Expert article
Modifier 20 February 2023

Incentive mechanisms for visibility and engagement: acknowledgments, prizes and awards

Photo credit: UFIL blog
The Mayor of Cuenca, Darío Dolz, receives the Regional Award for Environment 2022
UFIL has given and gained visibility over the last three years. Prizes and awards were used to help young entrepreneurs to accomplish the UIA project’s goals. Still, the project was not only a provider, but also a recipient of incentives.

This web article looks back to the various forms of motivation granted to and by the ‘Urban Forest Innovation Lab’ project. The overview provides evidence of how the project became embedded into an unstructured still complementing framework of incentives aimed at facilitating achievements, or at building reputation. Local, regional and national authorities, financial institutions and foundations are among the stakeholders involved.


The project started in November 2018 and had a slow kick-off, but at a certain point it got momentum and started being noted. In February 2021, when the strategy for ‘Spain Entrepreneurial Nation’ was published, UFIL turned out to be mentioned in the document as an example of scalable measure tackling urban-rural challenges (measure N.41). In particular, the project and its activities were included among those innovative initiatives aimed at urban development in depopulating areas of Spain. In March 2021, the project was visited by the High Commissioner for ‘Spain Entrepreneurial Nation’. During the visit, the Commissioner highlighted how ‘The city of Cuenca is a national benchmark in innovative urban development, being the only initiative that appears mentioned in the measures of the ‘Spain Entrepreneurial Nation’ strategy’ (source: UFIL blog). 

Extract form the ‘Spain Entrepreneurial Nation’ (p.118)
One of the paragraphs referring to UFIL in the Estrategia España Nación Emprendedora, p.118.

In this acknowledgment, the most distinguishing aspect for UFIL is to be the only mentioned initiative across the identified measures of the strategy. As it was highlighted since the very beginning of the project, UFIL always fitted well into policy contexts, at all administrative levels (see UFIL Journal # 1 published in January 2020). Indeed, UFIL matches very well also the scopes of the national strategy ‘Spain Entrepreneurial Nation’ which include increasing investment capacity; developing / retaining / attracting talent; supporting business growth, competitiveness and job creation; and making the public sector agile and able to create favourable conditions for innovation and investments.

In 2022, UFIL received another important acknowledgment when it was included as a good practice in the ‘Guide to plan healthy cities’ prepared by the Spanish Ministry for Health and the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces. The acknowledgement is grounded on the Municipality of Cuenca’s thinking of the city as a space driving - through innovation - the revitalisation of rural areas. As underlined in the guide, the city generates a vision of common territorial management to develop synergies between the urban and rural dimensions (source: Fariña et al., 2022).

Regional Award to the City Council
The Regional Award for Environment 2022: the City was acknowledged because of its leadership of the UIA project. 

Finally, still in 2022, the Municipality of Cuenca received the Regional Award for Environment 2022. The award, delivered by the Ministry of Sustainable Development of the Government of Castilla-La Mancha, acknowledges those administrations, entities or individuals having contributed to protect or preserve the environment. The Cuenca City Council qualified for the award in the ‘circular economy’ category because of its leadership of the UIA project.

Over a four-year period, the project supported the creation of 44 entrepreneurial ideas. Out of these ideas, some grew to a sufficient level of maturity to enter the market and register as companies. At a certain point, the project realised the importance of rewarding and boosting the most promising entrepreneurial ideas created in the innovation lab as well as of retaining them in the territory. It is in this context that from 2021 onward, UFIL started  granting prizes and tailored mentoring to the best businesses.

Cash prizes and mentoring were provided by two stakeholders formally involved in UFIL's implementation through cooperation agreements with Cuenca' s City Council. In particular,  Globalcaja, a leading financial institution in Castilla-La Mancha, played  - together with its foundations Globalcaja HXXII and Globalcaja Cuenca - a mentoring role for the best business ideas. Instead, the Provincial Council of Cuenca provided important financial support on a competitive basis.

The City Council and Globalcaja granted cash prizes (€3,000) to the best entrepreneurial ideas created during the three courses sponsored by UFIL as well as tailored business support. Over the three training courses run by UFIL, the winners of the Best Business Project Award were:  NEMETONA (in 2021, from the first course); MODUS HABITARE, DENDRON and BIO LIME BLOCK (from the second course); and GRUPO SEIMA, MOBHU and SIMBIOA (from the third course) (Sources: Nemetona facebook post; Life Cuenca news dated 14/02/22; El Dia digital news dated 25/01/2023).

