The European Commission is set to create a network of hubs to support the digital transformation of SMEs and the public sector across EU member states.
The process of finding Ireland’s additions to a network of European Digital Innovation Hubs begins today (9 December) with a call for expressions of interest.
The vision for these European Digital Innovation Hubs forms part of the €9.2bn Digital Europe Programme set to begin next year.
Each hub will have a research-performing organisation or higher education institute at its core and will serve as a touchpoint for companies, especially SMEs, and public sector organisations to find assistance on digital transformation.
In particular, the European Commission is seeking hubs that can support organisations in adopting cybersecurity practices, high-performance computing and artificial intelligence. In the case of AI, at least one selected hub in each member state is expected to specialise in this technology.
‘The European Digital Innovation Hubs will help companies improve their processes, products and services through the use of digital technologies’
– JULIE SINNAMON
As well as research and testing facilities, the hubs are expected to provide additional services such as financing advice, and training and skills development.
The European Commission proposes investing up to €1m per year in each of the European Digital Innovation Hubs, which in Ireland will be matched by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment through Enterprise Ireland.
While the exact amount of funding is contingent on the final agreed budget for the programme as well as the number of hubs in the network, it is expected to comprise a three-year grant with the opportunity to re-apply for a further four years.
“To be competitive internationally, Irish SMEs must be able to reap the benefits of digital transformation. Supporting companies to do so is core to Enterprise Ireland’s strategy,” said Julie Sinnamon, CEO of Enterprise Ireland.
“The European Digital Innovation Hubs will help companies improve their processes, products and services through the use of digital technologies and will be an important addition to the Irish innovation ecosystem.”
Criteria for selection
It is expected that Ireland will add two to three European Digital Innovation Hubs to the network over the period of the Digital Europe Programme.
Not-for-profit research technology organisations and labs based in higher education institutes are invited to apply, provided they have access to the appropriate research infrastructure to provide ‘test before invest’ facilities.
Along with this and other criteria to be assessed, designation will also take environmental issues into account. This includes factors such as energy use and carbon emissions.
This network of European Digital Innovation Hubs follows on from the Digitising European Industry Initiative adopted in April 2016, and existing hubs can still qualify to become part of the new network.
How to apply
The competitive call for expressions of interest will close on Wednesday, 20 January 2021. These submissions will be made to Enterprise Ireland, which will select applicants to be invited to apply to a restricted call issued by the European Commission.
Successful applicants under the European Commission’s call will then be funded by both the commission and Enterprise Ireland.
Enterprise Ireland has provided information on the competitive process on its website and will host an online forum on 17 December.
“The European Digital Innovation Hub programme is a practical initiative to help both companies and the public service address the digitalisation challenge through advice, training and the provision of demonstration facilities. I am pleased to help launch this first step in designating the Irish network of hubs,” said the Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation Robert Troy, TD.