Six years ago, the Municipality of Piraeus realised it needed to take further measures to counteract the impact of the 2008/9 global financial crisis. The team decided to build on the city’s assets, one of the strongest being its competitive location on the coast and status as an active port. They formed a vision to develop innovative areas, including digital, that could create sustainable and higher value jobs linked to the Blue Economy - economic activities related to oceans, seas and coasts and Piraeus’s maritime heritage. This formed the basis of their Blue Growth Strategy 2018-2024, to position the city as a Blue Economy innovation centre with an international reputation. Their digital ambition was to:
(a) Establish a physical and virtual environment that could attract international technology businesses with the ability to scale and create high value job opportunities.
(b) Support existing businesses to be more competitive through technology adoption.
(c) Engage young people to encourage the development of their digital skills.
Realising they didn’t hold all the capability to implement the digital aspects of the Blue Growth Strategy, the Municipality team applied to join the URBACT Tech Revolution Network to benefit from Barnsley’s Good Practice experience.
Outcome: Second Innovation Centre!
Use of the ULG approach to engage the local community has been a big success. Schools in particular have been keen to engage with Blue Lab and teachers need to book their field visits months in advance. In terms of business, it has led to plans for the development of a second, bigger innovation centre as a springboard for entrepreneurial activity and the cultivation of a start-up mentality in the city.
Piraeus has used the transfer of Barnsley’s Good Practice to complement its strategic vision for the promotion of the Blue Economy. Through Blue Lab, it sees that having “borrowed” the idea of creating a space for young people to come together, learning to use digital technologies and testing entrepreneurial ideas, a ‘tech culture’ is developing – something that was previously lacking in seminars and school visits. This is important because it will develop a new mentality regarding technology and automation which will feed into the job market, ultimately leading to a greater receptiveness to digital adoption and the subsequent development of higher-value jobs
The team also ensured that the emphasis of the Blue Lab was on the promotion of innovation through the provision of not only of a space, but also of state-of-the art technologies. Due to the number of SME manufacturers in the city, 3D printing was selected as it suited the custom manufacturing model of many of the businesses, and this was supplemented by seminars on the use of automation technologies.