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Integration of Ukrainian clusters and SMEs into EU industrial ecosystems

Report from the forum in Košice on March 29-30

On March 29-30, 2023, the European cluster forum ‘Clusters meet regions’ took place in Košice (Slovakia). The forum’s main theme is the integration of Ukrainian clusters and SMEs into the industrial ecosystems of the EU. Organizers of the forum: European Cluster Cooperation Platform (ECCP) on behalf of the European Commission in partnership with the Slovak Innovation and Energy Agency, the Union of Slovak Clusters, the Ukrainian Clusters Alliance (UCA), and the Enterprise Europe Network. UCA’s participation in the forum was possible with the support of the EU4Business international cooperation program, funded by the European Union and the German government. The international cooperation program EU4Business, carried out by GIZ Ukraine on the order of the European Union and the German government, provided financial and technical support to UCA for participation in the event.

350 people participated in the forum, about 150 in an offline format. More than 100 people from Ukraine participated, including a delegation of 40 people in Košice. In preparation for the forum, UCA closely coordinated with the Office of European Integration and the Office of Reforms under the Ministry of Economy. This report presents an overview of UCA on the progress and first results of the forum.

Ukrainian clusters’ stand at the Košice forum

Forum context

The decision to hold the forum was made at the European cluster conference in Prague in September 2022 and the initiative of UCA. It was there for the first time that the Ukrainian delegation met with representatives of the European Commission and presented its positions on the development of cooperation with European clusters and the proposal for the Cluster meet regions conference. Final agreements on the dates and program of the conference took place in December 2022, and, in fact, from that time, intensive preparation for the Ukrainian delegation began. The key tasks of the Ukrainian delegation were as follows:

  • Promotion of the UCA project, prepared by five Resource Centers (Agri-food, Engineering-Machinery, Medical Industry, Industry 4.0, Smart.City, and Dual-use Technologies).
  • Promotion of UCA, clusters, SMEs, and their members, entering into specific agreements on cooperation with European clusters, including entering into new joint European projects.
  • Establishing and developing relations with key stakeholders of cluster movement both abroad and in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian delegation devoted the most time to consolidating clusters in preparation for joint projects and proposals (some took more than three months to prepare). With different rates of consolidation and processing, these projects in a combined form for six resource centers appeared on UCA website just before the forum in Košice. In addition to the preparation of these large-scale strategic proposals, UCA had many other challenges: finding funding for the trip of a large delegation, coordinating and synchronizing positions with government structures, obtaining permission for men to leave, presenting with their own stand, preparing speakers and materials, organizing separate round tables, preparing memorandums of cooperation, etc.

In general, UCA positioned this event as a key event in 2023 for clusters of Ukraine, because the topic of integration into European value-added chains and ecosystems is generally No. 1 for clusters of any EU country, but for the first time, this topic sounded at the highest level precisely in the context of Ukrainian integration in EU.

Overview of the program, exchanges, and keynote speeches

The program of the forum was very rich. It included speeches by VIPs from governments of the countries and the European Commission, six-panel discussions, pitches of 16 clusters, and dozens of offline and online matchmaking exchanges. Some panels or speeches deserve separate reports; all information, including video recordings, presentations, and photos, is available on the ECCP website. In this review, we will highlight the most important speeches and messages.

Speeches by representatives of the European Commission

The European Commission was represented by a wide range of officers from various directorates, about 10 people in total. Key messages of individual performances:

Mrs. Maive Rute, Deputy Director General, Directorate General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship, and Small and Medium Business, European Commission, emphasized that Ukraine is fighting not only for its independence but also for pan-European values, such as freedom and human rights, free choice and diversity of cultures, respect, and dignity of every citizen.

Not only Ukraine needs EU membership, but Europe also needs Ukraine. Military technology and IT, agri-food security and valuable rare earth materials are all in high demand in the EU.


”Mr. Jakub Boratynski, Director at Networks & Governance, DG GROW, The European Commission, emphasized the importance of the conference in the context of numerous challenges facing the business environment and EU countries. “Ukrainian manufacturers can be interesting partners for European business”, Mr. Boratynsky said. He emphasized the importance of the conference in the context of numerous challenges facing the business environment and EU countries. “Ukrainian manufacturers can be interesting partners for European business”.

Ms. Martine Diss, Senior Expert, DG GROW, European Commission, provided information on two new grant programs for the internationalization of Ukrainian SMEs, clusters, and innovative entrepreneurs—Business Bridge and Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs.

