Crossing the Valley of Death

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Wanted: Industry scale-up and technology diffusion across Europe!

Notion of the role of testbeds as an important element in the innovation process is visible in national innovation policies across EU. However, for companies there is little knowledge available about the testbeds, and possibilities for accessing them, especially across borders. It is clear that SMEs with limited resources and low absorption capacity are in the weakest position.

Access to testbeds is becoming increasingly important for companies to stay ahead in global competition. Now that EU regions are revising their Smart Specialisation Strategies, there seems to be a growing understanding that access to appropriate technology infrastructures and testbeds plays a role when attracting economic activities to the region. Dynamic industrial innovation ecosystems, connecting with place-based competence centres for development, testing and scaling-up of new technologies, are going to be supported and sustained by authorities in many regions.

A recent analysis by the European Commission suggests that there is a critical momentum for the EU Member States to be more ambitious, exploring with relevant national and regional stakeholders a shared vision and jointly developing a European strategy for technology infrastructures to support industry scale-up and technology diffusion across Europe.

What are Technology Infrastructures? How do they differ from scientific research infrastructures? European Commission gives a broad-based definition: Technology infrastructures are understood as facilities, equipment, capabilities and support services required to develop, test and upscale technology to advance from validation in a laboratory up to higher TRLs prior to competitive market entry. They can have public, semi-public or private status. Their users are mainly industrial players, including SMEs, which seek support to develop and integrate innovative technologies towards commercialisation of new products, processes and services, whilst ensuring feasibility and regulatory compliance.

 As the Swedes say, a Sweet Child has many names. Sometimes, we call them Testbeds or Pilot Facilities. 

Modern testbeds will be too costly for the EU industry to invest in on their own

Technology infrastructures require high investment both in the set-up and in the keeping up with the state-of-the-art. Most technology infrastructures rely upon a mix of private and public (national and EU) funding, but it is a challenge to safeguard their long-term existence. Dedicated policies are currently lacking in many regions.

According to the Commission, under Horizon 2020, the EU has invested some EUR 1.2 billion in relevant projects while the European Regional Development Fund is providing in the 2014-2020 programmes around EUR 16 billion for building or upgrading research and innovation infrastructures, including many technology infrastructures, and around EUR 21 billion for R&I support services that foster the exploitation and development of technologies, in particular by SMEs. These investments focus on the priorities identified in the Smart Specialisation Strategies at national or regional level.

Next MFF: Focus on Ecosystems, Strategic Value Chains and Synergies between Programmes

Stakeholders in our industrial value chains should be ensured access to a state-of-the-art technology infrastructure. Parallel to ongoing efforts in regions, we need to ensure investment for a connected Pan-European technology infrastructure. So far, specific actions by the Commission have included support for networking of existing technology infrastructures and testbeds. Member States and regions can give a real boost to innovation ecosystems and value chains, provided that smart specialisation strategies are coordinated and properly implemented. Climate Action and SDGs cannot wait! They will be the cross-cutting drivers, giving direction to our efforts to promote industry transition and renewal of our value chains.

Nordic Mega Region

Nordic collaboration has a long history, based on shared values, culture and democracy, shared economic structures in industry and financial market and climate of course. Nordics are global leaders in innovation capacity. It is an irresistible idea to look at Nordics as a Mega Region and take a regional approach to Nordic testbeds.

Nordic countries have leading national Research and Technology Organisations (RTOs) operating with public mandate, supporting sustainable development and innovation. GTS, RISE, SINTEF and VTT host a majority of open-access testbeds available in the Nordics and are willing to embark on a strengthened cooperation with focus on testbeds and technology infrastructures to build an important innovation ecosystem that can also make an impact on a global scale. Initiatives have already been taken to build such an ecosystem in Bioeconomy, but dedicated support is needed to explore the full potential of collaboration in digitalisation of industry as well.

The direction should be towards effective and sustainable cross-border networks of Nordic testbeds. Connecting and increasing collaboration between Nordic testbeds will be key in establishing the Nordic region as a global hub for transformative research and innovation. It is worth pointing out that testbeds, including both physical facilities and complex technological know how and experts, provide excellent arenas for dialogue, to discuss and build concrete collaboration to address societal challenges. We can do more together.


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