep the strategic priorities in mind and think outside the box. We need synergies to ensure that this programme will take new businesses off the ground, make them airborn, make them sustainable, and thus contributing to future growth that the Greek economy strongly needs.

Thank you for the attention and good luck with your important discussion!