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One-Stop-Shop Open Access to Photonics Innovation Support for a Digital Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PhotonHub Europe (One-Stop-Shop Open Access to Photonics Innovation Support for a Digital Europe)

Reporting period: 2021-01-01 to 2022-06-30

Photonics is essential to the functioning of new applications which are critical to our ability to fundamentally address the enormous global societal and environmental challenges of our times. Photonics is also a key enabling technology for the transformation of production methods in European manufacturing for increased competitiveness on the global stage and the boosting of Europe’s technological sovereignty. However, many European companies, the vast majority of which are SMEs, lack the expertise and resources to innovate with photonics. In order to overcome this challenge, PhotonHub Europe has been established to specifically accelerate the uptake and deployment of photonics technologies by European industry.
PhotonHub is a unique pan-European photonics innovation hub combining the broadest possible range of photonics expertise, facilities and technologies from Europe’s top existing networks of competence centres, as well as key technical, business, investment and training support services across the full value chain (TRL3-8), all under one roof. The sole aim of PhotonHub is to lower the innovation barriers for European industry, in particular SMEs that are first users and early adopters of photonics, by offering a one-stop-shop solution for exploiting the power of photonics in new “photonics-enabled” products and production methods.
Over the first 18 months of operation, PhotonHub has achieved many positive results, in particular:
• The establishment of the PhotonHub Europe front office providing a single-entry gateway to the wide-ranging support services on offer as a one-stop-shop solution.
• High levels of awareness-building with European industry about the innovation power of photonics with a combined total of nearly 100.000 views and visitors for PhotonHub dissemination activities (press releases, websites and social media channels such as LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube).
• Over 53.000 persons in European industry were informed about photonics innovation through 398 targeted outreach campaigns carried out by the PhotonHub partners.
• A total of 1.467 leads registered with PhotonHub through the website single entry gateway (1.000 for training support, 377 for investment support, and 90 for “test-before-invest” deep innovation support).
• 39 companies so far have been selected as qualified leads for “test-before-invest” deep innovation support on a cross-border basis and have benefitted from one-to-one technical scouting and business coaching engagements between top photonics experts of the PhotonHub partners matched specifically to the innovation needs of the companies.
• A total of 50 online introductory courses in photonics were delivered to 595 participants, and 12 “hands-on” training courses in photonics were delivered to 66 participants in the different Demo and Experience Centres operated by PhotonHub.
• 5 webinars on investment-readiness coaching for European start-ups and scale-ups engaged in photonics innovation were delivered to 240 participants. In addition, 60 companies were selected and supported with personalised one-to-one investment-readiness coaching and were matched with top photonics investors at the European Photonics Venture Forum (EPVF) event, with 16 winners from the event selected for further investor matchmaking support.
• Finally, PhotonHub provided keynote presentations at events in close collaboration with key complementary stakeholders in particular Photonics21, EEN, other pan-European Digital Innovation Hubs, the European Regions (ERRIN and AER), and with the EC DGs around the 5 EU Missions, in order to strongly embed photonics within the overall innovation ecosystem at the highest and most strategic levels.
In summary, PhotonHub is on track with so many of the important and ambitious KPI targets for the overall project. These results have been achieved in spite of the Covid restrictions which lasted for the first 15 months of the project and negatively impacted on the activity levels for industry engagement. However, the volume of activity has significantly ramped up in the latter months of the period following the lifting of Covid restrictions and PhotonHub fully expects to catch up on its final targets for all its support activities over the course of the remaining time of the project.
There are two important levels on which PhotonHub expects to deliver its impact – firstly, on the end-user industry in Europe in particular SMEs, and secondly on the wider ecosystem of local digital innovation hubs and in particular the leverage factor on regional and national funding for photonics innovation and the plan for sustainability.
In terms of the impact achieved so far on the end-user industry in Europe in particular SMEs, the negative impact of Covid restrictions on the project’s activities during this opening period means that the volume of granted innovation projects is too small at this time to draw any strong conclusions about the socio-economic impact of the PhotonHub supports delivered. Nevertheless, an analysis of the pipeline of 39 potential innovation projects generated in this period shows that PhotonHub is ramping up strongly and is on track with many of its important KPIs in particular:
o 100% of the innovation projects are cross-border with a pan-European spread with companies coming from 15 different European countries / associated countries, which is fully in line with target.
o 92% of the companies are SMEs, which is fully in line with target.
o all 7 of the targeted application domains where photonics is a key digital technology for end-user industry are represented (namely Agro-Food, Medical, Mobility, Environment, Manufacturing, Digital Infrastructure, and Security) which is fully in line with target.
o 44% of the companies can be classed as “non-photonics” companies, which is currently behind the target of 80% by the end of the project and is being addressed through the formation of dedicated application-oriented outreach groups amongst the partners.
In terms of impact on the wider innovation ecosystem and the plan for sustainability, PhotonHub has made very strong progress during this period. A comprehensive funding survey of the PhotonHub partners was carried out as a first step in establishing the current level of regional financing for photonics and provides a strong platform from which to build a co-financing model for photonics innovation support of SMEs at the European, regional and national levels with a high leveraging factor on the funding provided. Also during this period, the Danish Centre for Applied Photonics (CAF) was successfully onboarded as a new Associate partner of PhotonHub and this provides a template for developing and linking up with other new innovation hubs across Europe (e.g. local photonics hubs in Wales, Scotland and Israel) to cover most regions in Europe. Finally, the first steps have been successfully taken towards establishing the PhotonHub Europe Association as a non-profit entity operating on a self-sustainable basis from 2025 onwards. An early draft of the statutes for the Association has been created as a working document, while 730KEUR in core funding has been secured through the Flemish Resilience Plan to financially support the creation of the Association and 15M EUR in potential new project funding has been identified through the planned Horizon Europe call for a “Photonics Innovation Factory for Europe” as a new Innovation Action in 2024.