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The article covers, what exactly ScanBalt BioRegion is and how it aims at innovating in the healthcare sector of the European regions, using the concept of smart specialization and collaborative funding.

ScanBalt BioRegion is a macro-region within health and life sciences encompassing Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Northern Germany, Northern Netherlands and North-western Russia (The Baltic Sea Region). The region has more than 50 health care clusters and networks, which are mainly triple helix-based regional networks with coordinated involvement of public institutions, authorities, administration and private companies.

ScanBalt BioRegion is home to more than 50 university hospitals and 60 universities with a health and life science focus  including 25 with a focus on medical technology and 75 health care sector science parks. The region is  host to at least 3000 companies within health and life sciences.

ScanBalt BioRegion is a flagship in the European Union (EU) strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and has, since 2002, acted as a smart specialization platform, promoting coordinated funding between various EU funds, national and regional public-private financing.

Strong market drive in the healthcare sector[1]

Demographic shift is a major engine of the healthcare sector throughout ScanBalt BioRegion. Every segment of the health sector across the entire region is currently growing. While the population of the Nordic countries is constantly rising, Germany, Poland and the Baltic States are confronted by declining population. This shift may of course be affected by current and future migration tendencies.

Consequently, the demand for medical supplies and services is growing at an above-average rate, especially in the areas of nursing, geriatric and psychosocial care, palliative medicine, preventative medicine, rehabilitation, sport, wellness, health and Ambient Assisted Living (AAL).

In particular, ScanBalt BioRegion is a dynamic growth market for medical technology.

Poland and the Baltic States have a great need to catch up in the area of technical medical equipment (and the more stringent technical and hygiene standards of the EU). The demand for efficient and high-grade technical medical equipment (such as surgical installations, diagnostic apparatus, monitoring systems and tele-medicine) in the northern and western parts of the Baltic Sea Region is also on a continuous upward trend.

There are large-scale modernization and expansion plans in the pipeline in the hospital sector across the region. A decisive role is played by the EU development funding in Poland and the Baltic States. There are still differences across the Baltic Sea Region in terms of the frequency and quality of the available medical treatment and an increase in cross-border patient streams is anticipated. Thus specialization, cooperation and common quality standards are needed throughout the region.

In the medium and long term, ScanBalt BioRegion is among the most dynamic healthcare markets in Europe. Healthcare spending in Poland and the Baltic States is growing at a disproportionately high rate and is fast approaching the average for Europe. For several years, the growth of employment in the health sector has been remarkably more dynamic in the entire ScanBalt BioRegion than that of employment overall (except in Sweden).

Promoting innovation

Health care is split into sectors which function separately: health care providers, enterprises & research institutions, regulatory and financing institutions. Support for innovation to develop new products and services thus has to be addressed in a holistic way. Focus on value creation and societal usefulness is essential for the long-term stability of health care systems. Unmet health needs and user-driven innovation are the key success factors for a thriving innovation system.

As models of care evolve and needs change, there is a need to bridge the existing cross- sectored gaps by involving key regional actors in the value chain of healthcare innovation[2]. The main objective is to support the creation of sustainable, cost-effective, citizen-centric healthcare systems, promoting new jobs and businesses.

A key element is to strengthen trans-national and cross-sectored approaches for launching projects and initiatives aiming at removing disparities, gaps and barriers and fostering cooperation for innovation within the health economy, in order to overcome the major societal challenges and bring innovative products into the market. A ScanBalt BioRegion health care innovation ecosystem provides a promising model implementing innovation support activities in a macro-regional context, with a complex network of entities and relationships. Such an ecosystem in ideal form ensures that all individuals are given optimal conditions to apply their skills and competencies, while contributing to the interconnectedness and interdependency of all stakeholders[3].

Smart specialization and coordination between funding

Smart specialization should prioritize domains, areas and economic activities where regions or countries have a competitive advantage or have the potential to generate knowledge-driven growth and to bring about the economic transformation needed to tackle the major challenges of the society, nature and environment. [4] To have a smart specialization strategy calls for making choices in investment-related matters. Thus, smart specialization and coordination in funding are closely connected.

