We want to ensure that every region in Europe has at least one Digital Innovation Hub by 2020, so that digital innovations are accessible at a working distance to any company. In order to reach this target, several EU initiatives are supporting regions that need additional help. We will take stock of these and other initiatives in a dedicated event in Spain, where we will discuss the way forward for Digital Innovation Hubs.

Since we presented the Digitising European Industry Strategy a bit more than a year ago, a lot has been already achieved to ensure that Europe makes the best out of the opportunities offered by the digital economy. One of the key areas of action is to support SMEs and mid-caps in their digital transformation. A major difficulty reported by these SMEs and mid-caps is to know in which technologies to invest or how to secure financing for their digital transformation.

For that, we are developing together with Member States and regions, the pan-European network of Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs). This network offers support spanning from facilities (equipment, software tools, expertise,..) where SMEs and mid-caps can access and test digital innovations and gain the required digital skills, up to help in getting finance to invest in their digital transformation.

We want to ensure that every region in Europe has at least one DIH by 2020, so that digital innovations are accessible at a working distance to any company. In order to reach this target and fully develop the pan-European network of Digital Innovation Hubs, some regions will need additional help.

Calling for potential DIHs in EU13 Member States

To address this challenge, the project "Smart Factories in new EU Member States" will offer a training programme to help boost the creation of new Digital Innovation Hubs in Central and Eastern Europe (EU13 Member States: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, or Slovenia), where the creation of DIHs and adoption of digital technologies in general has been limited so far.

This project was initiated by Victor Negrescu (former MEP and current Minister Delegate for European Affairs in Romania) and is managed by the European Commission on behalf of the European Parliament.

With a budget of €1.8 million, a call is now open for universities, research and technology centres, incubators, clusters, industrial associations and public administrations that want to lead the establishment of a DIH in one of the EU13 Member States.

30 potential DIHs from the EU13 targeted countries will be selected to participate in a training programme run by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Oxford University Innovation (Oxentia). This will be a great opportunity for them to develop a business plan, identify the specific needs of industry in their regions, establish potential funding schemes and organise regional workshops.

Building on previous coaching programmes

I am confident that this kind of initiative can make a real difference in strengthening DIHs across all European regions. In fact, the project will build on the successful work already started in this area by other initiatives such as ICT Innovation for Manufacturing SMEs (I4MS), which launched a mentoring programme for new DIHs that is now reaching its end.

With a total funding of €1.45M, 29 new DIHs received support from the existing network of hubs on how to set up and operate their services. Countries such as Spain or Italy had a strong participation, with hubs coming largely from less developed regions in these countries, and it was also positive to see 9 new hubs participating from Eastern European countries.  

With the programme now reaching its end, I am very glad to see the strong impact it has had on the participating hubs, which have now become an active part of the DIH ecosystem. As a proof, 8 hubs had successful applications in our last I4MS call and 10 others were part of submitted proposals.

Some particularly successful examples can be found in the Irish and Welsh hubs, which have become active participants in the last call of the I4MS project BEinCPPS. Meanwhile, some of the Italian candidates had as well successful applications in our last I4MS call and they have also become an integral part of the "Piano nazionale Industria 4.0" and the associated national network of DIHs.

Building on these successes, the project "Smart Factories in new EU Member States" will now specifically support regions in EU13 Member States to further help them advance in the development of DIHs. I encourage all interested actors to submit their application by 22 October, so that they can benefit from this initiative and ultimately take part of the European network of DIHs.

Discussing the way forward for Digital Innovation Hubs

Initiatives such as these training programmes are crucial for the expansion of the network of Digital Innovation Hubs, which is a key priority for us in the Digitising European Industry Strategy. That is why we will also have a dedicated event this Friday 22 September in Madrid to showcase the achievements of these and other initiatives and discuss the next steps for the network of DIHs.

During this event, we will bring together relevant European projects, DIHs, SMEs and representatives of Member States, looking in particular to success stories from different hubs, companies and European initiatives such as I4MS (ICT Innovation for Manufacturing SMEs) and SAE (Smart Anything Everywhere) - which play a key role in the development of DIHs.

I'm looking forward to a fruitful discussion on 22nd September so that we can keep building together a strong network of DIHs that can help any industry in Europe - big or small, wherever situated and in whichever sector - to fully benefit from digital innovations.