Spotlight on...POM West-Vlaanderen- Ira Lardinois

POM West Flanders is a privatized agency that carries out the Province's socio-economic policy with a concrete focus on the pillars of Entrepreneurship, Factories for the Future, Transport & Logistics, Academy for the Future and Social Economy. POM dedicates itself daily to running the engine of the West-Flemish economy and its SMEs

Let’s take a moment to appreciate Ira for gifting us her valuable time and patience!

 Ira, you are working at POM West- Vlaanderen for the Inn2POWER project. Can you briefly introduce yourself and your company/organization and explain what your responsibilities in the Inn2POWER project?

With the cluster policy “Factory for the Future: Blue Energy” POM West-Flanders (BE) has set up an ambitious economic partnership between government, businesses, R&D to support SMEs in their     linking to and development in the blue energy sector. POM as development agency in the province West-Flanders works on five themes: Infrastructure, SME support, Education & Training, Marketing and R&D. POM has a long track record of supporting businesses and stimulating innovation and has initiated in recent years various initiatives with large SME involvement.

Since five months now, I am Inn2POWER’s project manager at POM West-Flanders. Since more than 16 years I support organisations with growth and innovation ambitions in different sectors, with an orientation towards solving societal challenges in a profitable, impactful, sustainable way.

As lead partner POM will take responsibility for the general management of this four year lasting Interreg project with 11 consortium partners with various backgrounds (academic partners, cluster organisations, a port, public authorities, business support organisations) in five countries of the North Sea Region: Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and the UK. Besides the general management, POM will play in the second half oft he project an active role in supporting the transnational business activities and in supporting SME’s to lower their access barriers to test and demonstration facilities. As finding enough and the right talent are huge challenges in the offshore wind industry, we are developing educational packages for young people to raise awareness about this fascinating sector as potential future employer. The academic partners in the project, situated in Denmark and Germany, have been developing MBA modules, specifically designed for this sector. Making the bridge between the project and the Flemish knowledge institutions in relation to the MBA is also one of POM’s responsibilities.

 

When and how did you get started in the wind industry? What was your personal motivation to get involved when you started and what inspires/encourages you now?

POM West-Flanders started to support the wind industry five, six years ago. An analysis of the most promising sectors in our province demonstrated that the offshore wind industry was definitely one of them. Each most promising sector received a dedicated support team in the POM’s “Factories of the Future” in which public authorities, knowledge institutions and companies partner to develop the sector further.

Personally, this is my first project in the wind industry but not the first as project manager in an innovative, sustainable business environment. I started five months ago at POM West-Flanders. So this fascinating offshore wind industry is new to me. As a consultant, project manager or advisor I have been working before among others in the NGO and the public sector, utilities, construction and housing, telecom. I am used to work on the crossing of various stakeholder groups (academic, public authorities, enterprises and NGO’s), which is typical for innovative and sustainable solutions to societal challenges and their up scaling process.  

Making a contribution to a growing industry which is producing renewable energy, offering a small but growing part of the alternative for traditional fossil fuel and nuclear energy in the North Sea Region, was very appealing to me. In Belgium, as in a lot of other countries, the security of supply of energy as well as fighting climate change are very hot topics. The wind industry forms a part of the solution to these major challenges.

I also love to interact with persons from various backgrounds and nationalities, as it can be very enriching, while supporting organisations and companies from my own region with their development, growth and innovation ambitions.

What encourages me now, besides my initial motivation, is the positive energy I feel each time a (small) step has been taken in the right direction, a solution has been found, a conflict is resolved, synergies are found, barriers of all kinds are overcome…

From your personal point of view, what are the most interesting aspects of the Inn2POWER project?

This is a difficult question given the variety of interesting aspects in the project ranging from education of youngsters about the offshore wind industry, over encouraging existing test facilities to open their doors for SME’s and lowering their cost by doing so, to supporting all kinds of transnational collaborations between SME’s in the wind industry.

I am personally excited by the idea that all the developed tools in the first half of the project are now going into their implementation phase and will be spread towards their full audience. The real impact of the work already done will start to become visible as we are reaching out to more SME’s with our support measures to make their business grow. A fascinating element of the Inn2POWER project for me is finding this good balance between communicating online and offline to build trust and collaboration between people and companies, inside and outside the project consortium. Sufficient physical contact and discussion opportunities between SMEs in our transnational B2B meetings are crucial to build trust, which is essential to productive collaborations. We, as Inn2POWER consortium, are there to facilitate these fruitful interconnections between the right persons and organisations.

 

Tell us something more about your responsibilities in the project.

My day to day professional life consists of a lot of conference calls and meeting, writing mails, document and reports, facilitating meetings and collaborations in my function of project manager.

Besides project management level, the Belgian implementation of the Inn2POWER project is done in collaboration with the two other Belgian consortium partners, The Blue Cluster and the Port of Ostend, taking into account the specificity and competencies of each of us. The Blue Cluster started some months ago, after the transition from Flanders Maritime Cluster, and ensures the link with the SME’s and other companies in the offshore wind industry. The Port of Ostend is focusing on the challenges related to harbor logistics.

POM is supporting the development of educational packages to youngsters of the primary and the secondary school in the Flemish region to make them enthusiastic to work for the offshore wind industry in the future. In the coming school year 400 pupils will follow this package. I am looking forward to their reaction… Is spring the new test facility here in the Port of Ostend will be open for SME’s (among others). We are eager to support SME’s in their test processes soon. A lot is on our plate in the coming months and we are very happy about that!

 

What was your favourite moment so far during the Inn2POWER project?

My favorite moment so far was the first opportunity I had to represent the whole project to a large audience last autumn in the UK and to hear from people afterwards how useful and relevant this project and the developed tools are to them. Have real impact on the growth possibilities of SME’s in the offshore wind industry in the North Sea Region makes me thick.

 

Ira, thank you for these insights and your work!