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European cluster-led accelerator for digitisation of the circular economy across key emerging sectors

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - DigiCirc (European cluster-led accelerator for digitisation of the circular economy across key emerging sectors)

Periodo di rendicontazione: 2021-09-01 al 2023-03-31

Europe’s transition towards a circular and climate-neutral economy represents an environmental, economic and social necessity while also presenting opportunities for businesses and citizens. This transition will reduce pressure on natural resources, foster sustainable growth, create jobs and help to achieve the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality target and halt biodiversity loss.

The new circular economy action plan, adopted by the European Commission in March 2020, identifies innovation and digitalization as key drivers of change, highlighting the need to leverage on digital technologies to enable innovative circular products/services, processes and business models.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a key role in this transition due to their potential for radical and disruptive innovations, but they require support to realize their potential, expand their business, increase their impact, and gain market share.

In this context, the H2020 INNOSUP-01 project, DigiCirc, played a key role in supporting European SMEs in the development of their digital innovations in three domains: Circular Cities, Blue Economy and Bioeconomy. The project achieved its objectives through the creation of a Pan-European and cross-border network of Circular Economy’s actors, the acceleration of digital and innovative solutions that created new circular value chains, while simultaneously facilitating SMEs' large-scale demonstration through the creation of four digital tools.

Therefore, DigiCirc will create a long-lasting impact for a more sustainable and greener economy through its key exploitable results, including supported innovations, gained knowledge, digital tools, stakeholders’ network.
At the start of the project, DigiCirc delivered a comprehensive overview of the digitalisation for circular innovation and the approach to promote it. This served as a foundation for a strategic plan to engage various actors (mostly clusters, SMEs, and investors) into a Pan-European network that have the common aim of boosting the development of circular value-chains across European industrial sectors. Over 50 actors actively participated in key project activities, such as defining challenges for the open calls, promoting them, requirements for the digital tools and data collection.

Between November 2020 and October 2021, significant efforts were dedicated to the management of the three open calls, one per domain, which include the preparation of documentation, promotion, evaluation and selection of beneficiaries. Out of a total of 139 applications received, a total of 48 solutions, led by 2 or more SMEs, were selected and integrated one of the three acceleration programmes, conducted between April 2021 and February 2023.

Each programme was composed of 3 phases. Phases 1 and 2 consisted of an intensive 12-week training with access to 17 online courses, 7 workshops, coaching (1 per week) and mentoring (1 every 2 weeks) sessions. These activities aimed to support the beneficiaries in structuring and enforcing their value proposition and their business models, in order to develop a concrete and solid go-to-market strategy, as well as to launch a pilot on the market, increasing the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of their solution.

Following a pitch competition, 17 consortia were selected to enter the third phase of 6 months. Each of them was granted 100k€ each to improve their prototype, market campaign and marketing strategy. In addition, they received support in matchmaking with potential investors (420 were reached out to explore investment opportunities) and in seeking further funding from both private & public sources.

In parallel, 4 digital tools have been created and continuously improved to assist SMEs in the design, demonstration, and commercialization of their solutions: a Matchmaking platform; a Circular Economy Data Hub; an Industrial Symbiosis platform; an InfoPortal. Each of these tools have proven to be a valuable resource, providing support and guidance to a diverse group of users.

Regarding the dissemination and communication aspects, a great focus was paid to social media channels which translated into a satisfactory number of followers both for the LinkedIn (#digicirc) (942 followers) and the Twitter (@circ_digi) (470 followers) accounts. The dissemination activities were directed to promote the open calls, DigiCirc events, the team, the digital tools, the InfoPortal posts and the MOOCs. Further effort was also carried on to promote the funded consortia ensuring that their ideas and innovations reached a wide audience of stakeholders.
Over the project’s last months, exploitable results of the project and their respective sustainability strategies to ensure DigiCirc impact beyond its project duration were investigated and summary of results published as part of the D6.5.
DigiCirc has created long lasting impact that is based on its key exploitable results for the future.

The project greatest legacy is the direct impact that the 48 SME-led funded innovations are creating in their respective domains. As proven by the SMEs success stories after the end of the DigiCirc acceleration process, the funded solutions are and will disrupt the existing value-chains transforming them into circular based, digitalized, resource efficient markets. Private and public investors are recognizing the value of such innovations and are contributing to their further growth.

DigiCirc project has placed valuable effort into the creation of a Pan-European Innovation Network that counts on more of 550 actors and has been often consulted throughout the project implementation. The connection and partnerships created within this network is a fertile ground for future collaborations in EU funded projects but also in regional initiatives.

The knowledge gathered in the acceleration activities, likewise in the open calls and evaluation processes is of key value for future similar initiatives, and each project partner will leverage the collected knowledge in future activities that will further increase the impact of DigiCirc project in the development of a greener economy.

Finally, DigiCirc has co-developed 4 digital tools that supported the digitalization of the funded innovations and that carry a significant potential in providing access to key data for circular value-chains. The technical flexibility of the tools and their open access approach will enable their long-term exploitation in various sectors, beyond DigiCirc ones.
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