Cluj-Napoca, the first East European city to be shortlisted for European Capital of Innovation title, within the 2020 edition

Photo: Dan Tautan / Visit Cluj

Cluj-Napoca, Romania, is the first East European city to make it into the final stage of the contest for the European Capital of Innovation award, within the 2020 edition, along with eleven other cities from across the rest of Europe. The European Commission will announce the winner and the runners-up of the European Capital of Innovation 2020 contest at the European Research and Innovation Days taking place on 22-24 September 2020.

Cluj-Napoca (often referred to simply as Cluj) is the unofficial capital of Transylvania, Romania, and one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities in Eastern Europe, a cultural center, an academic hub, and of one the most important innovation hubs of the country. Based on the software industry, Cluj-Napoca has developed tremendously in the last 15 years and nowadays is very active in terms of its startup ecosystem.

“The European Commission announcement reconfirms Cluj-Napoca as a city of innovation, focused on Research & Development, IT and on the use of smart city technology to increase the quality of life of all its citizens. You are not innovative, if you are not inclusive.”, said mayor of Cluj-Napoca, Emil Boc, upon the announcement.

Earlier this year, Cluj-Napoca decided to be one of the first cities to apply for the European Capital of Innovation award, as Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, launched the 2020 edition of the contest during the StartupCity conference held in Cluj-Napoca on the 5th of March. Shortly after the contest launch, the mayor of Cluj-Napoca, Emil Boc, announced that the city will apply for the title.

The StartupCity conference held in Cluj-Napoca on the 5th of March 2020. Photo: Sebastian Florian / Startups&TheCity

“The strengths of Cluj are those we have been talking about for a long time: the ecosystem and the partners who work together in this city. The IT companies played an extremely important role in the development of the city and continue to do so, but it’s the vision and leadership of the local public administration, and the team work of the universities and the research institutes that really makes the difference now. More than 4-5 years ago we have started to develop projects designed to bring innovation in all existing areas. Our plans for the next years, 2021-2027, refer to the development of the Transilvania Digital Innovation Hub, where the member clusters in the Cluster Consortium of Northern Transylvania and the universities of Cluj will be an active part. In a cross-sectoral approach, technology is also an enabler, the element that supports innovation in all the other areas of activity in our city and region”, said Bianca Muntean, Cluster Manager at Transilvania IT Cluster, one of the key players of Cluj-Napoca’s innovation ecosystem.

The finalists of this year’s edition of the European Capital of Innovation award are: Cluj-Napoca (Romania), Espoo (Finland), Ghent (Belgium), Groningen (The Netherlands), Helsingborg (Sweden), Leeuwarden (The Netherlands), Leuven (Belgium), Linz (Austria), Milano (Italy), Reykjavik (Iceland), Valencia (Spain) and Vienna (Austria).

A high-level jury of independent experts selected the 12 finalists by analyzing how cities use innovative solutions to respond to societal challenges, how they use such practices in the urban development process and how they engage broad local communities in decision-making.

“Innovation is key for cities to ensure a sustainable recovery after challenging times. When cities nurture innovation ecosystems so that innovation actors and citizens meet and collaborate, they boost their development and resilience. The sixth edition of the European Capital of Innovation Award is set to be another strong contest and will showcase the best innovative practices that drive European cities forward.”, said Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.

Also known as iCapital, this annual prize is funded by Horizon 2020, the EU research and innovation programme. It recognizes European cities that develop vibrant innovation ecosystems in order to address current public challenges and improve the lives of their citizens.

The prize awards six European cities in total. The first prize winner will join the community of previous European Capitals of Innovation – Barcelona, Amsterdam, Paris, Athens and Nantes. The winner city will receive the title of European Capital of Innovation 2020 as well as €1,000,000 to support its innovation activities and to enhance its capacity to connect individuals, public sector, academia, and businesses to deliver societal benefits for its communities. Five runners-up will get €100,000 each.

Founder, editor in chief of Startups&TheCity.