Project “Enhancing the Competitiveness and Sustainable Growth in the Agrofood Sector through the promotion of Circular Economy” with Acronym AGROFICCIENCY is implemented under the 6th Call of Cooperation Programme “Interreg V-A Greece-Bulgaria” 2014-2020. The project is related to the enhancement of Cross-Border Cooperation between Greece and Bulgaria with a main objective Promoting entrepreneurship, in particular by facilitating the economic exploitation of new ideas and fostering the creation of new firms, including through business incubators.
The programme area is part of the most south-eastern, non-insular area of the EU. Agricultural development is one of the most significant issues in the area, as a great portion of its population is actively engaged in the industry, defining the wider agri-food sector as the heaviest industry in the region. The cornerstone of agricultural development lies in integrating contemporary techniques in the industry’s operational processes to improve the agricultural sector’s overall productivity and the wider ecosystem.
The CB area is blessed with rich natural resources and fertile, rural areas that show the great potential of exploitation, establishing the wider agri-food value chain as the most promising opportunity regarding the area’s economic and social development. Every region in the area has its strengths and weaknesses. Thessaloniki is an extremely industrialized. There are numerous research centers and chambers with an established network of contacts and members. Bulgaria, lacks on the above mentioned but can offer a direct and much needed new market, the market of Black Sea, as well as great know-how on ICT technologies. All regions across the border share the same microclimate and natural resources and exhibit great scientific and socio-economic potential. However, the area lacks a support mechanism to help the agricultural sector thrive and the local and/or potential SMEs develop. Common-joint problems, common assets and complementary capacity create a breeding ground a nd a direct need for cooperation and joint confrontation of the problem. SMEs lack contemporary business tools to develop their operation and prosper.
Also, there is a plethora of funding opportunities from either public or private sources that local SMEs could take advantage of, but are left untapped due to lack of relevant information. Another problem the area faces due to the lack of a support mechanism is the limited access to contacts necessary for the promotion of products, sharing ideas, learning, and exchanging technical expertise. Entrepreneurs think about starting new business ventures without necessarily having the proper knowledge and professional background needed to ensure their feasibility. This is why many businesses fail to attract investors and survive.
Moreover, technology takes giant leaps, but SMEs in the CB area are greatly inadequate of operational digitalization resulting in little to none digital tool integration. AGROFFICIENCY aims to improve support services offered in the CB area by creating a One-Stop-Shop business support center (BSC) that will work in an incubator-like model for the newly established and potential SMEs. This center is going to provide the necessary training, mentoring, one to one consulting and
networking during the project’s implementation period, giving the means and opportunity to local agri-food SMEs to develop their business tools, generate new ideas, and equip them with all the necessary know-how, properly manage, communicate and plan their operations, while creating a competitive advantage that will make them more enticing to investors. Moreover, the BSC will educate them on cost efficiency strategies and methodologies and promote the integration of Circular Economy and Contemporary Logistics in their operations. The BSC intends to follow a cooperation based approach by acting as a bridge between the 2 countries and promoting innovation in the agriculture sector and its wider value chain, by promoting the value of information exchange and stimulate collaboration and synergies between the end-users of the 2 countries.
The innovative character of the project lies on the fact that it aims to offer a holistic set of services that will be complementary and result in a cohesive result, which is the direct support of newly established SMEs. Its focus on businesses operating in the agri-food chain and its wider ecosystem contributes to its innovative side. The main target group is the local newly established and potential SMEs, since they need holistic and effective support and guidance. Through this project they will be greatly benefited since they will acquire access to a safe environment, which will provide them the necessary knowledge, cost-effective strategies and contacts, helping them lay strong foundations in order to survive and prosper. The Project Partners will also benefit by the programme, by further enriching their portfolios and services and building strong synergies with each other.