Mr. Jovan Magnusson, Team Leader, EU Strategy for the Danube Region and the Baltic Sea Region, DG REGIO, European Commission, presented numerous grant programs for interregional and cross-border Ukraine cooperation, in particular, with a number of neighboring countries of Eastern Europe.

Speeches of prime ministers of Slovakia and Ukraine

Mr. Eduard Heger, the Prime Minister of Slovakia, expressed his unwavering support for Ukraine and emphasized that the victory of Ukraine is important not only for Slovakia but also for the whole world; therefore, the reconstruction strategy should be the main plan of Europe. Ukraine is fighting for freedom, for European values, and basic human rights, and only it determines the conditions for peace. The world is now writing a new history, so unity is essential, and security is the #1 goal.

Eduard Heger, the Prime Minister of Slovakia

Collaboration is our future and future is our collaboration


Economic integration is based on cooperation and strategy, and the strategy of rebuilding Ukraine should be Europe’s main plan. It is crucial that everyone is talking about it now at different levels and in different industries.

Mr. Heger believes that Europe should become a global leader in security and cooperation, and Ukraine plays a vital role in this process. It is not about short-term cooperation but the fact that Europe needs Ukraine permanently – forever. The Prime Minister said: “The bigger the EU is, the stronger we are.”

Mr. Denys Shmyhal, Prime Minister of Ukraine, thanked Slovakia and the EU for organizing this important conference and for readiness for partnership with Ukraine. He called the reconstruction project of Ukraine the most ambitious project of the 21st century because it opens up many opportunities and prospects, especially for business, which will become the engine of change.

Ukraine has many undeniable advantages for investors: logistics services, highly qualified specialists, and extensive infrastructure. Synchronization of Ukraine with Europe’s energy space, legalization of trade, abolition of transport restrictions, and joining digital Europe and single market programs are also important directions. Ukraine expects integration into the EU already this year.

Denys Shmyhal, Prime Minister of Ukraine

Ukraine has 5 top-priority sectors for cooperation:

• Energy, hydrogen technology, and unique gas storage facilities are the largest in Europe.

• Defense-industrial complex.

• Agricultural industry.

• Natural resources.

• IT technologies.

We are building a new economy, adapting modern technologies to the legislation, and are interested in the collaboration of Ukrainian and EU clusters.

Key messages from panel discussions

Mr. Krzysztof Krystowski, Vice-president of the European Clusters Alliance (ECA) and President of the Polish Association of Clusters spoke about the history of ECA establishment today unites 18 EU cluster associations.

Clusters are an excellent tool for regional development and for the development of SMEs, which are the basis of European business.


In turn, ECA is a collective voice to represent, unify and strengthen this focus on the best practices and cluster development tools. UCA became the 18th member of ECA in March 2022.

Mr. Daniel Acs, Head of the Union of Slovak Clusters put his speech into the fresh context of the Slovak cluster conference, which took place on the same day, March 29, in the morning. “We see a huge potential for the growth of clusters. Today we discussed the programs and tools that need to be implemented for this – these are mainly tools for increasing organizational capacity, such as training and improving governance at the cluster level,” – said Daniel. He also raised the issue of the need for better cooperation with the government of his country in order better to use the existing potential and opportunities of clusters.

Mr. Denys Shemyakin, director of the Office of Reforms under the Ministry of Economy, mentioned the key, current offer in the direction of exports – the Export Booster program, aimed at import substitution of russian and belarusian goods in the EU and improving positions of Ukrainian manufacturers in the engineering and food industry sectors.

Clusters can play an essential role in improving the certification movement, entering new markets, and integrating into chains. It is also expected to include clusters as an important tool of the new industrial policy to be developed by the Ministry of Economy.

Mr. Oleksandr Yurchak, UCA head, emphasized the three key roles of clusters, which were well demonstrated during the first year of the war. Clusters have proven to be an important tool of economic sustainability programs, helping SMEs relocate, restart production, export, etc. In many cases, clusters become consolidators and integrators of innovative ecosystems at the sectoral and regional levels. Clusters are also important participants in the government’s Recovery programs. Oleksandr thanked the European Commission, ECA, and European clusters, which supported Ukrainian clusters throughout the entire time since the beginning of the war.

Oleksandr Yurchak at the panel discussion in Košice

Ms. Olga Trofymova, director of internationalization at UCA, and head of the “Ukrainian automotive and mobility cluster,” told how Ukrainians worked during the war. Not for the sake of key performance indicators but for developing clusters and businesses because they realized that this is how they could support the economy. Pursuing cheap materials and labor is not an option, so Ukrainian clusters offer human-oriented values, quality, and professionalism. This conference is an excellent opportunity to build trusting relationships and partnerships.

