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Innovations are born in sparsely populated regions

Published: 11 July 2017

A new way of measuring the effects of innovations challenges the perception that development is mainly created in major cities. It is one of the results of seven years of research on the prerequisites for innovations in sparsely populated regions.

– The most common way of measuring innovations has previously been by looking at which companies and regions have patent rights. But it's a blunt instrument that does not reflect reality. We have instead explored the effects of innovation, says Håkan Ylinenpää, professor at Luleå University of Technology, and leader of the CiiR Research Center since its inception in 2011.

Patent law does not give the whole picture

In corporate groups, intellectual property rights are usually reported where the headquarters are located, regardless of whether the new ideas have evolved in one of the companies' other locations. The researchers have now been able to show that it gives a false representation of which regions are innovative, as most of the headquarters are located in the big cities. In addition, the number of patents shows only the radical technological innovations, while the solutions that make products and services improved are not visible. Therefore, the researchers from Luleå University of Technology and Umeå University have expanded the survey and also looked at what happens when companies begin to work in new ways, and where economic growth is created.

– Then another picture appears. Stockholm is still a leader, but there are also sparsely populated areas such as Jämtland, which have had a more dynamic development. Behind the tourist area Åre, Graningekängan and Trangiaköket, there are small companies that continuously develop new products but are not visible if we only measure patents, he says.

Within the Center for Innovation Research, financed by Vinnova, they have examined the conditions and prerequisites for innovations outside the metropolitan areas. Håkan Ylinenpää says that the level of knowledge from the beginning was very low.

– There has been an idea that ideas only grow in the metropolitan regions. With our research, we have raised the level of knowledge about what other types of innovative systems are available. You do not have to be in the same place, but the systems can include a car test business in Slagnäs, a car factory in Germany, a component supplier in South East Asia and skills from Silicon Valley, he says.

A global perspective

In the distributed innovative systems it is natural that distance-spanning technology becomes an area of ​​innovation, but also a platform for global collaboration. Håkan Ylinenpää says that sparsely populated regions need to gain competence from working with distances and to compete in the world, because the home market is insufficient.

– Being where it is dark, cold and far away has resulted in a competitive advantage in many ways. Distamce-spanning edge technology has been developed due to the need for it. Knowledge of working remotely has also been exported because the needs look the same in other sparsely populated regions of the world, he says.

The research findings presented by the project are the basis for providing politicians and officials with a knowledge base for how innovative networks and innovations in the regions are created. They have already presented their results for parliamentary politics and contributed with tools during Regio Norrbottens work on the regional innovation strategy presented this fall.

– We have developed  future scenarios to showcase different challenges and how innovation potential can be utilised. The political environment is important for entrepreneurship and it is therefore important that politicians base their decisions on knowledge-based facts. We hope our results will be reflected in future initiatives, he says.

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Photo: Maya Umar