In UFIL, the ‘business challenge’ is a mechanism ruling the internal competitions which are run in the project’s innovation lab. These competitions are an integral part of the project’s learning process. They encourage teamwork and the development of new entrepreneurial solutions. Still, the ‘business challenge’ mechanism serves a higher scope than skills’ enhancement as it represents the way to embed the project into the business community of Cuenca and of its province. Although the project’s effectiveness in pursuing this higher scope is still to be demonstrated, the design of the mechanism is worth to be analysed in detail as the good functioning of the mechanism has the potential to positively influence project’s performance and impact.
The analysis is run by looking at the main components of the mechanism, which are assessed to include: competition, reality-check, and engagement. Individual discussions of the components are then used to develop a SWOT analysis of the whole mechanism.
1. Looking into the components of the business challenge mechanism.
The project defines a challenge as a “task or situation which tests someone's skills”. The reference is to ‘business challenge’ because challenges are expected to be proposed by members of the business community located in and around the city of Cuenca and involved to some extent and with any role in the forest economic sector.
There are three main components to be considered when analysing the UFIL mechanism of the business challenge:
1. The core of the mechanism is a competition.
2. The mechanism wants to be pragmatic rather than theoretical.
3. The mechanism has to lead to the engagement of its target groups.
More in detail:
- Competition. The mechanism develops around the presence of a challenge. Against this challenge, trainees/future entrepreneurs are asked to develop their ideas and projects in a competitive but friendly environment. Conceptually, these competitions resemble very much those events referred to using the -athon suffix (for example, a hackathon).
- Reality-check. Challenges are proposed by stakeholders located in the target territory and involved in the forest sector. In this way, challenges reflect real worries/difficulties forest-related businesses are facing. In addition, any solution derived from the contests is expected to contribute to overcome these worries/difficulties and is therefore grounded in a real setting.
- Engagement. The mechanism has two main target groups: the business community and the trainees. Businesses proposing the challenges become involved in the project’s activities as sponsors. Trainees/future entrepreneurs participating in the competition engage with their colleagues and with staff members of the project’s partners by means of teamwork. Ideally, trainees/future entrepreneurs and sponsors also end up engaging one with each other.
The competition is a training method to involve UFIL trainees/future entrepreneurs in co-creation activities. Similarly to hackathon and foodathon – words which are nowadays of common use – these contests organised in the framework of UFIL may be referred to as ‘woodathons’. The Cambridge Dictionary (https://dictionary.cambridge.org) explains that by adding the suffix -athon (from marathon) to the end of a word which refers to an activity, the activity is meant to last for a long time. A woodathon in UFIL lasts about 2-3 months.
UFIL woodathons represent the practical side of the training carried out in the project’s forest innovation lab located in Cuenca. The group of 35 participants in the project’s training course is divided into teams of minimum 2 and maximum 3 people. Care is put in creating multidisciplinary groups of participants having different backgrounds. This is a necessary requirement as it allows to look at the challenge from different perspectives and to widen the opportunity of finding creative solutions. Figure 1 summarises the multiple purposes tackled through the use of these contests.
The project’s lab puts at the disposal of participants testing and prototyping equipment in order to facilitate the development of attractive solutions already at the design stage. Forests around Cuenca are the testing ground for further incubation of ideas. In addition, it needs to be mentioned that the contest is run in a ‘controlled’ environment. This means that participants in the woodathon are given specific training tools and are supervised by staff members of the project’s partners who have expertise in design, innovation and forest bioeconomy.
As the project intends to create skills and jobs in Cuenca and surrounding rural areas, it needs to be pragmatic in its scope. Therefore, rather than setting theoretical challenges for trainees, it lets trainees work on real challenges faced by businesses which are already operating in the forest sector. Figure 2 summarises the multiple purposes tackled through the reality-check.
UFIL is an individual project and cannot by itself create a forest-based bioeconomy. The project alone is invisible in this sense – like a ‘drop in the sea’ or, better, a ‘leaf in a forest’. Rather, the project’s scope is to trigger the innovation potential of the target area in the forest bioeconomy domain. So, if on one side UFIL nurtures talent and entrepreneurial skills, on the other side it has to create a favourable environment for the development of a bioeconomy based on its forest resources. Towards this scope, it has to develop linkages and partnerships with existing actors and in particular with those that already contribute to the forest economy and with those that may do so in the near future. Figure 3 summarises the multiple purposes tackled through engagement.