Transilvania Digital Innovation Hub

Photo Credits: Transilvania Digital Innovation Hub

In November 2019, the Transilvania Digital Innovation Hub was one the 5thfinalists of the first Champions Challenge of Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs). This Challenge developed by DIHNET, the DIHs’ Network, together with the European Commission aims at identifying good practice cases of DIHs, foster matchmaking opportunities and help fine-tune information in the DIH catalogue.

Bianca Muntean (BM), the enthusiastic executive director of the Transilvania Digital Innovation Hub, accepted to share with us some insights on what made the Transilvania DIH a successful initiative.

How did the story of your Digital Hub get started?

The concept of Digital Innovation Hub and the opportunities it was representing for Transilvania IT Cluster appeared to us in June 2017, during the Open Innovation Conference 2.0 that took place in Cluj. Since its creation in 2013, our cluster was used to cooperate with other clusters in the region. So the concept of a strengthened inter-cluster collaboration was very familiar and very meaningful to us. In October 2017, the JRC and the European Commission published the DIH catalogue and a map of the existing DIH in Central Eastern Europe. At that time, the concept of Digital Innovation Hub was not so well established as it is now. It soon became obvious to the community of clusters we were involved in, that there was here an opportunity for us to mutualise our capacities and build on them to better facilitate the digitalisation of the companies that were members of our Clusters and, beyond, to our regional ecosystem.

Our mission is to identify collaborative projects for digitalisation of all the relevant stakeholders with the clearobjective of creating opportunities that stimulate technological innovative capabilities that support the delivery of these products and services in the European Digital Single Market. We aim to support all the sectors of our ecosystem and their development.

We took part in the training programme DIHELP developed by the EC and the European Parliament for the 13 CEE countries, to accompany potential and new DIHs to build their activities. It was a very interesting experience. However, it quickly appeared that the various models that were proposed to us were not necessarily appropriate to us as each region has some specific constraints that they have to build on. For example, at that time, there was no
political authority in Romania in charge of Digital Policies Development and there was no national framework to support the Small and Medium Enterprises in their digitalisation processes. The strong support we received from the European authorities has been very powerful in that sense. Since our Digital Innovation Hub project has been launched, we have been advocating towards our Ministry of Economy and our National Digitalisation Authority for a strong Romanian National policy in favour of the digitalisation of our companies. I am
very happy to say that for a few weeks now, Romania has a governmental authority which is specifically in charge of it and we‘ve started to work extensively with this authority. According to us, this is a very positive collateral impact of the European Commission strong policy in favour of DIH.

Could you describe your DIH ecosystem and its development policy?

The Transilvania DIH gathers 7 clusters that were already very active in the region. At first, each of them was considering the opportunity to evolve as a DIH but soon enough we all agreed that the best approach was to build a regional DIH on the pillars that the pre-exiting clusters were constituting. They all had their own network of companies (SMEs & Midcaps), universities, industrial partners and startups and it would have been a mistake not to mutualise those powerful ecosystems and to consolidate them. So Transilvania IT, the Cluster I manage, was designated to be the orchestrator of this new DIH.

Although we have been, until now, working on an informal base, we are now considering to set-up a more formal structure. However, we want the DIH to remain an open structure with any new member fulfilling certain conditions of competences could join.

We are really convinced that DIH is the appropriate instrument to foster the regional ecosystem. During the Innovation Camp that we have organised on 5/6/7 March 2020, we had the opportunity to advocate for this concept. We were given the chance to clearly define the role that Transilvania DIH plays in the development of the local industries and the overall digitalisation process for the SMEs that includes the support given to competitive startups. We exchanged good practice concepts with international experts and with the European Commission.

We think it is a very important that each region can develop its ecosystem and its strength. We are not afraid to see other DIHs developing in our country and neighbourhood. On the opposite, there is so much to do! New partners are more than welcome. We are convinced that each region has its genuine assets and that we can all grow learning from each other’s.

What is your vision of DIHs development in Europe?

Funding to enable capacity building is crucial for DIHs to be able to help Europe to take the full benefit of the digitalisation revolution. As an NGO, we are in constant need of support in becoming competitive with the resources we are given. Focus on our core missions and consolidation of our services range is our number one aim.

Being an NGO, it is always a challenge for us to have enough resources to focus on our core missions and to consolidate our services offer. We strive to be relevant for the companies we are helping because we need to provide them with access to research infrastructure, strategic business expertise, offer services for intelligent strategic positioning on markets, as well as global, technological, social and economic trends. To afford to have a strong team that able to provide those competences, you also need to be involved in European projects.

The new concept of the European Digital Innovation Hub should be vital in encouraging the Member States to give more importance to the digital transformation of our economies. At the Transilvania DIH level, we are prepared and shaped to deliver the services that the European Commission is expecting from the European DIH.

What is according to you the added value of Pan-European collaboration?

Pan-European collaboration is key for us. We are involved in two projects funded under H2020 research programme:

  • the DIH² project which aims at developing robotics in agile production.
  • The BOWI project which has more to do with startups.

The Romanian companies that are part of the DIH have access to opportunities, services and resources that help them increase their digitalisation and innovative processes, their access to financing, to new markets. And they are assisted with expertise.

However, beyond European projects, it is very important to develop Pan-European collaboration. Even if we all know that there are some very different approaches in Europe concerning the Development of DIHs, it is very important for us to meet new potential partners, news alteregos with whom to share challenges, solutions and lessons learned.

We are currently building exchange with the Finish DIH of Pori and the Bulgarian DIH of Varna which is under construction.

In this regard, the catalogue proposed by the JRC has been a very useful tool for us, to get visibility and be offered opportunities for collaboration. I think the catalogue would gain with a regular update of its content and a regular update of the DIHs information and still, there is a need for such a tool where people can identify potential partners in specifics areas.

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

During the past year, we have been able to provide services to more than 150 companies, starting with basic services of soft and technical skills trainings offered by our DIH, support in accessing H2020 open calls (such as DIH², where we offered support in matchmaking sessions for 30 companies), match making services and of course in concrete services in matters of digital transformation for companies.

For 2020, we plan on developing a “price-list” of services offered by Transilvania DIH, which will give a clear vision on services that could be accessed by ompanies and the revenues based strictly on the services provided. This practice will help us build a better range of services, based on the requests, and also offer a one-stop-shop on digital transformation services and products in the region.

Interview by Lucie Milcent, DIHNET