The Vanguard Initiative is a platform that connects SMEs, clusters and knowledge institutes across Europe to find new innovative solutions for regional challenges. It also influences policy and works with interregional partners to boost regional innovation ecosystems 1The initiative gathers 38 of the most advanced industrial regions in Europe, focused on stimulating industrial innovation and building European value-chains based on complementarities in regional smart specialisation strategies 2It was established in 2013 by ten European regions committed to lead by example in delivering growth and jobs through industry-led interregional cooperation, co-creation, and co-investment, on the basis of smart specialisation 3.


The core activity of the Vanguard Initiative is the implementation of its Pilot Projects, which have been developed through the active participation of clusters, science parks, research institutes and universities in the member regions.  By bringing regions and their stakeholders together, the Pilot Projects aim to accelerate the market uptake of innovations in 8 thematic areas, pioneering a new approach to support EU industry internationalisation and competitiveness by bringing regions, clusters and stakeholders together to:

  • discuss common objectives and find complementarities;
  • map and better understand regions’ industrial competencies and capabilities;
  • develop joint strategic action plans (building critical mass and complementary specialisations);
  • align strategic investments arising from these roadmaps;
  • better support start-ups and SMEs in their innovation process;
  • make the process of matchmaking between promising SMEs and start-ups more efficient and effective

We are members of following pilots:

Efficient And Sustainable Manufacturing (ESM)
AI Pilot




The Vanguard Initiative is getting involved in EU projects consistent with its regional membership political commitment of implementing smart specialisation strategies, advancing technological developments through interregional collaboration, supporting demonstration and piloting of new European value-chains, and making the Vanguard Initiative a powerful force for European technological change and advancement.

S3 Community of Pratice (S3COP)

Partnership for Regional Innovation (PRI)

In the framework of the PRI, the European Committee of the Regions and the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission are cooperating to explore the development of innovation partnerships fit for the green and digital transition, by building on positive experiences with smart specialisation strategies.

PRI aims to test tools to enhance the coordination and directionality of regional, national and EU innovation policies to implement Europe’s green and digital transitions and to tackle the innovation divide in the EU. PRI will be firmly anchored in the EU policy framework, supporting the implementation of the European Green Deal, Horizon Europe, Cohesion policy and NextGenerationEU.

Interregional Innovation Investments Strand (I3)

In parallel with the development of its pilot projects and the emergence of the respective funding needs, the Vanguard Initiative has been working to mobilise existing funding instruments and, when necessary, to create new ones, towards a complete, multilevel (European, interregional and national/regional) funding and financing framework.  The Vanguard Initiative is especially involved within the Interregional innovation investments instrument (i3) instrument framework, as a co-creator of the i3 instrument and a member of the i3 expert group of the European Commission.

The Interregional Innovation Investments Instrument is a component of the European Regional and Development Fund (ERDF), which aims to support interregional innovation projects during their commercialization and scale-up stages by equipping them with the necessary tools to overcome regulatory and other barriers, enabling them to reach the investment level required for further development.

The i3 funding instrument focuses in two key areas:

Strand 1 – Financial and advisory support for investments in interregional innovation projects

This strand is targeted at well-established partnerships, aiming to accelerate scale up and market uptake of innovative solutions within shared smart specialization priority domains. Additionally, it aims to cultivate a portfolio of investment projects.

Strand 2a – Financial and advisory support to the development of value chains in less developed regions

The primary focus of this strand is to enhance the capabilities of regional innovation ecosystems in less developed regions, enabling them to engage in global value chains and form partnerships with other regions.

In 2021, the Vanguard Initiative was chosen by the European Commission to be a member of the i3 Expert Group.  This acknowledged the network as a key partner supporting the commercialisation and scaling up of interregional innovation projects.

As a member of the Expert Group, the Vanguard Initiative is formally in a position to continue building and improving the programme, and is able to liaise with other networks who are also part of the Expert Group and with whom we have an excellent collaboration on this, such as ERRIN, EARTO, EURADA, EBN.

Regional Innovation Valeys (RIV)

The Regional Innovation Valleys (RIV) programme was launched through a call for expression of interest by the European Commission and the European Committees of the Regions, as a flagship initiative under the New European Innovation Agenda.

The primary objective of the RIVs is to boost innovation and foster excellence throughout the European Union, with particular emphasis on regions with lower innovation capabilities. The programme achieves this by capitalising on strategic areas of regional expertise and specialisation -based on the regions’ smart specialisation strategies –, all while aligning with key EU priorities.

On 17 May, the Commission opened the Regional Innovation Valleys calls for proposals,  allocating €122 million for the European Innovation Ecosystems (EIE) initiative of Horizon Europe and the Interregional Innovation Investment Instrument (I3) of the European Regional Development Fund. The purpose of these calls is to enhance and propel European innovation ecosystems, fostering cohesion by linking all EU territories to address societal challenges.

VI Interregional Funding Mechanism

On behalf of the Vanguard, IDEA Consult designed and prepared the implementation of the innovative Interregional Funding Mechanism. Together with a group of ‘core regions’.

Key guiding principles were agreed upon on the basis of an analysis of Vanguard funding needs, which served as a basis to kick-start a co-design process towards an interregional funding mechanism in line with the conditions, preferences, and ambitions of the IFM core regions.

While IFM core regions were tasked to position themselves regarding four distinct mechanism options, Thorough consultations and interactions among representatives from core regions led to consensus, resulting in the creation of VInnovate, which is highlighting the three fundamental principles that define this innovative financial instrument.

  • Regional ownership: VInnovate is placing regions in the driver’s seat, as they determine the allocation of regional funds, set project scopes, autonomously manage and assess projects.
  • Tailormade:  The instrument will finance SME innovation tailored to the specific needs of one region, while the collaborative nature of VInnovate enables project results to spillover across the network.
  • Leverage: Recognizing the vital role of innovation for SMEs, VInnovate stands as the next progressive step in the European financing landscape, serving as a model for Europe and the forthcoming multi-annual financial framework post-2027.