This event was organised by the European Association of Development Agencies (EURADA) with the aim of discussing the current possibilities and opportunities of digitalisation for European regions. The speakers were representatives of the Institute for Business Competitiveness of Castilla y León (ICE) and the high-tech funding platform FundingBox. The event was attended by a large list of participants ranging from development agencies to research centres, as well as public bodies and organisations responsible for regional innovation.
The first major opportunity for digital transformation and increasing the technological competitiveness of SMEs and local public administrations in Europe came in 2016 with the Communication on the Digitisation of European Industry, which introduced Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) for the first time.
So far, regional development agencies in Europe have benefited greatly from the activity of DIHs. Indeed, while some regions already had innovation-friendly ecosystems in place, DIHs have provided them with the necessary infrastructure to accelerate their digital competitiveness in their respective industries. Thus, coordination and synergies between existing regional instruments, infrastructures and capacities and newly established IHLs have proven to be of vital importance in the digitisation processes of the different European regions.
However, sometimes the technological know-how and experimentation facilities that these DIHs offer to companies in the same region may not be sufficient to meet the technological needs of these companies, or may simply not match them. For this reason, the Digital Europe Programme, which is still in progress, envisages the creation of networks of European Digital Innovation Centres (EDIHs) that guarantee a wider geographical coverage throughout Europe so that each one of them can facilitate the access of the others to the same European network and offer support -or receive it- on the specific knowledge in digital competences that the companies they are assisting may need at any given time.
Here again, cooperation with the existing regional innovation infrastructure is essential. Regional authorities, policy makers and development agencies are a key factor in supporting the specialisation that EDIHs have to acquire in each region and based on the specific digital needs of the companies and SMEs they will assist. This is because these regional authorities already have the means and the information needed to facilitate connections with the rest of the network at European level.
As for the funding of all these activities, the main mechanism used by the European Commission for this purpose is 'cascade funding', the ultimate aim of which is to support, make more flexible and speed up the digital innovation processes of SMEs in Industry 4.0 - always developed in close cooperation with regional authorities - without having to rely on EU-imposed guidelines, which are often too rigid to facilitate innovation.