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Innovation and Commercialisation in the NMP thematic area

Final Report Summary - INCOMERA (Innovation and Commercialisation in the NMP thematic area)

Executive Summary:
The transformation of the European industry into a knowledge-intensive one is essential in order to produce high added value products, which in turn is crucial to create new industries, and meet customer requirements as well as growth, environmental, health and other societal expectations.
The core objective of the ’Nanosciences, Nanotechnologies, Materials and new Production Technologies (NMP)’, one of the ten (10) thematic areas of FP7 programme, is to improve the competitiveness of the European industry and generate the knowledge needed to transform it from a resource-intensive to a knowledge-intensive industry.
The "Innovation and Commercialisation in the NMP thematic area - INCOMERA" project, a coordination and support action (CSA), was especially devoted to NMP technologies (Nanosciences, Nanotechnologies, Materials and new Production Technologies). INCOMERA addressed the problem of "valley of death", bringing together twenty one (21) different regional or national funding agencies from several countries (namely Belgium, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain) that collaborated for the support of successfully ended, research projects with the maximum possible market diversification, transition or/and modernization and with a high potential to become a commercial success. Through a set of targeted activities, INCOMERA fostered cross-sectoral and cross-regional cooperation, facilitated the transfer of knowledge on policy mixtures and funding tools for supporting innovation and funded nine high quality transnational projects.
Project Context and Objectives:
With a view towards Europe 2020, the European Commission has adopted a comprehensive innovation strategy to enhance Europe's capacity to deliver smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, the Smart Specialization Strategy. The objective of smart specialization is to determine the role and the position of each region in Europe in the context of global competiveness. By itself, this sounds like a challenging task, but it is of crucial importance, especially for less advanced regions. According to this concept, each region shall set its own innovation priorities and streamline public funds in those technological fields, where certain advantages and thus exploitation prospects exist. The underlying rationale behind this is to concentrate knowledge resources in a limited number of priorities by linking them to the region's funding opportunities, innovation ecosystem and entrepreneurial environment.
Moreover, smart specialisation strategies shall be combined with the broad EU objectives for research and innovation. Among them "Key Enabling Technologies» and especially the NMP thematic area has been identified as a clear priority for investments. This is because of the fact that NMP technologies are knowledge intensive associated with high research and development (R&D) intensity, capital investments and a high macro-economic impact especially in the creation of highly-skilled jobs, new market opportunities, and in terms of contribution to the EU maintaining its competiveness and leadership in this huge market.
Innovation is also considered a source of growth and employment and as such the European Union provides several financial and services support. Moreover it fosters interaction and cooperation among innovation players, and aims to improve innovation support via regional policy programmes. Although plenty of information is available on the different EU funding sources, potential beneficiaries are often still confused, in particular when it comes to deciding which source of funding is most appropriate for a given activity. Obtaining and securing the right source of funding can present a major challenge. Many growth businesses are started by entrepreneurs, often with little experience of how to raise funds to support this growth.
INCOMERA project implemented a set of activities in order to address the abovementioned challenges. In specific its main objectives were to:
- To perform a cross-regional analysis of competencies as well as of "needs, wants and expectations" of every regional ecosystem so that to support projects with beneficiaries of complementary skills and expertise, involving both downstream and upstream partners across the value chain;
- To detect and financially support through a series of transnational calls NMP research results likely to provide solutions for innovative products, processes or services;
- To perform a systematic exchange of information and thorough analysis of existing regional/national/european policies and measures for supporting innovation related to the NMP thematic, in order to identify best practices in innovation support services and recommend ways for their transfer/adoption to other regions;
- To identify and analyse success stories of past NMP projects that managed to overcome the valley of death;
- To provide operational guidance for supporting efficiently the successive steps between research and innovation, paying particular attention to the use of European Regional Development Funds (ERDF), in the context of Smart Specialization Strategies.