Olga Trofymova speaking about Ukrainian clusters.

Mr. Peter Keller, Head of the Department at the Managing Authority for Economic Development Programs, Prime Minister’s Office, Hungary, presented the new strategy of the Hungarian government for developing clusters. In particular, this year, the government foresees measures in four areas:

  • Strengthening the culture of business collaboration by encouraging and improving cluster management skills.
  • Increasing the attractiveness of cluster cooperation by promoting intercluster collaboration and access to international markets.
  • Strengthening cooperation in innovation through involvement in international innovation and other joint projects.
  • Implementation of legislative changes, including regulation of the cluster quality system.

From the Ukrainian side, Mr. Volodymyr Panchenko (UСA Analytical Center), Mr. Gennadiy Chyzhikov (CCI of Ukraine), Mr. Andrii Lytvyn (Office of Entrepreneurship and Export Development), Ms. Svitlana Mykhaylovska (EBA), Mr. Serhiy Tsivkach (UkraineInvest) also took part in the panel discussions ), Ms. Oksana Ocheretyana (ECA), Ms. Anna Haiduchok (GIZ), Ms. Olena Voloshina (IFCU), Mr. Andriy Dligach (Center for Economic Recovery).

Mr. Antonio Novo Guerrero, President of the European Clusters Alliance, supported UCA at the beginning of the war and contributed to including UCA in European Clusters Alliance (ECA). In the final discussion, Antonio noted another demonstration of flexibility (agility) of the European cluster network, its ability to adapt to new circumstances quickly. This conference was a vivid demonstration of these qualities. It served to establish trusting business relations, and the number of new partnerships will grow. Antonio emphasized that he is proud of what he heard and saw in Košice, and knows that clusters can do even more because the challenges are really significant.

Mr. Marek Przeor, Team Leader Cluster Policy, DG GROW, European Commission, is the event’s main organizer on behalf of the European Commission. He noted the importance of the conference for developing Ukraine-EU cooperation and integrating Ukrainian clusters and SMEs into the European space. In his closing remarks, Marek reminded that the European cluster agenda presented on the ECCP platform includes a number of tools and measures. In particular, the regular Clusters Meet Regions conferences are just one of those that take place almost every 2 months. EU clusters talk online meetings, C2Labs, ClusterXchange, CLuster Boost Academy, etc., are also popular in the European cluster community. Mr. Przeor urged the conference participants to participate in these events actively.

Marek Przeor (left), Andriy Dligach (СЕО at Advanter Group) and Anna Haiduchok (GIZ)

At the pitching sessions, the following persons spoke from the Ukrainian side:

  • Ms. Tetyana Vorontsova – Head of the Resource Center of Medical Clusters and Executive Director of the Rivne Medical Cluster.
  • Mr. Bohdan Shapoval – Chairman of the Resource Center of Agriclusters and U-food Executive Director.
  • Mrs. Elvira Moldovan — Export Manager, international cluster “Dniester 1362”.
  • Mr. Volodymyr Balin – the First Vice-President of the Association of International Automobile Carriers of Ukraine.
  • Mr. Oleksandr Yurchak –  General Director of the Association of Industrial Automation of Ukraine, head of UCA.
  • Ms. Olga Shapoval – Executive Director of the Kharkiv IT Cluster.
  • Mr. Yevhen Rokytskyi – Head of the “Dual-use technologies” resource center.
  • Mrs. Olga Trofymova – Executive Director of the Ukrainian Automotive and Mobility Cluster.
  • Mrs. Iryna Darvay – Manager of the Prycarpattya Eco-Energy Cluster.
Iryna Darvay presenting the Prycarpattya Eco-Energy Cluster

Ukrainian speakers presented their own clusters and UCA 6 Resource Centers projects.

Preparation for the presentations was at a high level. Thanks to all participants for the interesting ideas.

Main results for the Ukrainian delegation

The Ukrainian delegation carefully prepared for the forum, not only from the point of view of speeches. Individual agreements continue previous exchanges, of which there were dozens in 2022. The most significant results (at the time of writing this report) include the following:

1. Multilateral agreement on support of Ukraine’s cluster movement by 5 Eastern European and Baltic countries (Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Romania, and Lithuania). The partners made a joint statement regarding the need for more powerful support for Ukraine’s clusters to accelerate integration into the European space. The text of the agreement can be found here.

