The project proposal of REGIONAL INNOVATION CENTER "INNOVATIVE BIOTECHNOLOGIES, BIORESOURCES AND PRODUCTS OF NEXT GENERATION" NGO PE, Plovdiv has already been approved at the national level. The second stage of evaluation at the EC level is expected to take place in September this year.
The establishment of a European Digital Innovation Hub in the South Central Region to provide an open space for cooperation for digital transformation and development of digital biotechnologies for next-generation bioresources and products (Next-Gen-BIOTech Digital Innovation Hub) is coordinated by REGIONAL INNOVATION CENTER "INNOVATIVE BIOTECHNOLOGIES, BIORESOURCES AND PRODUCTS OF NEXT GENERATION" NGO PE, in partnership with the University of Food Technologies – Plovdiv, Plovdiv University, and private companies - legal entities, foundations and cooperatives, as well as Municipal Administration - Brezovo and Municipal Administration - Smolyan.
This will be the first example of a Bulgarian regional initiative aimed at the practical implementation of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things to provide an open space for cooperation for digital transformation and development of digital biotechnologies for next-generation bioresources and products. Companies in the South Central Planning Region will maintain and increase their competitive advantage through the Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub services such as pre-investment testing facilities, digital maturity assessment, digital skills training, and access to customers and finances. The services offered through the Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub will allow any business to access the latest knowledge, expertise and technology to test and experiment with digital innovations and related products, processes or business models. The aim is to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies and the transfer of knowledge to industrial stakeholders.
The ambition is the Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub to provide a mechanism for delivering digital technology to businesses in an easy and affordable way, and to turn test sites into a platform for experimentation.
The Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub will act as a facilitator bringing together industry, business, researchers and local administrations in need of new technological solutions, on the one hand, with companies, in particular start-ups that have market-ready solutions. These will be experimentation and testing services.
The Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub will be a regional ecosystem of diverse stakeholders with a mission to contribute to the sustainability and competitiveness of the regional economy through digital solutions in biotechnology and healthy living industries.
Through the Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub, companies will have access to specialized support to understand how digital technologies affect bio-based industries and how to define and implement their digital transformation plan. This is a space for training and experimentation ("pre-investment test") in digital technologies for companies.
The other partners and suppliers of the Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub focus on the intangible infrastructure aimed at offering business services both for technology advice and for financing of SMEs, especially start-ups. Mid-cap companies, accelerators, investors and researchers are also part of the EDIHs.
The support will be for research and assistance for financing and attracting investors, supporting the use of InvestEU and other financing mechanisms and instruments; cooperation with the InvestEU Advisory Hub and EEN network.
The challenge for the Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub is how to visualize the many initiatives and services provided as a first step to promote synergies and easy access to all types of companies. Through the “investment ecosystem and networking” service, the Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub will play a brokerage role in connecting companies with suppliers. The suppliers will also be involved in the pre-investment test, skills and training activities.
The Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub will learn from other hubs by sharing best practices and by collaborating with competence centers in the event of a lack of expertise/facilities. By participating in the network of hubs, it will promote achievements developed locally in other regions of Europe, and will open new markets for companies involved in innovation.
The Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub will have a single coordinating structure to make it easier for stakeholders to network and provide a one-stop shop for digital solutions for biotechnology and healthy living industries in the South Central Region.
Digital maturity assessment as the main service
One of the main services that Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub will offer is an assessment of the stage reached by the business on its path to digitalization. Such an assessment helps both the business and the center to understand the company’s current position and identify future opportunities and needs.
Typically, this will include a study conducted by experts from the Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub. The assessment will diagnose the company’s digital needs and readiness, and will provide feedback on the level of maturity and direct the client to further tailored help and advice within the hub’s ecosystem. This will include references to recognized private sector suppliers (digital IT SMEs, consultations, etc.).
The digital hub has a major focus on technology validation and demonstration
In terms of the level of technological readiness, the Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub will focus on services with TRL 4-7, i.e. technology validated in a laboratory scenario to demonstrate a prototype system in an operational environment. The focus on TRL 8-9 may also be justified in some cases. The Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub will not address TRLs 1-3 (basic and applied research), except for cases where there is a clear and unmet need within the customer base.
Easy and cost-effective access to testing, piloting and experimentation equipment will play a central role in technology validation.
Training and skills are essential for capacity building in business. Training and skills activities will cover the whole spectrum of employment. Students will be made aware of the potential of digitalization and in particular its applicability and added value for bio-based industries. The industry will communicate its vision for the future needs and requirements of academia and the Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub will collaborate in curriculum development, such as pan-European MA courses. Junior PHD students will be able to receive an advanced level for digitally based internships and employees at all levels will have access to courses to upgrade their competencies. Managers will also have the opportunity to improve their skills and gain competencies for new business models to accelerate the digital transformation of industries in the region.
Strong physical presence
The Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub will build and maintain a strong online identity, but many of the target potential customers still do not apply digital technology in their production models. It will therefore be essential for the Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub to have a physical presence in the communities where these companies are located and to actively "survey" for businesses in the region. On the other hand, the physical infrastructure will identify and make contact for easy, open access to technological assets - demonstration pilot plants and facilities, test sites, laboratory equipment, etc.
Nurturing а digital culture
Business aspects, such as business models, training and developing digital culture are just as important part of the mission and message of the Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub as technology. Entrepreneurial thinking will need to be nurtured and digital competencies delegated to company employees.
Access to finance as a key service
The Next-Gen-BIoTech Digital Innovation Hub will help SMEs and start-ups to access regional, national and/or EU funding for the use of new technologies, in line with the regional strategy for smart specialization. SMEs will be helped and supported to explain their strategies to banks and private investors, who often do not understand the need for low-tech companies to take investment action for digital transformation, which requires financial resources. The support will also be for research and assistance for financing and attracting investors, supporting the use of InvestEU and other financing mechanisms and instruments; cooperation with the InvestEU Advisory Hub and EEN network for finding partners and investors.