On 22 April, a networking event organised by the EU4Digital’s ICT Innovation team introduced the services and networks of leading EU projects and initiatives in support of the development and networking of digital innovation hubs (DIHs). The event also discussed approaches in creating specialised services, business models and capacity building programmes in the Eastern partner countries.
The event brought together representatives of the leading EU organisations in the sector, including:
- European Commission (DG CONNECT).
- Digital Innovation Hubs Network (DIHNET.EU).
- Europe’s largest deep tech funding ecosystems – FundingBox.
- EU initiative ICT Innovation for Manufacturing SMEs (I4MS).
- DIH from EU member state – am-LAB (Hungary).
The event attracted around 70 participants from 39 public and private sector target organisations from the Eastern partner countries. The discussion was held together with the representatives of competence centres with digital technology infrastructure, business support organisations, networks and associations related to the digital transformation of SMEs and Industry 4.0, as well as ministerial level representatives and agencies coordinating the development of innovation ecosystems in the Eastern partner countries.
The event was opened by EU4Digital Facility Team Leader Artūras Piliponis, who introduced the EU4Digital programme and the aims of the networking event. It was followed by a keynote speech on the ‘Digitising European Industry initiative and European Digital Innovation Hubs (EDIHs)’ by Mr. Matthias Kuom, Seconded National Expert to the European Commission (DG CONNECT). He provided insights on the development of the Digitising European Industry initiative and European DIHs, with emphasis on the importance of smart specialisation for innovative and efficient economic transformation. Mr. Kuom noted that EU policy to support SMEs is open both to public and private R&D organisations. The participants were guided to explore projects and open initiatives for facilitating collaborations such as Smart Anything Everywhere (SAE), supporting networking of DIHs in different areas of innovation.
The networking of DIHs was then addressed by Mr. Maurits Butter, Project Leader at DIHNET.EU who presented ‘An overview of European DIH Landscape’. He introduced the four building blocks of the EDIH network, and the lighthouse mechanism that emphasises the leveraging of specialities of organisations from the Eastern partner countries as a key to opening collaboration corridors with other DIHs in Europe. Mr. Butter shared with participants how they can find information about open calls for projects that are regularly updated, have different eligibility criteria, and mainly address SMEs’ needs directly. The speaker also invited participants to be practical and take action by providing credentials of their organisations into the Digital Innovation Hubs Catalogue and approaching other DIHs for collaboration.
Opportunities for DIH development and cascade funding available for Eastern partner countries were presented by Ms. Mayte Carracedo, Partner & Chief Business Development Officer at FundingBox, in her presentation ‘FundingBox experience with key enable mechanisms for supporting SMEs in their digital transformation journey’. Ms. Carracedo provided a detailed look at a cascade funding mechanism that is applicable for the digital transformation of SMEs, and shared best practices in DIH establishment and evolution. The interest of local SMEs was indicated as a prerequisite for setting a DIH. Other crucial factors impacting DIH development are business plan, mapping of partners’ competencies, developing a strong consortium agreement to avoid conflicts, and networking for concrete collaboration with the other DIHs.
Anna Pobol, EU4Digital ICT Innovation stream lead, emphasised that the cascade funding model may be a perfect model to replicate in the Eastern partner countries using national and external funding sources, as this model provides targeted and simplified access to funding due to less bureaucratic procedures.
The second part of the event was focused on DIHs supporting the digitising of manufacturing industry. Ms. María Roca, I4MS Project Manager, made an overview of tools available to boost manufacturing SMEs’ competitiveness through digital innovations in her presentation ‘EU initiative ICT Innovation for Manufacturing SMEs’. Those include free access to the I4MS online community with a wide database of experts in smart manufacturing, the brokering system as well as a catalogue of advanced trainings delivered by community members. The speaker looked at common challenges faced by manufacturing enterprises, presented the open calls for SMEs, as well as practical tools supporting the digitalisation of manufacturing SMEs, such as MIDIH and AMable. In addition, Ms. Roca introduced the possibility for EaP organisations to become I4MS contact points and benefit from the channelled information support on digitising SMEs.
The last part of the session was covered by the founder of DIH in Hungary and a winner of the 2020 DIH Champions Challenge – Mr. Balázs Barta who presented ‘Experience of leading DIHs of the EU member state: service specialisation and business model of operation’. Mr. Barta overviewed the growth journey of the DIH: am-LABs’ steps towards establishment of a service portfolio that included a series of workshops to define market needs and the ways to partner internationally in joint projects and programmes for accumulating specialised expertise. The participants were encouraged to be creative, while developing their services and business models and invited to cooperate with am-LAB.
Mr. Alexandre Yurchak, Director of the APPAU Association in Ukraine, emphasised that it is difficult for DIHs in EaP countries to implement and provide technological testing and validation due to the lack of required technological infrastructure. In response, Mr. Barta shared his experience of the process of equipping their lab with technical infrastructure and upgrading staffs’ skills to consult SMEs, where they looked for engineers willing to learn and try unconventional work methods.
Also, Mr. Yurchak, working on the development of the Industry4Ukraine platform in Ukraine, highlighted that the experience exchange with successful EU DIHs on operational models for digital innovation hubs is equally valuable for organisations in the Eastern partner countries, willing to develop their capacities of technological infrastructure for SMEs to test and deploy new solutions. He expressed support for further initiatives in linking EU and EaP organisations and organising practical study visits. It was added that there is a need for more specific programmes focused on closing the gap of technological infrastructure in the competence and expertise centres in the Eastern partner countries.
In conclusion of the event, Anna Pobol, EU4Digital ICT innovation lead, noted that it is not only policy makers who can benefit from EU policy practices and tools for enabling the digital transformation of SMEs. All types of innovation ecosystem actors, such as technology vendors, R&D organisations, business associations and innovation infrastructure organisations can progress by learning from EU DIHs with established operational practices and service packages. The organisations in the Eastern partner countries should take a step to increase their specialisation and make digital technologies more available for SMEs in their countries by joining EU networks and learning more about the tools and experiences of the international innovation communities.
ICT Innovation Networking events
ICT Innovation networking events aim to facilitate the establishment of EaP communities in the selected ICT Innovation policy areas. In addition to creating networks in the region, they strive for the establishment of bilateral and multilateral bridges between the Eastern partner organisations and EU stakeholders to enable further sustainable joint activities and projects. These efforts aim for overall deeper knowledge and understanding of relevant EU best practices by stakeholders in the region. Therefore, the series of events target a wide audience, including ministerial level representatives and agencies, associations and networks of relevant policy areas, ICT Infrastructure organisations as well as other ICT Innovation ecosystem actors.