Yes! We were so glad to hear the good news: Cluj-Napoca among the finalists for the European Capital of Innovation Awards 2020 along with other famous cities in Europe: Espoo (Finland), Helsingborg (Sweden), Leuven (Belgium), Valencia (Spain) and Vienna (Austria)! How, when and why did this happen? There are the visionaries and there are the skeptics about Cluj-Napoca definition as “innovative city”. Nevertheless, we have been on the IT market since 1998 and we have learned a few things about our home city.

The biggest dilemma around listing Cluj-Napoca as a finalist for the capital of innovation in 2020 is around the question: how to define an innovation city?

It is important to understand that innovation infers the existence of something NEW. So let’s get back to the basics: According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary the definition of innovation is: 1: a new idea, method, or device : NOVELTY and 2: the introduction of something new.

Therefore we must rephrase our dilemma: What did Cluj-Napoca introduce in its city landscape that was NEW? For who was it NEW?

In essence, we have to understand that even if Cluj-Napoca, from Transylvania region in Romania, is located on the Eastern side of Europe and has a recent communist past (as the entire Eastern block cities), the local culture and historical roots came forth strongly to impact the new generations from Cluj-Napoca.  In 2020, in Cluj-Napoca we have maybe one of the biggest young adults pool in Europe who have a different mindset: from their lifestyle, to their entrepreneurial explorations, to their approach to the community and the environment.

The European Innovation Capital Awards committee evaluates how cities implement innovative solutions to societal challenges. These are two key expressions that we appreciate that Cluj-Napoca took on pretty well when submitting its application.

The Background.

We may not have the most modern urban transportation infrastructure in Europe, or the greenest urban landscape in the world, or the most connected buildings and homes, but we have an active local community covering the business sectors, the academia sector, the public administration and the civil society always dealing with two forces: a) the resistant old mentalities & methods and b) the urge to embrace the latest trends.

Probably that is why some may find in Cluj-Napoca a bright, young and attractive IT sector, but also a grounded and consistent manufacturing sector. The city landscape combines historical buildings and vestiges with 20’ century block of flats, factories and new satellite villages, tall buildings or eco-friendly homes.

Where did Cluj-Napoca do well in creating conditions for innovation?

#1 Experimenting innovative concepts, processes and tools was encouraged in the academic environment since the early developments of computer science schools, engineering schools and medicine schools. Research and development is coming back in power due to new financing possibilities and European institutes network. One of the key triggers in Cluj-Napoca was the new generation start-ups that are so eager to grow and find new market opportunities, that they took a bottom-up approach towards the public administration and professional associations to empower the spread and use of innovative technologies, tools and processes. The city is slowly going up on the second wave of transformation: new governance models are shily tested in order to foster innovation.

#2 Engaging citizens in the innovation process and making sure that their voice is heard is again a strong point of Cluj-Napoca. Still a lot of work to be done, but in the last three years, the participative budgetary model and the public citizen meetings have been encouraged by the local administration. The local ecosystem joined forces to set-up themed meetings and innovation camps to involve citizens in solving Cluj-Napoca’s current challenges.

#3 Promoting Cluj-Napoca’s community’s appeal for science, technology engineering and arts was one of the most natural actions for the city. The elite universities of Cluj-Napoca – mainly Babeș-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, The Technical University of Cluj-Napoca, Iuliu Hațieganu University of Medecine and Pharmacy – actively promote the city as a historical academic center. The major city’s genuine cultural festivals promote Cluj-Napoca as an innovative cultural center. Therefore Cluj-Napoca did pretty well on expanding the city’s attractiveness to become a role model for other cities in Romania and South-Eastern Europe.

#4 Another novelty for the locals is that the municipality is making steps towards empowering citizens through the implementation of innovative practices. It is a painstaking process, but Cluj-Napoca can see it being pushed forward. In the last three years a Civic Innovation and Imagination Center has been set in place by the Municipality to imagine together the future of the city. There is an ample Urban Innovation Division Research & Development project rolled out through the local cultural center. But there are only a few initiatives of the kind.

Why is this moment important for us?

For a team like SOFTECH that is celebrating 22 years of existence on the Cluj-Napoca IT market, the listing of Cluj-Napoca as finalist for the European Innovation Capital Award is a public acknowledgment of the innovative potential that is hidden in this part of the world.

We know that we have an excellent team here in Cluj-Napoca, Transylvania. Our long-term partners know it too! We also know we have a fantastic human resource pool to build future projects. But it is equally important that people who have never heard of Cluj-Napoca learn about our city, about Transylvania and what they can find here.

Feel free to ask us more and explore together the opportunities of developing your software with our team.