SmartUp St. Pölten – Towards innovation ecosystems for a small and medium-sized cities

Hannes Raffaseder
St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences

Gabriele Permoser
St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences

LinkedIn profile

In the beginning of the 20th century, Joseph Schumpeter described innovation as „the doing of new things or the doing of things that are already done, in a new way“. In order to be innovative and do those new things, a certain innovation ecosystem is necessary. Of course, innovation ecosystems have been developed inside companies, traditional networks and communities, but even more important trends and interesting issues like fablabs, maker spaces, coworking spaces, creative labs, crowdfunding, open source and social innovation have come up off the beaten tracks.
Metropolises and big cities usually offer the appropriate infrastructure and playgrounds for innovative ideas and therefore attract smart people. On the contrary, medium-sized towns are struggling to establish a relevant innovation and start-up mentality and ecosystem. Innovative capacity is getting lost and beside other negative economic developments (e.g. moving away of industry) push those medium-sized cities more into the offside.
The positive dependency of entrepreneurial activities and regional growth is undisputable. Especially start-ups are now put in focus of regional development strategies and economy policies. International experts point out, that start-ups not only create new jobs, but attract young, innovative talents and ideas as well.
Established companies in the region benefit from new opportunities for cooperation with those innovative pioneers. It is therefore entirely logical, that they try to implement a lively start-up culture. Former industry regions suffer from the decrease of industry sites and companies and the migration to low-wage countries. Therefore, they seek for alternatives to stabilise their economy and labour market.
In Austria, several bigger cities, most of them current or former industry cities are now trying to positioning themselves as innovation and start-up hotspots. Beside Vienna and Linz, St. Pölten, the capital of Lower Austria has started a new initiative, SMARTUP St. Pölten (1), to establish an attracting innovation ecosystem.
St. Pölten, the capital of Lower Austria, used to be a traditional industrial city. After the fall of traditional industry companies (e.g. Glanzstoff, VOITH), the city of St. Pölten heralded a structural change about 10 years ago and now has become a centre of education, research and culture.
St. Pölten benefits from an excellent infrastructure and acts as regional transport hub with direct connection to European metropoles like Munich, Vienna and Budapest. In recent years, co-working spaces and hackerspaces were opened in the city of St. Pölten. Although a still young capital (since 1986) and quite small city (60.000 inhabitants), St. Pölten already is a regional important education location with currently three higher education institutions, the 4th will start in march 2019; numerous compulsory schools, secondary schools for economic professions and technical schools.
One driver of the structural change of St. Pölten mentioned above is the St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences, established in 1996. St. Pölten UAS characterizes itself as platform for collaborative innovation (2) and intensified cooperation with diverse external actors and stakeholders step-by-step. Beside collaborations with established companies and societal groups, St. Pölten UAS has started several support activities for young innovative students and entrepreneurs. Since 2014, it has developed its strategic approach “Seven Steps to Start-Up” (3) as a holistic concept to empower students to learn leadership and to ensure support and training on different stages from idea to market. The “Seven Steps to Start-up” have already led to a significantly increasing number of student-run start-ups and interdisciplinary research projects, new courses for entrepreneurial education and innovation as well as expanding collaborations with industries and intensified interaction within the innovation ecosystem. (e.g. 7steps to start-up, creative pre-incubator, etc.).
In February 2018 the city of St. Pölten commissioned St. Pölten UAS with the implementation of the SMARTUP initiative for innovation, entrepreneurship and start-ups. The aims of this initiative are the interlocking of research, education and economy, knowledge transfer, promoting talents and ideas (e.g. innovation weeks, hackathons), establishing concepts of open innovation and co-creation (e.g. open laboratories and facilities), interaction with existing networks (industry meets makers, Austrian IT Security Hub, etc.), establishing connections with other cities.
The paper will present the concept of SMARTUP St. Pölten, its implementation and output, outcome and impact of the first year. Furthermore, it gives inside in the process of integrating diverse stakeholders into the concept, the roles within the initiative as well as first steps and obstacles. Moreover, it will describe how higher education institutions can give initial impulses for regional strategies of small or medium-sized cities.