SMEs and mid-caps from all sectors — the appropriate innovation actors to conceptualise novel digital products, processes and business models — face several challenges. They have limited knowledge of what smart electronics and smart systems can do. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the “Advanced Micro-Electronics (AME) and Smart System Integration (SSI)” technologies are a large family of technologies with diverse potential per sector: Micro-Nano-Bio-Systems are significantly more valuable in the health domain than in the manufacturing domain while reversely, smart system integration and combined sensing may be more effective in the agriculture sector. They also lack easy access to diverse competencies, primarily technological and scientific, but also competencies regarding business development and market access. While these competencies often exist locally or abroad, they find it difficult and costly to search, find and connect with the relevant players and the resources/competencies they possess. Even when digital innovation is undertaken, companies must face the valley of death to reach TRLs of 7 or higher. One reason for this is the inability to reach critical market mass. This challenge could be addressed by pursuing user-driven application development followed by targeting a sufficiently large group of customers, most likely located across national borders; however, this strategy requires a set of expertise not commonly available to SMEs.
DIATOMIC’s vision is to establish a sustainable ecosystem to facilitate digital innovation in the health, agrifood and manufacturing sectors, all of which are under-digitized2 and of prime importance for society and the economy. The majority of SMEs and midcaps in these sectors are characterised by a low Digital Innovation Index (we name these enterprises “non-tech” hereafter).
Initially, DIATOMIC draws from the advanced technological excellence of the DIATOMIC consortium to execute three cross-border Application Experiments in the project’s target sectors. These experiments are setup to bring concrete economic benefits to technology adopters, end-users, smart solution developers, investors and policy-makers. In-house excellence in dissemination and communication are leveraged to resonate results beyond the immediate context of the application experiment, and to ignite further conceptualisation of digital products, processes and business models from non-tech SMEs and midcaps in the three targeted sector; thus promoting interest in experimentation with AME and SSI.
At the heart of the DIATOMIC ecosystem, three interconnected sector-specific Digital Innovation Hubs (DIH) pulsate to accelerate digitization in-beat with sector-specific needs, and to enable delivery of AME/SSI based applications to a critical mass of customers. DIHs first assist non-tech companies to find and couple with counterparts from across the EU with complementary technological competencies. Then, acting as a one-stop-shop, they offer the teams both:
(i) strong technological support to accelerate design, development, prototyping and manufacturing;
(ii) business support to develop solutions with a robust product/market fit, and chart the path to market growth and investment.
Two open calls were organised to attract and select the best of the best (small) consortia, consisting of tech adopters, tech providers and Competence Centers (CC) from across the continent. Application Experiments will be funded to generate AME/SSI-based products, processes and business models with strong market potential. Non-tech and tech SMEs increase competitiveness and new ideas, CCs strengthen and their customer base, and the economy and society benefit from newly achieved efficiencies of smart applications. In this way, DIATOMIC brings about smart growth throughout the EU.
• Number of countries/sectors addressed by DIATOMIC in-house (push) application experiments - 5/3;
• Number of actors attracted/aware of DIATOMIC application experiments - more 2000;
• Developments challenges / workshops for end users-adopters - 24 webinars/workshops/events;
• Number of competences centres in the three DIATOMIC DIHs in the end of the project - more 433 members of the DIATOMIC DIH;
• Number of actor types/roles in the value chain - 34;
• Disciplines represented in DIHs - 23;
• Capacity in accommodating CCs (Competence Centres ) - Designed with at least 1000;
• Number of application experiments executed in DIATOMIC - 17;
• Number of SMEs and mid-caps being funded to develop AME/SSI based applications - 30 (excluding CCs);
• Pitching events where DIATOMIC funded Experiments participate - 24;
• Average increase in productivity for technology adopters following application experiments - Average increase of the experiments’ technologies in the TRL scale, during the program 3 levels;
• Average rate of return (based on presumed costs if conducted post-project) for technology providers following application experiments - Average number of early adopters raised by the experiments during the program - 2.4 Early adopters;
• Number of companies with stated interest in using DIATOMIC services post project - At least 15 companies expressed their interest in using DIATOMIC services also post project. At the same time we also inform experiments about related activities also after their project end. Many experiments are interested in the services provided by the DIHs especially related to funding;
• Number of new DIHs ready to be formed upon project completion - We have guidelines on how to setup a new DIH. Moreover, there are discussions at National and European Level to align the DIH sustainability with the EU funding scheme e.g. to become EDIH.