At the Blueware Slovenia event, organized on 13 April 2022 in Technology Park Ljubljana, we started the process of establishing a Slovenian innovation community for a sustainable blue economy.

For the first time in Slovenia, representatives of research organizations, policy makers and regulators, companies and NGOs met in this number and showed an interest in innovation cooperation and the development of this domain. The participants presented their challenges, exchanged views and looked for opportunities for integration and common innovative solutions in preserving the marine ecosystem.

Peter Medica, coordinator of the Blueair project in Technology Park Ljubljana, first presented the aims and objectives of the project. He highlighted the need for more coordinated innovation policies between countries and regions in the Adriatic and Ionian Region and how the Blueair project would contribute to this. He stressed that this event would be followed by a series of other project events to develop the innovation community at local and macroregional level.

The invited speakers in the three panels of the event — Enablers, Potentials and Financing — shared the view that, given the untapped potential and knowledge, Slovenia could be at the very top in the field of the development of the blue economy. They also highlighted the urgent need for cooperation between all stakeholders to start designing a blue innovation community.

Lenča Humerca Šolar from the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning presented the Maritime Spatial Plan of Slovenia and stressed the need to think about new technologies and innovations adapted to the conditions it imposes. Gorazd Jenko from the Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy highlighted the relevance of the entrepreneurial discovery process in the Blueair project for defining focus areas and product directions in the context of the revision of the Slovenian Smart Specialisation Strategy.

The enormous pressure on the marine ecosystem was highlighted by Jernej Penca, head of the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Blue Economy, and pointed out that not only technological innovation but also social innovation and the development of the blue economy should be properly involved in the local community and various interests.

Ana Rotter from the National Institute of Biology pointed out that many ideas and innovations in the field of blue economy do not see the light of day due to a lack of financial resources and other incentives. Peter Vidmar, Dean of the Faculty of Maritime Studies and Transport, pointed out the importance of combining ideas of researchers on the one hand and companies for their realisation on the other.

At the event, we could also hear a number of examples of good practices already in place in the development of a sustainable blue economy. David Volk of Sigma Energy presented their wave power plants, which have been being developed for 15 years. Andrej Kržan of PlanetCare introduced their innovative washing machine filters for preventing plastic fibers from being flushed from our clothings all the way to the sea and announced that in the near future each such machine will need to have it installed. Joao Pita Costa of Xlab presented the results of a project to introduce the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to manage ports in Mediterranean cities more efficiently.

Marta Šabec from the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport highlighted the European Partnership for Sustanable Blue Economy to promote research and innovation in the blue economy. The national calls for research, development and innovation were presented by Tjaša Rotar Kokalj and Špela Grošelj from the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology, while Neža Sautet from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food presented opportunities for financing innovative projects from the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund.

We concluded the Blueware Slovenia event with a workshop on identifying challenges and opportunities for closer innovation cooperation in the Adriatic and Ionian Region (Blueair local cross-fertilisation workshop), moderated by Eva Kos. Most participants see the lack of cooperation between the research, public and private sectors in the development of innovative services as the most important challenge for cooperation with organisations from other countries and regions. It is therefore no coincidence that cooperation and networking between SMEs, large companies, research centres and clusters are considered to be the greatest opportunity for better innovation cooperation in the macro region. According to them, the establishment of international cooperation and exchange between regions and countries on smart specialisation strategies to find common solutions to macroregional challenges and opportunities best addresses the identified challenges and opportunities for innovation cooperation in the Adriatic and Ionian region.