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European Network of Research Infrastructures & IndusTry for Collaboration

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ENRIITC (European Network of Research Infrastructures & IndusTry for Collaboration)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2021-06-30

Research infrastructures (RIs) operate in complex innovation ecosystems where industry plays an increasingly important role. For industry, these collaborations enable access to extended networks, breakthrough innovative approaches, knowledge sharing, new talents to hire, and specialised, world-leading resources. For RIs, these bring new investments, therefore financial sustainability, and awareness of industry trends, as well as societal needs. Improving RI-industry cooperation is key to boosting the innovation ecosystem in Europe, for creating jobs, and addressing societal needs while getting a better Return on Investment on the high cost/high risk of R&D in fundamental sciences. Pan-EU initiatives, such as the Innovation Union or the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures, revolutionise the way public and private sectors work together, and help to create structural frameworks which are needed to foster such collaborations.
While initiatives of this type play a crucial role in enabling industry to become a full partner of RIs, they do not fully utilise or engage Industrial Liaison and Contact Officers (ILOs/ICOs) who could have central roles in boosting the RI-industry partnerships. ILOs typically motivate the respective national industry to participate in tenders issued by RIs, identify business opportunities at RIs, promote them to national industry, and support national industry in the development of bids if necessary. ILOs constantly face challenges in their roles. ICOs are defined as RI staff in charge of developing business relations with all potential industrial suppliers of innovative components or services, as well as encouraging the economical use of their facility by private players. ICOs are responsible for the engagement of industrial users.
To address the gap and unleash the full potential of ILOs/ICOs, ENRIITC will build a permanent pan-European network of ILOs and ICOs. This will be done in a community-driven, cross-functional, cross-sectoral, multiplier-based way which will be inclusive and enable all interested parties to actively participate. ENRIITC will: 1) Establish a sustainable European network of ILOs and ICOs that enables mutual learning; 2) Map collaboration potential between RIs and industry, 3) Develop and refine strategies and best practices to foster these collaborations, and 4) Raise awareness among industries for collaboration opportunities at RIs, and demonstrate its impact.
This first 18 months has seen a number of important developments and achievements despite the COVID-19 pandemic. WP2 generated a first-time large-scale survey on the role of ILOs and ICOs in industry-RI relations and investigated potential areas of development for those relations. It has also, for the first time, generated some insight into the ILOs and ICOs profession, revealing potential grounds for synergistic actions between these bodies for the benefit of industrial and societal innovation. Through this work, it has further emerged that the role of the ICO is hardly covered by one single person in an RI but is in fact the result of the collaborative work of various RI offices and officers, including the tech transfer office, business development units, and procurement office. A new definition of an ICO may emerge as a result of the ground-truthing work carried out with implications for policy or managerial actions which may be devoted to supporting a competitive EU innovation ecosystem through the stimulus of the EU RIs.
The importance of the work done in WP2 has been felt across the project and will continue throughout its duration, as it has laid the very basis to fully grasp relevant definitions, modus operandi, gaps, and opportunities which will underpin the implementation of our future work within the project and possibly beyond it.
The first networking meeting, in the Autumn of 2020, was another important moment as it gathered the ENRIITC community for the first time and officially launched the network. During this entire period, the network has continued growing from 81 individuals in January 2020 to 370 at the end of June 2021. Members took active roles in all the project activities: participation in the survey, focus groups, webinars, the first networking meeting, #ENRIITCyourCoffee mini-series, and so on. There has been constant high engagement from RIs and ILOs from all over Europe, as well as from all stakeholders, demonstrating a clear need for such a platform, and to do something together. Over this period, ENRIITC has started to identify some routes around the innovation topic as a common ground for the community. This should clearly be further activated.
The work done within WP3, especially through the focus groups, has provided great support for discussing strategic decisions and future recommendations. The successful first series of webinars in May and June 2021 has started to put into practice recommendations that have come from the work done in WP2 and WP3, and confirms the need for exchange and sharing among the entire community.
The second period of the project will build on the foundations of those developments and will further explore the opportunities and routes to strengthen the collaboration between RIs and industry.
NEW, LOW THRESHOLD WAYS OF NETWORKING: The pandemic has forced the project into new ways of online interaction which has substantially lowered the cost and time-engagement thresholds for networking. Although ENRIITC is not alone in this development, the project does link together a uniquely wide range of actors across the member states and ESFRI domains. The new modes of interaction are likely to remain established as low cost alternatives to large scale face-to-face brokerage meetings. This should be exploited as a means to attract and interact with entities which would otherwise not be in a position to engage widely in F2F meetings with the attendant cost and time burdens, and without sufficient focus on their specific needs. SMEs feature clearly in this category and the ENRIITC project can be expected to open up smoother and more effective networking solutions for entities new to the field, with the potential for a step change in economic benefits.
RAMPING UP ENGAGEMENT WITH INDUSTRY THROUGH THE MULTIPLIER EFFECT: Although it is too soon to predict the long-term impact of the project on outreach to industry, there have already been some pointers to progress. For example, the multiplier-based approach utilising social media is starting to attract, albeit still on a small scale, parties such as small companies which might not have been expected to join. The personal networks which participants bring to the table from previous assignments appear to be working. New parties come quickly into contact with both ICOs and ILOs and everyone benefits from expanded horizons. In a similar vein, the activities such as #ENRIITCyourCoffee and the training webinars sometimes attract parties new to the scene. In one case, a start-up company needing help with deal-making, IPR, and negotiation signed up for a session, to access information which would be shared among RIs and public research institutes. This points to the potential for providing low-threshold help with innovation to a wider range of entities. One of the impacts may therefore be maintenance, post-ENRIITC, of a sustainable innovation help desk facility available to both public and private partners in the European landscape.