2. Bilateral agreements and arrangements are fixed in the following areas:

  • Memorandum on cooperation between the UCA and the Lithuanian Network of Clusters.
  • Agreement on the start of work of the Ukrainian-Polish committee in the Industry 4.0.
  • Memorandum on cooperation between the Kyiv hi-tech cluster and the IT cluster of Slovakia from the city of Žilina.
  • Memorandum on cooperation in dual technologies with the Košice Technical University.
  • A cooperation agreement was signed between the Dnipro Space Cluster and the Košice Technical University Aviation Faculty.

3. As an institutional partner, UCA joined the large Ukrainian-Slovak agreement in the field of alternative energy, which was prepared for several years within the framework of the Ukrainian-Slovak commission with the participation of a number of associations and academic institutions of both countries.

Signing the memorandum of Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia

4. In Košice, agreements were reached on the following activities between clusters of Ukraine and Eastern Europe, in particular:

  • About holding a forum at the beginning of June in the city of Lviv in the field of sustainable development — reconstruction of Infrastructure and Regions. Currently, the key partners are clusters of Poland and a consulting company from Germany.
  • About the Eastern European Space Center presentation at the “Aviacosmos and Defense” forum in Ryaszew (Poland) on May 9-11, 2023. Profile members of the organizations that are part of the Ukrainian Aerospace Center are invited to participate in the event.
  • About a joint event with the Romanian Association of Clusters to intensify exchanges between the southern regions of Ukraine and Romanian clusters in Galati, Romania.
  • Conducting a matchmaking event to attract Ukrainian organizations to participate in EIT Manufacturing projects – April 27-28 in Milan.
  • Holding Slovak-Ukrainian energy forum with separate sections on cooperation in engineering and automotive industry – May 17-18 in Košice.
  • Joint participation and national stand in the international contract manufacturing exhibition – May 31-June 2 in Poznań.

5. Due to the development of relations with EIT Manufacturing, this institution announced at the forum appointment of a separate representative for Ukraine – Olga Trofymova, director of internationalization at UCA.

Several important exchanges on forming joint consortia within the framework of the 2023 grant programs also took place during the forum.

These results are preliminary. In general, considering the online-offline matchmaking format, the Ukrainian delegation held more than 100 meetings. Accordingly, all the results that follow from the exchanges and meetings of UCA clusters are still at the stage of processing and gathering information.

In addition to specific agreements, the important results of the event for UCA are the growth of trust and awareness of the cluster movement among a wide range of stakeholders. Ukrainian delegation did its best to ensure that the clusters of Ukraine proved their maturity and potential as a significant actor of economic stability and one of the key subjects in the field of European integration.

Next steps

The results of the conference are positive and inspire optimism. The feedback from the members of the Ukrainian delegation and foreign colleagues is quite encouraging. Representatives of the Ukrainian authorities give a high assessment of the conference.

The conference was held at a high level and confirmed the potential of our clusters. We need to strengthen the cooperation of Ukrainian and European enterprises on integration into the Single Market, and clusters are an excellent tool for this.


UСA’s next steps after Košice will be:

  • Follow-up actions with launching the implementation of all the agreements is hot now . In particular, – UCA has already started coordinating actions in organizing the Lviv’s conference on sustainable infrastructure.
  • Continuation of measures to summarize the results of Košice at the level of individual Resource Centers and with the involvement of regional and central authorities.
  • Improving the level of presentation of prepared projects and their communications.
  • Creation of consortia with foreign partners.
  • On behalf of all UCA clusters, the Board of the Ukrainian Cluster Alliance expresses deep gratitude to the representatives of the European Commission, Slovak partners, the directorate, and cluster associations of the European Clusters Alliance for the excellent organization of the conference and support of the clusters.

UCA continues to grow rapidly and welcomes new clusters to its community.

Executive Direction of the Ukrainian Cluster Alliance

Participants of the forum. Final photo

The event took place within the support of the international cooperation programme “EU4Business: SME Competitiveness and Internationalisation”, that is co-financed by the European Union and the German Government and is implemented by the German federal company “Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH”. The program aims to create better conditions for the development of Ukrainian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), support innovation and export promotion, resulting in sustainable and equitable economic growth. EU4Business is an umbrella initiative that includes all EU support to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in the Eastern Partnership countries. Read more:

The event is organized by the partner’s European Cluster Cooperation Platform (ECCP) on behalf of the European Commission in partnership with the Slovak Innovation and Energy Agency, the Union of Slovak Clusters, the Ukrainian Clusters Alliance (UCA), and the Enterprise Europe Network.

The publication’s content is the sole responsibility of the UCA and does not necessarily reflect the position of the European Union, the German government, or GIZ.

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