SMEs, research & technology centres, the European Commission and Member States discuss the way forward for Digital Innovation Hubs.

On 22 September we had a very successful event in Madrid, back to back with the I Congreso Industria Conectada 4.0 organised by the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness.

The annual  I4MS (ICT Innovation for Manufacturing SMEs) event turned into a broader European event, where more than 30 speakers from EU-funded projects, hubs, companies and Member States discussed their experiences and the next steps for the future of Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) across Europe.

I was really glad to see so many participants coming from different member & associated states, sectors and technology areas. This proves that Digital Innovation Hubs are relevant to many European actors. We must all work together to reinforce the pan-European network of Digital Innovation Hubs, which is one of the key priorities of the Digitising European Industry Strategy.

The Commission's goal is to ensure that every region in Europe has a DIH by 2020. DIHs are one-stop-shops where companies can access and test digital innovations, gain the required digital skills, get advice on financing support and ultimately accomplish their digital transformation.

During the event, participants discussed how to extend the services that DIHs provide, to  go beyond pure technology transfer and include as well consulting, market intelligence and brokering. Another key topic addressed was access to a skilled workforce, and I am glad we can count on the commitment from Member States and on the involvement of  EIT Digital, who will help strengthen the skills development dimension of DIHs.

Another important message to take home from the event is the need for more collaboration. We must build together a stronger European network of hubs that will help, on the one side, companies in their digital transformation and, on the other side, DIHs to improve their services and sustainability.

To do this, it is crucial not to duplicate infrastructures and facilities that are already in place but rather link them together. This is exactly what we are trying to do across Europe and the European catalogue of Digital Innovation Hubs  is an indispensable baseline for this. More than 450 Digital Innovation Hubs are already mapped in this repository, which will give any SME or industry access to the necessary support to digitise its products and services. In the future, the catalogue could also be the place to share best practices and opportunities for further collaboration between DIHs.

A lot is being done across Europe to build the network of Digital Innovation Hubs and this event was a great opportunity to showcase those efforts and initiatives. We saw first-hand how I4MS (ICT Innovation for Manufacturing SMEs) and SAE (Smart Anything Everywhere) are helping to build innovation ecosystems and boost collaboration between  research centres and SMEs. We also heard from different coaching and mentoring initiatives that are helping the creation of new Digital Innovation Hubs in regions that have not yet strongly developed them. 

Different SMEs and competence centres showcased their activities and explained how they benefitted from collaboration within Digital Innovation Hubs. New companies are being spun-off from EU projects. SMEs have opened up to new markets and found new partners to work on innovative products and services thanks to their collaboration with the hubs.

In order to have successful Digital Innovation Hubs, sustainability is also crucial. This is an aspect that cannot be guaranteed at EU level, it has to be rooted in the national and regional ecosystems. But if there is one key thing the EU can do it is to coordinate the different national initiatives and make sure we all join forces and pursue common targets.

This coordination is done through the European platform of National Initiatives for digitising industry. Representatives from Member States strengthened during the event the importance of this platform as a way to improve the sharing of best practices and aligning national strategies. The platform will have a high-level-meeting with Commissioner Gabriel on 21 November and this will be a good opportunity to step up our efforts in that direction.In sum, many good ideas were discussed during the event, including the need to bridge digital innovators and investors, get big players involved in the DIHs strategies and use EU platforms and marketplaces to create ecosystems that bring actors together to innovate.

As one of the speakers highlighted during the event, a success story is much more powerful than 1.000 hours of technical presentations.  Indeed, convincing SMEs of the importance of digital transformation will only happen if these success stories, that originate from across Europe; get heard.  You can read about some of them in the latest I4MS brochure.