Collaboration in ScanBalt BioRegion not only assists to promote smart specialization in the region and distribute best practices, but also takes a much more active role by building and implementing a macro-regional strategy based on the principles of smart specialization, which can be reflected into national or regional policies.

It is a process of consensus setting within the regions, identifying top priorities and appointing leaders and ambassadors of various concrete initiatives, having the capacity to drive them forward. This process has been going on in ScanBalt BioRegion since 2001. However a macro-region has a potential much wider, ensuring alignment between the structural funds and the EU policies. In particular, macro-regional collaboration can mobilize regional and national investments, which otherwise would not have been available for trans-national collaboration following a common vision and strategy for the macro-region.

In ScanBalt BioRegion this is most clearly seen by the role of regional liaison offices who invest into trans-national collaboration within topics of their particular interest and where they have a specific competence, although still referring to the overall strategy for ScanBalt BioRegion.

Collaboration outside ScanBalt BioRegion

While it is a top priority to build up the internal innovation ecosystem in ScanBalt BioRegion, collaboration with other regions and countries is of huge interest as well. ScanBalt BioRegion is actively trying to promote partnering with other EU macro-regions such as the Danube Area or the Mediterranean.

This is mainly handled via various EU projects. Outside the EU, focus has so far been mostly on Vietnam where there are ongoing projects of training of medical doctors. Collaboration with India is an exciting new topic, which can combine the forces of two fast growing health economies and result in new business opportunities. The focus of the Indian government on biotechnology is a very good background for such efforts. In any case ScanBalt BioRegion together with the partners always tries to contain the efforts in projects, which ensure concrete deliveries.

Of course the individual regions, clusters, networks, universities and industries in ScanBalt BioRegion, all have their own priorities and activities for collaboration but ScanBalt BioRegion is an add-on to their individual efforts and may serve as a one-stop-entry and facilitate the processes.

ScanBalt® fmba: the organization promoting health economy on Top of Europe

ScanBalt® fmba is a not-for-profit association representing Scanbalt BioRegion. The ambitions of the regions and the regional networks constitute the basis of the organization. The mission is to make ScanBalt BioRegion a globally competitive Health and Bio economy.

The vision is to be a catalyst, facilitator and developer of concrete projects and strategies; to provide a platform for collaboration and visibility and to Influence and modify relevant policy agendas. ScanBalt aims to provide added value for the members in their pursuit of regional ambitions and promote mutual beneficial relationships between them. It acts as a cost-efficient value-added service provider and the members have a direct return of investment on their membership of approximately 15:1 on average.

The key activities are:

Think Tank: Continuous dialogue between regions, clinics, clusters, SMEs and funding sources

Accelerator: Workshops for concrete projects ideas in the pursue of funding

Match-making: Between health care and tech providers, investors and decision makers

Communication: ScanBalt News (approx 20,000 subscribers), web, social media, events

It is possible for regions, companies and institutions located outside the ScanBalt BioRegion to become associated members, which in essence have rights, services and benefits equal to other members. This may be a tool to promote interaction with potential partners in the region.


[1] Based on: The Health Economy in the Baltic Sea Region: Challenges and Opportunities, ScanBalt Nov 2013 – A publication from the BSHR HealthPort project co-financed by the Baltic Sea Region Programme 2007 – 2013.

[2] Driving cross-sectoral innovation in health and life sciences – An Innovation Agenda for the Baltic Sea Region Health Economy; BSHR HealthPort, Oct 2013,

[3] Blank, W., Frank, P., & Karopka, T. (2013). Health and Life Sciences as Drivers for Regional Development and Prosperity in the Baltic Sea Region. Journal of East-West Business, 19(1-2), 122–137.


About the author

Peter Frank, General Secretary of ScanBalt® fmba since 2004. He has more than 18 years’ experience with cluster development and management, public-private innovation collaborations and public affairs. In addition he has worked as a researcher and as an auditor.

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