Winners of the Best Business Projects
Winners of the first (left), second (centre) and third (right) edition of the best business projects.
Photos' credits: Nemetona facebook post; Life Cuenca news dated 14/02/22; El Dia digital news dated 25/01/2023

In October 2022, the Provincial Council of Cuenca published the results of its first call ‘INTEGRA 4.0’ for innovative entrepreneurial projects. Out of the 12 beneficiaries selected on a competitive basis, four were entrepreneurial projects developed under UFIL. More specifically, MODUS HABITARE received about €35,000; BIO LIME BLOCK received €44,000; DENDRON received €50,000; and NEMETONA received approximately €100,000. Out of a total of €750,000 allocated for the years 2021 and 2022 to the call, the four projects from UFIL received, overall, €230,000.

Notably, MODUS HABITARE ranked first against the selection criteria of the Provincial Council's contest (the company develops modular wood houses which are characterised by sustainable, healthy and bio-climate design). Earlier in the year, MODUS HABITARE also obtained the diploma for Best Start-up in the ‘ActúaUPM contest’, a company-creation competition from the Polytechnic University of Madrid (source: Cuenca Municipality press release dated 12/08/22).

Always on a competitive basis and still in 2022, one of the companies created within UFIL, GEFOREST, was selected for support by the business accelerator Fundacion Repsol. GEOFOREST produces 3D reconstruction of forests by using LIDAR technology and was selected in the ‘digitalisation’ category out of 420 candidacies from 69 countries. For these innovative startups, the selection implies financial support from the Entrepreneurship Fund of the Foundation (up to €100,000 for one year), advice, mentoring and the possibility to validate entrepreneurial concepts in a real environment through the development of pilots (Repsol press release dated 11/07/22). 

In the last part of its journey, UFIL also started implementing initiatives to involve the general public. As a component of the project' design, UFIL had to embed its activities in society. Apart from other engagement initiative such as workshops, excursions and expositions, the project organised a contest with cash prizes.

The Cuenca Forest Design Contest 2022 called for designs to be incorporated into wood products and by-products. Different types of designs could be proposed: related to the public space, to the packaging of products or to commercial products. The contest had cash prizes for a total of almost €30,000 from the project’s budget and attracted the submission of 114 proposals (UFIL blog).

Winners of the Cuenca Forest Design Contest 2022 
Winners of the Cuenca Forest Design Contest 2022 
Photo credit: UFIL blog.


The project’s mentioning by the national government into the strategy ‘Spain Entrepreneurial Nation’ is important in terms of reputation. It is also a great reference for the Municipality of Cuenca when applying for funds under other programmes - which is actually happening. In fact, at the end of the project, in October 2022, the mayor of Cuenca confirmed the continuation of UFIL with a local budget of €250,000 (to which additional €200,000 are expected to be contributed by the Provincial Council). This is an interim support while the City applies to other calls (source: El Dia digital news dated 25/01/2023). 

The national government's acknowledgment provides also good visibility to the UIA initiative. Whether it is a coincidence or not, the highest number of applications under the re-named European Urban Initiative (EUI) were received from Spanish cities (source: EUI news dated 01/02/23).

The regional award is an ‘in house’ prize as the regional government is one of the partners in UFIL. Still, this official recognition by a higher administration level goes to the public entity rather than to the project. Ultimately, it is the City Council with its political support and the civil servants with their daily work that made the project’s achievements possible. In addition, the Municipality of Cuenca bears the responsibility to safeguard the physical investments made during the project (i.e., the innovation lab) and guarantee a follow up to the project. During UFIL, the Municipality of Cuenca always remained the key reference for the project and the regional award is a deserved recognition to the leading role of the city. Strong leadership was evidenced across all UFIL journals (see in particular Journal # 2 and Journal # 3).

Among the cash prizes, it is worth noting that the most rich ones were awarded on a competitive basis. This reflects the capacity of UFIL's enterprises to distinguish in a competitive environment. Among these prizes, the ones granted by the Provincial Council of Cuenca take an evident retention role. These prizes are meant to keep promising enterprises in the territory. For the four businesses developed under UFIL, it further means not to lose the investment made through the project while awaiting these companies' contribution to the economic development of the province (i.e, a return on investment).

Finally, the Cuenca Forest Design Contest was an attractive way to engage civil society in the project’s activities in order to contribute to the project's objective of raising awareness about the opportunities emerging from forest use .

No matter their type, the overview provided in this article confirms the concrete function incentives may have in achieving projects' results or objectives (e.g., create viable businesses, raise general public's awareness). In this case, incentives have an accomplishment role. In other cases, incentives under the form of acknowledgments and awards, positively build reputation and achieve visibility. In this case, they have a promotional role.