Project Results:
Overall, the project was composed of four (4) Work Packages and a fifth horizontal one dealing with project management and dissemination activities, all broken down into detailed tasks. Each WP addressed and contributed to the realisation of the project objectives. The main achievements follow.
- The regional/national innovation agendas of the participating countries were analyzed and compared in terms of the existence of clusters, technology platforms, networks of excellence and any kind of stakeholder that contributes to the strength and business growth of their region/country (WP1);
- The scale, the scope and the overall business ecosystem for the priorities setup in their own specialization strategies where relevant, were cross-evaluated (WP1);
- Suitable funding programmes and tools both within and outside (i.e. UK, Scandinavian countries,) the coverage of the consortium that may support the exploitation of research outcomes were identified and analysed resulting in the delivery of a report for the support of potential applicants to find their way to relevant information on funding opportunities and identify the most suitable choices among the relevant programmes and other measures (WP1). Given the very wide range of activities that can be funded, this report cannot itself answer every question. However, it managed to direct the reader to the relevant source of information and most effective funding mechanism (WP1).
- Three transnational Calls for proposals were published in 2015, 2016 & 2017 receiving a total number of twenty-eight (28) proposal submissions. Following a transparent evaluation procedure, nine (09) high quality trans-national projects were recommended for funding. Funding has been offered to innovative industrial R&D&I projects in the following NMP fields: Nanosciences & Nanotechnologies (28%), Materials (28%), New production (17%) and, Integration of technologies (28%). Twenty-two (22) SMEs, five (5) Universities and ten (10) research organizations from six (6) European Countries/Regions were involved in the granted projects and raised a total budget of 5,85 million € (WP3).
- The INCOMERA innovation platform was established (WP2) providing a central meeting point for a virtual community consisting of researchers, several regional authorities, funding agencies, stakeholders responsible for strategic research decisions, implementation of innovation services and others. The Platform architecture included a private site and a public site both accessible via World Wide Web contributing to the improvement of the interactive work between partners, offering common on-line services dedicated to the SMEs involved in NMP projects and facilitating the launch of joint calls. Its functionalities consisted of: (1) partner identification/linking services for creating cross-border consortia (“Marketplace”), (2) a dynamic monitoring dashboard/control tool for tracking needs of the project and the stakeholder community, (3) social networking elements to build an engaged online community including the Strategic Advisory Board, Business Angels and EC services and (4) database access for funding, best practice, and information.
- A common “playing field” for cooperation and coordination based on exploitation of RDI results from on-going and future NMP projects was defined and a sustainability strategy was designed. (WP2)
- The INCOMERA monitoring and evaluation process (WP4) to be used by the Funding agencies (FAs) in order to understand how well their funded projects were performing in relation to their strategic goals and objectives in innovation was structured: a rigorous methodology was set to assess the projects’ implementation (inputs and outputs in relation with planned activities) and the projects’ achievement (results and impacts in relation to the project objectives) on an ongoing basis, that was sufficiently frequent and consistent to take rapid corrective measures, but not too complicated and time-consuming. Based on this process, the FAs could have facilitated the re-orientation of projects during their development, or their abandonment at an early stage, if required.
Potential Impact:
The INCOMERA project addressed the overall objective of the FP7 NMP work programme 2013 which aimed at generating knowledge to ensure the transformation of the NMP sector from a resource-intensive to a knowledge-intensive industry sector through supporting the development of applications at the crossroads of different technologies and disciplines.
In terms of impact, INCOMERA has namely contributed to optimize investments made by the partners over the last years in NMP research, such as the NMP ERA-NETs and to fund new projects aimed at the exploitation of research results through the 3 calls for proposals that have been launched in WP3.
Sharing and disseminating good practices in supporting downstream research activities among regional and national research funding agencies laid at the core of this project. This review of good practices contributed to support policy development and learning for Horizon 2020 and the future regional programming (2014-2020) which aim at complementing one another in the forthcoming years.
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