The leading European certification of the quality of services, the opening of a new contact point for social entrepreneurship and the imminent establishment of the Art Centre in Terezín – ICUK or the Innovation Centre of the Ústí Region scored points in June. Martin Mata, the director of ICUK, does not hide his satisfaction at a job well done, but adds in the same breath: Domestic competition is fine, but as a region we need to go more to Europe, to the European level, that’s the agenda I want to focus on now.
Martin Mata, a fresh 40-year-old, doesn’t just plainly talk, he has a vision and above all the drive to get things done. He is in his fourth year leading ICUK and has grown a small organization of 15 people in two offices on the university campus into a respected institution located in the city centre with a professional team with three times the number of employees.
Martin, you have just returned from Brno, where you, or rather ICUK, were awarded a prestigious certification at the International EBN Congress. What was that all about?
In May, we at ICUK underwent a rather comprehensive audit by the EBN organisation, which examined and assessed our services, processes and organisation for certification by the prestigious European network of business and innovation centres EU|BIC. We succeeded, the audit confirmed the highest standards of services for businesses and thanks to this we have been granted membership in the network and the right to use the EU|BIC mark for five years.
What does that mean to you?
For me personally, this is an international recognition of our work so far. What is even better, firms in our region will gain access via ICUK to exclusive subject-specific training, financial tools, new partnerships and collaboration with customers and business partners in global markets. That international experience, collaboration and outlook is absolutely key, and that is my current ambition.
What do you mean? Can you elaborate?
I do not mean this only in relation to companies, but also in relation to our region in general. I feel that as a region we have a slightly weak lobbying at European level and perhaps a little too low ambition. I would like to change this with a few gradual steps and initiate more international activities with the leadership of the region. I don’t want to reveal more now, but at the level of my team, for example, I want each of my key colleagues to do an apprenticeship in Brussels or elsewhere in their field and work on themselves. There is also cooperation with the World Bank on the horizon. Simply put, we intend to go all over the world to gain experience so that we can take the region to a world-class level.
Another hot news for ICUK was the opening of the so-called SPoint, what is it and who will it serve?
SPoint is a contact point for social entrepreneurship. We opened it in cooperation with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and under the auspices of the First Deputy Governor of the Ústí Region, Mr. Jiří Kulhánek. It is located right here at ICUK and will serve entrepreneurs from our region. It will provide free advice, education, information on financial resources and promotion of social entrepreneurship. And it’s exactly the kind of service that belongs in our region. Social entrepreneurship has society-wide overlaps, it helps to integrate the disadvantaged, there is a clear public benefit in it.
I also noticed that you have been involved in initiatives around the cultural and creative industries… shouldn’t your domain be more in technology and innovation?
Of course it still is, we are not deviating from it. We have started the project and services of the Digital Innovation Hub for digitalization of companies, we are still announcing the Innovation Company of the Ústí Region competition, which, by the way, has already started this year, and, in addition to companies, we are now also announcing the personality who has contributed the most to the development of our region. In the Transformation Centre project, we are planning, among other things, so-called fab labs, a kind of technological workshops. However, those creative and cultural industries are an extremely growing field globally. This includes, for example, game development, the film industry, in which the region has begun to invest more thanks to the Film Office, but it is also industrial design and marketing, i.e. areas that quite fundamentally affect the competitiveness of products, companies, but also places. We have an increasingly successful art and design faculty, we are in the city where the Schicht family did business, and they were pioneers of marketing, we know their brands to this day. That’s why it makes sense to us.
What’s your business in this area?
Our strategic manager Lucka Podrápská has put together a platform of active young people and organisations from across the region who have created the Kreativní.uk website, preparing a regional database of creative professionals. We are also consulting for companies on the currently launched creative vouchers from the Ministry of Culture, and we are providing support for the newly emerging Art Centre in Terezín, which will be a kind of creative workshop for young artists, and one of our efforts to find a new identity for Terezín.
It is sometimes said of ICUK that in a relatively short period of time, thanks to you, it has become one of the top five or even three best innovation centres in the Czech Republic. How’s that sounding to you?
This is of course pleasing, from the beginning we compared ourselves with the best, we looked up to them. But I don’t see it as a race, our playfield is too small for that. We will probably never fully catch up with JIC (South Moravian Innovation Centre) anyway. At the moment, it makes more sense to me to cooperate, to use our synergy in going out, to Europe, to the world. Last year or the year before, we joined together with other similar centres to form the Ynovate network, and that’s where I see the way forward now, in our strength of know-how and global ambitions.
Thank you for the interview, and good luck.