A new European Digital Innovation Hub (EDIH) is to be established in the Northern and Western region to help SMEs apply cutting-edge technologies and digital skills to their businesses.
The online hub, with €5.4 million in funding, will support regional SMEs over the next three years and be connected to a network of over 200 other EDIHs across the European Union.
EDIHs offer a portfolio of free services to help companies become more competitive through the adoption of digital technologies.
Businesses that engage these one-stop-shops for firms with digital challenges will be able to gain expertise on research and development in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Blockchain technologies.
They will also be able to access applied digital research, expertise and solutions from the region’s universities – including Atlantic Technological University and University of Galway – through a number of channels and technology transfer centres.
It is also envisaged that the EDIH will be used by public sector bodies to help make their services more efficient.
SMEs and public sector agencies can access the hub through a region-wide network of contact points including Local Enterprise Offices, universities and Údarás na Gaeltachta – giving it one of the largest footprints of service provision in the country.
Chris O’Malley, Vice-President of the Atlantic Technological University (Sligo Campus), said: “The majority of Irish small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) have little knowledge of the requirements of digitalisation and are hesitant to embark on their own digital innovation projects. We are enabling businesses to gain better access to data or use solutions powered by artificial intelligence. The programme also invests to ensure that our regional talent can get the right skills to actively participate in the labour market. The aim is that everyone in the region – citizens, businesses and public services – can benefit from market-ready technological solutions.”
Explaining the concept of the EDIH, Northern and Western Regional Assembly Director David Minton said: “This new hub, which will be called Data2Sustain, will support start-ups, SMEs and other businesses, as well as the public sector in their digital transformation.
“It has a focus on circular economy, operations and sustainability areas, utilising AI, HPC and cybersecurity technological competence, with particular emphasis on data and data analytics–driven innovation and regard to energy consumption and low–carbon emissions.
“What is really thrilling is that members of this new EDIH can use any of the other 200 innovation hubs across Europe. This means, for example, that a company in Connemara can avail of research in Denmark that might assist its business with a technology such as Blockchain or Robotics.
“Similarly, a company in France, could access our region’s new EDIH for essential research or knowledge at Atlantic Technological University or the University of Galway to help advance its business, service or product. The hub is a coordinated cadre of organisations with complementary expertise, with a not-for-profit objective.”
In a report on the digitalisation of SMEs in Ireland, the European Investment Bank said the country had a two-speed digital economy with the divide most obvious in the Northern and Western region. EDIHs combine the benefits of a regional presence with the opportunities available to a pan-European network that can exploit radical disruptions in advanced digital technologies.
The new EDIH will drive digital transformation for businesses across a range of sectors, including Agri and Bio-based Food, Marine and Aquaculture, MedTech and Lifesciences, Manufacturing and Engineering, Construction, Tourism and Public Services. A particular focus will be applied to the circular economy and smarter and greener processes, systems, products, services and business models.
Helena Deane of the West Regional Enterprise Plan, said: ‘Data2Sustain will be a leading EDIH helping to create smarter, greener, more sustainable processes, systems, products, services and business models, which are instrumental to advancing the digital and green transformation. This will have a profoundly positive impact on the region.’