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Research and innovation

European Capital of Innovation (iCapital) 2020

Full details of the 2020 iCapital contest, the winner, runners-up and links to all finalists.

European Capital of Innovation 2020 – Leuven

Leuven is a mission-driven city that excels through inspiring governance models and the systems put in place for the public to innovate and to get involved in critical decision-making processes.

The city aims to become one of Europe’s Labs of the Future through collaborative, technological and climate innovation.

A broad range of its innovation ecosystem stakeholders come together, with the common purpose of innovating around complex challenges from climate change and the shift to a circular economy to ensuring high-quality education and care – a process that makes Leuven a role model for other cities.

The ecosystem includes excelling knowledge institutions like KU Leuven and imec, numerous spin-offs, start-ups and corporates that attract bright minds from all over the world for research and innovation.

Through citywide networks like Leuven 2030 and Leuven MindGate, it has pioneered a new form of quadruple-helix (government, knowledge institutions, companies, and citizens) collaboration mainstreaming innovation into the urban process. As part of this, the municipality co-created roadmap for a carbon-neutral Leuven targeting 13 programs with concrete actions and milestones, and developed the first set of so-called ‘strategic experiments’ that identifies levers across multiple domains (citizen engagement, governance, data and monitoring, finance) to unlock change. The Horizon 2020-project TOMORROW made Leuven a lighthouse for ambitious cities for topics such as the city climate roadmap.

The transformation of Leuven’s Frederik Lintsstraat into a ‘climate street’ is an excellent example of involving neighbourhoods to design and implement community-driven projects with actions targeting sustainable homes, mobility, consumption, and much more.

Other citizen engagement projects include ‘Leuven, Maak het Mee!’ or ‘Leuven, Co-Create!’, as well as various initiatives launched during the COVID-19 crisis:

  • Leuven Helps connected residents in need with thousands of volunteers ready to help. Leuven was the first city to set up a platform of this kind that was later adopted by roughly 280 cities around the world.
  • ‘Leuven Learns’ was developed by the citywide network ‘Co-creating education’ (SOM) to connect teachers, students, experts, and volunteers to facilitate the transition to e-learning.


Cluj-Napoca (Romania)

an ECOsystem, not an EGOsystem

Cluj-Napoca has distinguished itself over the years as one of the most important innovation hubs in Romania. The city focuses on governance, citizenship and participatory urban development to transform a conservative system into one based on trust, engagement and bottom-up initiatives.

The ‘Cluj Civic Imagination and Innovation Centre’ (CIIC) is the main instrument for participatory decision making with public debate accessible to all. Cluj-Napoca is also renowned for the vibrant start-up scene that attracts highly skilled graduates working in information technology and communications, medical, arts, social sciences and many other fields.

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Espoo (Finland)

a City as a Service

Espoo is the home of one of the largest innovation and technology ecosystem in Northern Europe. A culture of both co-creation and experimentation is a key element of the city strategy. Espoo is a test bed for co-creation to test solutions in real life such as the smart and clean ‘Kera’ project or the ‘LuxTurrim5G’ ecosystem. Through innovative procurement, the ‘InnoCaaS - City as a Service’ project enables residents and companies looking for affordable spaces to access underused public and private spaces. Innovative climate actions are implemented allowing fossils fuels to be replaced by smart and flexible solutions.

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Helsingborg (Sweden)

the H22 initiative

Helsingborg is the second biggest city in the innovative Skåne region in southern Sweden.

In 2019, the city launched its H22 initiative with a nearly €25 million investment. This aims to transform Helsingborg into a smarter and sustainable city that puts its residents and the planet first to improve quality of life. The city is creating welfare solutions driven by people’s needs by working together with residents, academia and associations. With the ‘Vision Fund’, any citizen can apply for funding of up to €10,000, including coaching, to test their idea to improve city life, with 108 projects funded to date.

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València (Spain)

Missions València 2030

València, Spain’s third biggest city aims to improve the lives of the city’s residents. Through its ‘Missions València 2030’ strategy, the city aims to be sustainable, entrepreneurial, healthy and to improve collective welfare within the next decade by involving the stakeholders of the quadruple helix. These changes could help eliminate energy poverty, combat loneliness and reduce 90% of plastic and micro-plastic present in the sea, rivers and nature reserves surrounding the city.

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Vienna (Austria)

co-creating a children and youth strategy for the city

Vienna, the capital of Austria, puts young people at the centre of its development strategy to improve the lives of its youngest residents. The large-scale participation project, ‘Werkstadt Junges Wien’, involved more than 22,000 residents from the ages of 4 to 19. Over 1,300 workshops held by youth workers, educators and teachers gave participants the opportunity to decide on priorities, local policies and activities. As a result, the Vienna City Council adopted the first Children and Youth Strategy featuring 193 specific measures.

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The award ceremony

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth announced the European Capital of Innovation 2020 at the European Research and Innovation Days on 24 September in Brussels.

The European Commission awarded the winner and runner-up cities based on the evaluation by a high-level jury of independent experts. The panel was composed of leading experts with top expertise in academia, business and the public sector.

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List of other finalists