Investments in interregional innovation thanks to I3 funding – Regional policy


Green and digital Europe

Let’s imagine a future where scientists, entrepreneurs and civil society together develop innovative projects from different parts of the European Union. This is exactly what the future of cooperation looks like.

A 3D printing project, a cybersecurity project, or a project on marine renewable energies or the bioeconomy are just some of the countless possibilities for interregional cooperation that are emerging across the EU and beyond.

Local and national public administrations are often involved, striving to create an enabling environment to enhance technological development and innovation. What challenges do all these actors face and have they always had the possibility to effectively finance their joint projects?

The crucial role of interregional cooperation

Bringing together and supporting innovation players, businesses, research, civil society and public administration is at the heart of the support from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

With ERDF, smart specialization strategies have been a key driver of innovation and competitiveness. As national or regional innovation strategies, they set priorities for creating competitive advantages in Member States and regions by developing local research and innovation strengths and adapting them to business needs.

These strategies have further encouraged and created a culture of collaborative participation, engagement and commitment from universities, the private sector and governments, locally and across the EU.

This was particularly evident in 2014-2020, when cooperation led to the creation of numerous EU-wide smart specialization partnerships in areas such as personalized medicine, photonics, hydrogen technologies and advanced battery materials. Of course, partnerships and the construction of value chains know no borders, and the interregional dimension has become a key determinant. The European Commission has also encouraged regions and innovation actors across the EU to build innovation ecosystems and strategic partnerships based on placement.

However, it turned out that it can be difficult for innovation actors to move beyond networking and planning and towards joint investments in innovation, especially in regions. less developed with weaker management capacities. It is also difficult to provide EU funding from programs run by more than one region or Member State, in particular due to the complexity of grant agreements and aid rules. State.

Often the co-financing of joint investment projects in innovation when funds are available in different regions of the EU and with a different timetable remains impossible.

Following a bottom-up approach and benefiting from all quadruple helix stakeholders, a public consultation was conducted in 2020 which helped to identify areas of investment and market barriers to be lifted and clarified the type of support that should be provided. mobilized, including the role of regional managing authorities.

Public input is complemented by the work of the Commission I3 expert group, which is made up of members of umbrella organizations for regions, research and innovation and industry and representatives of Member States.

A tool for marketing and scaling up

All this prompted the European Commission to act. The new ERDF regulation in 2021-2027 introduced support for interregional innovation investments. This support, through the Instrument for interregional investments in innovation (I3)brings together researchers, companies, civil society and public administrations.

Supported projects must align with national or regional smart specialization strategies and key EU policy priorities (green and digital transition), enabling cooperation between countries and regions under shared objectives.

This approach will allow partnerships to secure funding from a single source, with one set of rules, ensuring a smooth path to commercialization and scale-up of their joint innovation investment projects.

Create links between less developed regions and pilot regions

I3 has a budget of 570 million euros. The instrument will encourage the development of European value chains with a strong cohesion dimension since at least half of its budget will be devoted to the least developed regions. The I3 instrument supports interregional innovation projects in their commercialization and scaling-up phases, providing them with the necessary support to bring their project to investment level.

In synergy with other programs at national and European level, such as Interreg Europe, Horizon Europe and the Single Market programme, it will mobilize additional investments and strengthen cooperation between partners from different Member States.

The first I3 calls for proposals, with a budget of €145 million, were published in November 2021. The calls reflect EU-wide policy priorities, focusing on digital, transition green and smart manufacturing. These areas will be further refined based on experience and feedback gained during the first two years of implementation.

Current I3 calls provide financial and advisory support for investments in cross-regional innovation projects with a particular focus on SMEs and start-ups. Particular attention is paid to the capacity of regional innovation ecosystems in less developed, transition and outermost regions of the EU to participate in global value chains and to engage in partnerships with other regions.

How to apply for funding

Instrument I3 is implemented under the direct management of the European Innovation Council and the SME Executive Agency (EISMEA). All call information and application links are available on the EISMEA website.

The first application deadline in February showed considerable interest in this instrument. As a result, an additional deadline for submitting applications to the I3 call has been added (April 20, 2022) for applicants whose lead partner is from a less developed, transition or outermost region/country of the EU.

Learn more:

Instrument for interregional investments in innovation (I3)

Interregional investments in innovation (I3) – Regional Policy – European Commission (

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