Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) is one of the five pillars of the Digitising European Industry (DEI) initiative, which was launched by the European Commission in 2016 to reinforce the EU’s competitiveness in digital technologies.

Indeed, the use of digital technologies, which is critical for competitiveness, varies across sectors and Member States. Additionally, digitisation requires reskilling and adapting the education system to the digital needs that are prone to market failures. For instance, the number of ICT vacancies in the EU is predicted to rise from 337,000 in 2015 to 756,000 by 2020. 

The five pillars of the Digitising European Industry initiative are: 

  • European platform of national initiatives on digitising industry to coordinate and ensure coherence among Member States digitising industry initiatives.
  • Digital innovations for all: Digital Innovation Hubs
  • Strengthening leadership through partnerships and industrial platforms to support the development of digital industrial platforms and large-scale piloting and Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in key digital technologies such as 5G, big data, High Performance Computing, cybersecurity, photonics, robotics and electronic components & systems.
  • A regulatory framework fit for the digital age to regulate and provides digital-friendly regulatory framework in the European Union.
  • Preparing Europeans for the digital future to adapt the education and learning systems to the digital transformation as well as reskilling Europeans. 

Figure 1. Pillars of the Digitising European Industry initiative. Source: European Commission

Digital Innovation Hubs are ecosystems that consist of SMEs, large industries, startups, researchers, accelerators, and investors. They are support facilities that help companies to become more competitive by improving their business/production processes as well as products and services by means of digital technology.

DIHs act as a one-stop-shop, serving companies within their local region and beyond to digitalise their business. They can focus on a specific sector or technology to respond to regional digital needs and to build synergies with regional smart specialisation strategies. The concept of a Digital Innovation Hubs is innovative in that it brings regional actors together to develop a coherent and coordinated set of services through a one-stop-shop to support regional companies—especially small companies or enterprises from low tech sectors—that have difficulties with their digitisation. 

The European Commission dedicated a budget of €500 million for the period 2016-2020 from Horizon 2020 to support the development of Digital Innovation Hubs (DIH) with the ambition to have one in every European region. As of June 2019, there were 279 registered in the Digital Innovation Hubs catalogue across the European Union.

The services available in Digital Innovation Hubs can fall under three categories, they are: 

  • Innovation activities that aim to identify opportunities for digitisation, such as awareness creation, digital needs/maturity assessment, innovation scouting, access to specialist expertise, access to platforms and infrastructure, and collaborative research.
  • Business development that aim to help companies to apply their solutions such as envisioning and strategy development, matchmaking and brokering, business coaching and mentoring, start-up support, and access to finance.
  • Skills creation that aim to develop human capital to the digital age through technical training and skills development, business and finance training and skills development, management training and skills development. 

The report Digital Innovation Hubs: Mainstreaming Digital Innovation Across All Sectors provides 7 recommendations for regional policymakers when establishing their Digital Innovation Hubs, such as to identify regional needs, to develop a vision for digital transformation within the region, to look at what is already available in the region, to define the services the hub should offer, to build links with other Hubs, to start engaging with companies and delivering services ‘on the ground’, using either dedicated funding or by bringing together existing initiatives or projects.

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