Digital Hub Logistics

Photo Credits: Digital Hub Logistics

In November 2019, the Digital Hub Logistics Dortmund received the first prize of the Champions Challenge of Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs). A novel initiative developed by DIHNET Network that aims at identifying good practice cases of mature DIHs, foster matchmaking opportunities and help fine-tune information in the DIH catalogue. The Digital Hub won in both categories: “SME Orientation” and “Service Portfolio”.

During the Stakeholder Forum in Madrid, we talked with Thorsten Hülsmann (TH), Managing Director of the Digital Hub Logistics Dortmund, who gave us an insight on their award-winning digital hub.

How did the story of Digital Hub Logistics Dortmund get started?

TH: The setting-up of a Digital Innovation Hub in Dortmund is the result of an already rich and effective ecosystem focused on helping SMEs in their research & development and business evolutions. A few years ago, the main actors of the ecosystem noticed that SMEs’ need for change and support were mainly linked to digital technologies. Therefore, it was necessary to strengthen this existing rich ecosystem combining universities, competences centres, SMEs, long-term European projects, light house projects, the digital enabling centre funded by the government, etc. and to give it a special focus on digitisation.
In 2016, the Digital Hub Logistics Dortmund was funded to cover the need for short projects focusing less on research & innovation but more on business transformation and product development projects, digitisation of business models and access to the market of new digital services and products. In order to help already successful companies to reach a new step in their development, the Digital Hub developed new services for SMEs and mid-caps willing to foster their digital transformation.

Could you describe your DIH ecosystem and its development policy?

TH: The global ecosystem of the Digital Hub Logistics relies equally on public money as many members are publicly funded i.e. Fraunhofer Institute, Universities, etc. but the DIH services (applied research, networking, community building and business services) to SMEs, mid-caps and large corporations are mainly industry driven.
The DIH provides services on a contract basis, usually annual, in which the company chooses the services they need within a set of standard contracts:

  • access to all the infrastructures (co-working, Fraunhofer institute and University laboratories),
  • analysis of need & ideation workshop,
  • conceptualisation,
  • product prototyping & testing, market orientated support.
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Companies can use for free different services depending on the package they choose: up to 100.000 euros, 200.000 euro or 300.000 euros. It generally takes some months and at least two or three workshops with the company to agree on the final contract. Building trust requires time and it is a challenge that DIHs must be ready to face! Additionally, the services are facilitated by the different competence centres of the DIH which means that all IP policies have to be aligned accordingly.

What is your vision of DIHs development in Europe?

TH: It must be made clear that a DIH is a network of institutions relying on many partners expertise and infrastructures. Hence, when working on the possible business models for DIHs, it is important that those business models do not threaten their own partners’ business models. The DIH is supposed to feel the gaps in the ecosystem and to help coordination of already available services provided by its members and competence centres. It is a challenge to avoid creating new competition in the ecosystem. Thus I would rather speak of an operation model for DIHs.
Another challenge is to clarify whether the European DIHs’ development policy is a “digital excellence” policy looking for expertise building or a “cohesion” policy
looking at local and regional development, or both.

How many companies have been accompanied by the DIH only on the base of DIH services?

TH: If you look at the whole DIH ecosystem it is more than 1000 companies in the last years. For example, the digital enabling centre has accompanied more than 600 companies during the last years. If you consider the offer of new pay services developed by the DIH itself, it has been around 10 companies in 2019.

What could be the added value of Pan-European collaboration?

TH: Except for our participation in EU Horizon 2020 projects and a network of 4-5 preferred European cooperation partners which are other RTOs, our network is mostly German. This is due to the requirements of the companies involved. We hope that this investment in European projects and the European Commission’s strong involvement in favour of Pan-European collaboration will help to change this.
So far, our clients have not expressed any formal request or specific need for Pan-European collaboration. It seems that companies coming to us prefer to work in German, especially SME. However, the international dimension is interesting because it gives an input to our local start-ups and, at the same time, helps our SMEs and the whole ecosystem to get access to other European innovative start-ups. But at the moment, there is few demand for international cooperation from the SMEs themselves beyond accessing to innovative start-ups.

Watch the full interview to Thorsten Hülsmann from the Digital Hub Logistics Dortmund below!

Interview by Lucie Milcent, DIHNET