The Innovation Centre for Young People – ICY
The Innovation Centre for Young People (ICY) is a successful example of cross-border cooperation within Europe. It was founded by a Bulgarian business incubator in collaboration with a Macedonian foundation. This is how it happened:
On one side, the business incubator Gotse Delchev…
The “BIGD” was established in 1998 with the support of the United Nations Development Programme and the municipality of Gotse Delchev, a town in the Blagoevgrad Province in southwestern Bulgaria. It aims to support entrepreneurship and socio-economic development by promoting the establishment and activities of regional SMEs, family businesses and agricultural producers. Since the BIGD is also a certified vocational training centre (registered with the National Agency for Vocational Education and Training), its staff occasionally take part in judging panels for educational training companies and competitions. They noticed that pupils sometimes have very valuable innovative ideas that could be turned into successful businesses that could potentially benefit the local community. Although the BIGD was created to support these young entrepreneurs, it only had a limited capacity to provide them with the necessary Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) skills.
On the other side, the Foundation for Local and IT Development …
The “FLORIT” was established in 2001 as an initiative by the local government, the business sector and the civil society in the town of Gevgelija, based in the southeast of the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYRoM). It aims to promote policies of sustainable development at a local and regional level and places particular emphasis on energy efficiency and renewable energy, telecommunications, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Together they founded the Innovation Centre for Young People
The BIGD and the FLORIT, based 170 km apart from each other, decided to create a joint Innovation Centre for Young People (ICY). The centre targets graduates from vocational schools in the Gotse Delchev – Gevgelija cross-border region. About 250 students from the cross-border region are interested in innovation and new technology and it is estimated that about 880 young unemployed and disadvantaged people such as minority, youths in risk of social exclusion and single mothers would like to improve their digital competence skills. With the support of an international team of experts and mentors from the public sector, higher educational institutions, business companies and NGOs, including from West European countries, the centre has increased its performance and reputation. The young entrepreneurs of the centre now benefit from courses and workshops that raise their ICT skills and are able to directly apply these skills in their business sectors, for example cross-border tourism. Students can also participate in innovation workshops and innovation camps where they can prepare business plans.
Ms. Katerina Hadjieva took part in web-design training which was provided by the ICY. In under a year after the training, she had developed a business concept and launched her own business of fashion shops. The first shop targeted children and ‘tweens’. After only six months, Katerina opened her second fashion shop targeting teenagers and young adults. Mrs. Hadjieva is currently planning to launch an online shop to complement her brick-and-mortar business with an online presence. Katerina appreciates the contribution of the ICY to her business success: “the Innovation Centre helped me gain valuable knowledge. Moreover, it helped me strengthen my inner motivation and business determination. Knowledge, motivation and business success are inextricably linked!”
Furthermore, the establishment of the ICY has also helped to increase the knowledge of the BIGD staff members. With this new knowledge the BIGD’s staff are better equipped to provide innovative services. The staff have also improved their awareness of initiative, creativity and innovation.