Excellence hubs are part of the European Excellence Initiative and complement the science-oriented schemes Teaming, Twinning, ERA Chairs and the European Excellence Initiative for universities by a dedicated innovation component. Excellence hubs will focus on innovation by allowing innovation ecosystems in Widening countries and beyond, to team up and create better linkages between academia, business, government and society. This will foster a real place-based innovation culture in Widening countries based on a strategic agenda aligned with regional or national smart specialisation strategies. In this context, synergies will be sought with the programme parts on European Innovation Ecosystems, EIC pathfinder and the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) as well as the initiative ‘Partnerships for Regional Innovation’ run by the JRC. The excellence hubs will be the basis in Widening countries of the pan-European Innovation Ecosystem of the new Innovation Agenda for Europe. The proposal should also demonstrate the win-win effects of the partnership established by the consortium and the benefits for employment and post crisis recovery.
This action responds to the third priority in the ERA communication on translating R&I results into the economy and will especially support R&I policies aiming at boosting the resilience and competitiveness of our economies and societies. This means ensuring European competitive leadership in the global race for technology based on excellence while improving the environment for business R&I investment, deployment of new technologies and enhancing the take up and visibility of research results in the economy and society as a whole. This action addresses regions as R&I actors since they are the place where the innovation and industrial ecosystems breathe and develop, making the links between Europe and business including SMEs and start-ups, research centres, innovation stakeholders as well as citizens. Regionally developed innovation ecosystems connected across the Europe Union will be the driver of new European strategic value chains.
Unlike Teaming projects that are centred around a single beneficiary Excellence Hubs are networks of place-based innovation ecosystems in Widening countries involving larger communities of actors in a regional context based on the quadruple helix principle (see below). Individual participants and ecosystems from other EU Member States, Associated Countries and international co-operation partners may join in duly justified cases e.g., given by a specific expertise needed or the involvement in a relevant value adding chain. The call allows to provide financial support to third parties in the form of grants, especially for the support of start-ups and SMEs. This call is also encouraging emerging innovation ecosystems from less developed regions in rural areas, the Western Balkans or countries participating in the Eastern Partnership notably Ukraine.
Projects should contribute to the following outcomes:
Excellent and sustainable place-based R&I ecosystems in Widening countries and beyond in relevant domains of cutting-edge science and innovation;
Long term joint R&I strategies underpinned by concrete action plans of European relevance;
Common investment plans for R&I including infrastructures leveraging national, regional and European funds as well as private capital in a synergetic manner;
R&I pilot projects alongside a joint strategy and in line with regional and national strategies, notably regional innovation strategies for smart specialisation (RIS3) taking into account the new Innovation Agenda for Europe;
New competencies and skills for researchers, entrepreneurs and professionals in R&I intensive domains;
Strengthened linkages between science and business;
Improved knowledge transfer and development of entrepreneurial skills;
New business opportunities especially for SMEs, university spin-offs and start-ups, especially deep tech;
Inclusion of emerging innovation ecosystems from rural areas, Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries including Ukraine by optional mentoring module;
Contribute to EU-wide access to excellence, ERA Policy Agenda action 16.
Projects should be established around a coherent and well proportioned package of the following core components:
Cross-border joint R&I strategy aligned with regional smart specialisation strategies and/or European policy priorities such as the green and digital transition;
R&I project consolidating academia business linkages and providing evidence for strategy building and investment: The research component should be developed by joint pilot research projects in a domain covered by the joint strategy that should facilitate long-term cross border and inter-sectoral collaborative links between partners notably academia and business and advancement in science and technology development with market potential. In particular R&I projects should serve the purpose to close knowledge gaps and develop evidence to underpin the development of the strategy and the investment plans. The description of R&I content should include a long-term vision beyond the state of the art of the chosen R&I domain;
Action and investment plans for the implementation of the strategy including the development of business models for innovative products, service and processes to ensure the sustainability of the action beyond the project’s life time, leveraging national, regional and European funds as well as private (venture) capital. Investment plans may include pertinent R&I infrastructures as well as demonstrators and pilots;
Conceptual design and pre-planning for pilots and demonstrators (if applicable) in line with the strategy and if applicable based on the outcome of the R&I component. However, the realisation of such pilots and demonstrators must be financed by other sources in particular programmes co-financed by the ERDF, INTERREG, IPA or similar. The approach how to access such co-funding at a later stage should be sketched out in the proposal;
Accompanying measures are complementary activities that may promote knowledge and technology transfer, visibility, mutual learning and skills development especially in research and innovation management and entrepreneurship for creation of start-ups as well as citizen engagement. Mutual secondments and staff exchange within and between ecosystems should help to build trust and long-term collaborative links;
Optional: Mentoring of an emerging place-based innovation ecosystem established in rural areas, Western Balkans or Eastern Partnership Countries including Ukraine. Legal entities from such countries and regions are encouraged to join the project as participants in order to benefit from mentoring, training, knowledge transfer even if their ecosystems are not yet developed to a full quadruple helix structure. This mentoring module does not count for the minimum condition of having at least two fully-fledged quadruple helix innovation ecosystems.
Ecosystems or individual partners from outside the Widening countries may participate in the consortium as long as they prove added value by facilitating access to excellence for the Widening countries. Proposals should convincingly demonstrate the relevance of the chosen scientific domain by its alignment with regional (in particular RIS3), national and/or European R&I strategies and policy priorities. Applicants may choose between a more regional orientation e.g., proven by a common denominator in their regional smart specialisation strategy and/or a more global orientation towards European policy priorities such as the green or digital transition.
Excellence hubs as a new action under the widening component are complementary but different to initiatives such as Digital hubs or the EIT regional innovation scheme (RIS) because of their strategic orientation, broader scope and alignment with widening eligibility criteria.
Proposals should illustrate quantitatively and qualitatively the expected potential impact of the project and its expected results in terms of new local and international research and innovation partnerships including business, institutional and/or R&I system changes (various levels), increased research and innovation intensity (i.e., new scientific publications directly linked to the project’s area, protected intellectual assets, marketable products and solutions). Proposals are encouraged to choose any additional relevant indicators that will be used for measuring the impacts achieved.
The Commission estimates that an EU contribution of between EUR 2.00 and 5.00 million would allow these outcomes to be addressed appropriately.
For proposals also including the optional mentoring scheme, the Commission estimates that an EU contribution of up to EUR 6.00 million would allow the outcome to be addressed appropriately.
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