The French Digital Innovation Hub DIGIHALL shares its experiences and vision for the future, so that more companies across the whole economy can get support to make the most of digital opportunities.

When Leonard Read wrote his famous essay "I, Pencil" in 1958, he showed that even the most humble object (a pencil) is the result of a myriad selfish people interacting with each other.

Free networks of selfish agents produce more useful innovations and are easier to maintain than hierarchical top-down networks. Reed’s lesson was "leave all creative energies uninhibited; merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson".

This principle applies also to the industrial sector. Many networks have evolved across Europe to help industry innovate. Some are able to connect companies to a range of innovation support services. They are the Digital Innovation Hubs. However, we would be mistaken to think that these hubs evolved naturally: they are the result of incentives provided by local and national authorities. This is also true for our Hub, DIGIHALL.

DIGIHALL, one-stop-shop for digital technologies

Last year, I was tasked by our Region’s Digital and Innovation Advisor to build Île-de-France’s Innovation Hub by extending the DIGIHALL initiative.

DIGIHALL is a programme that brings together research, industry and academic partners into a one-stop-shop for digital technologies, especially artificial intelligence and cyber-physical systems. Our hub addresses manufacturing, mobility, and many other sectors.

Our founding partners are CEA, the Systematic cluster, Inria, Institut Mines Télécom, the SystemX institute and the Paris-Saclay University. The Digital Innovation Hub also includes incubators, public finance and other actors that work together to support innovation in companies. To be able to do it, we are deploying common infrastructures: an open innovation and design centre, a technology showroom, new data clusters and co-working spaces with industry.

Every actor in DIGIHALL worked together with industry partners before the initiative. In the our case (CEA LIST), we collaborate every year with more than 200 industry partners, 55% of whom are SMEs. DIGIHALL allows us to work effectively with companies that we could not reach before, attracting them with services and with the participation of large industry players.

For the success of the initiative, the leadership of the Paris regional government has been instrumental. Our Hub is part of the Smart Industry plan and is connected to other SME measures. A concrete example is the SME Digital Assessment initiative about to be launched: 300 SMEs will be connected to the Hub and offered innovation services.

The hub is the result of many different actors working together, where a certain level of competition is healthy!

Why a Digital Innovation Hub if we already had everything we needed? Because left to our own, selfish devices, we were only partially connected, and served only the best SMEs. The regional government has provided us with the capacity and incentives to reach out to everyone.

The importance of the European network of Digital Innovation Hubs

The same principles apply to the European network of Digital Innovation Hubs. The European Commission is making use of the tools that it has to create incentives in the public interest. Why do we need these incentives at European level?

Because “I, Pencil” works best in a perfect market where:

  •  everyone knows what the others are doing and where their opportunities lie;
  •  everyone speaks the same language and has the same approach to risk;
  •  everyone connects to each other without effort.

As you might have guessed, I am talking about the Digital Single Market. Once we get there, we should not need incentives to connect across Europe anymore.

The needs for the future

There we are: how do we keep selfish actors alive while incentivizing them to connect to each other? Here is our letter to Santa:

I, Hub, would like to…

  • Receive financial incentives for me to reach out to the most stubborn SMEs
  • Know what the other hubs are doing with their SMEs
  • Be able to sell my successes to other hubs
  • Be able to copy other hubs’ successes
  • Connect with other hubs when I really need them
  • Receive EU funding only to de-risk these new connections… on-demand!
  • Be allowed to remain the friendly, neighborhood hub for my SMEs even as I connect to other hubs

We are on our way to achieve this thanks to the Commission’s Digitising European Industry initiative. If we keep our momentum in the new EU framework programme, and incentivize more people who work with industry across Europe to make the leap of faith and start working with each other, I believe that we have a bright future for European industry and society.

Yours sincerely,

We, Hub

More information

  • DIH Annual Event on 27-28 November: Join us in Warsaw to learn more about Digital Innovation Hubs and help us shape their future role in the digital transformation of European economy
  • Join the community in our Futurium site: discuss your views, share your experiences and publish relevant documents with other hubs, policy makers and companies.