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European Research and Innovation Centre of Excellence in ChiNA

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ERICENA (European Research and Innovation Centre of Excellence in ChiNA)

Reporting period: 2018-07-01 to 2019-12-31

Europe has been in the forefront of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in recent years. The challenge today is to keep the innovation pace going, and for that the EU sees cooperation as the key factor that will support this progress and strengthen the position of world leader in STI.

The aim of the European Research and Innovation Centre of Excellence in ChiNA (ERICENA) is to set up a Centre that connects and supports European STI organisations (including entrepreneurs and the private sector) with the Chinese market, providing a careful selection of STI related services to private and public clients in China, and simultaneously aims to be financially self-sustainable by the end of the project duration. The Centre will provide the necessary support to private or public organisations of all the EU Member States, especially the less developed ones, to engage in research and innovation activities with China.

The Centre itself aims (i) to promote European Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) interests in China by connecting and supporting European researchers and entrepreneurs and (ii) to reinforce the leadership of European countries in STI in China by providing support-based services (e.g: network, advice, training…) and technology-related services to European researchers and entrepreneurs in China.

ERICENA will operate on a network basis, having headquarters in Beijing and Brussels, supported by multiple regional connections across China, particularly by building upon existing European STI structures and initiatives to avoid unnecessary duplications in the service provision.

To achieve the specific objectives, the consortium, led by SPI, brings together 12 organisations from Europe and China, with know-how and experience in the Chinese market and, from different member states and with influence over mainland China. Additionally the consortium is composed of different types of organisations such as companies, universities, funding agencies, research centres, business associations and innovation agencies.
The initial setup stage encompassed activities to set the conditions for the centre to operate on optimal terms. It included a study of the overall framework conditions of the STI landscape in China, in order to identify and understand the supply and demand needs, as well as to identify key competitors. It also included the definition of the centre’s business plan, including its strategic goals, business fields to act and the development of the service portfolio that could best address the needs of European STI stakeholders in the Chinese market. This stage also included the setup of the centre headquarters in Beijing, hosted by the EU SME Centre, of the liaison office in Brussels, hosted by EBN, as well as the first Regional Hub in Chengdu, hosted by EUPIC.

The pilot stage phase included the provision of services on an experimental basis, to test their acceptance and potential to the market. The service portfolio comprised 7 service categories: RDI Consultancy and Coaching; STI RDI Intelligence; Innovation Support Certification; Soft Landing and Co-working; Fostering Open Innovation through Training; Cooperation Enabling Events; and RDI Briefings. From day 1 of the pilot stage, services were charged to the final customer, in order to assess the availability of clients to pay for service delivery.

The full operation stage encompassed a full-scale deployment of the service portfolio and the start of a smooth and gradual transition from a project towards a legally and financially independent centre. Partners triggered the process of setting up a legal entity in China. After an in-depth analysis of the existing options, it was decided to create a Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise (WFOE) with 3 shareholders (SPI, FORTH and EUrelations, all members of the consortium). The setup of the WFOE is expected to be finalized by the end of 2020.
Across both pilot and full operation stages ERICENA project had an increasingly stronger commitment to strengthen its network and community. Different stakeholder engagement categories were defined – members, soft landing zones (SLZ) and external service providers (ESP) – their roles, benefits and responsibilities were clearly stablished and a recruitment process was implemented. A first call to select Soft Landing Zones was deployed in 2018 and, based on the lessons learnt, a continuous call to recruit SLZ, ESP and members was open in 2019, with 2 cut off dates in may/2019 and November/2019.

In parallel, ERICENA project had continuously promoted and marketed the centre towards potential customers, with the ultimate goal of consolidating the centre’s brand, visibility and reputation, while trying to increase interest and demand for ENRICH in China services. In this context, for example, two roadshows to promote the centre’s service portfolio were organized in 2019 and joint initiatives were organized with EU Member States initiatives placed in China, exploring possible synergies with them. The Nordic Edge China and Nordic Sustainable City Development Forum are two examples of such type of cooperation.
Altogether, ENRICH in China has delivered almost 60 different services, to a comprehensive range of customers – from public innovation agencies, such as MITA, from Lithuania, to SMEs, such as Arena Innovation, from Germany – and currently has a network of 6 SLZ, 5 ESP and 12 members. In total, so far, ENRICH in China has been able to generate more than 75.000 euros in income from different revenue streams.
For the remaining months of the project, the goal is to continue to advance towards a full legally and financially sustainable and independent centre. Up to the second quarter of 2020 the WFOE is expected to be created and the business development manager working in China to be recruited.

The project also intends to take advantage of the lessons learnt during the previous 3 years of project, particularly taking stock of the success and failures of the business strategy and of the service implementation. Such experiences will be duly incorporated into the service portfolio – which is currently being narrowed down and focused, privileging face-to-face interactions such as soft-landing and missions. Market intelligence-based activities will be gathered into a single service category and will remain free of charge, trying to work as “teasers” to attract clients for paid services.

In addition to that the centre will focus also in providing services that allow for a more suitable and longstanding presence of European companies and innovation actors in the Chinese market, namely through soft-landing and by creating further added value to the members of the community.

Until the end of the project, ENRICH in China intends to support more companies in doing business and innovation cooperation with China, channelling them to the centre’s SLZ and encouraging them to resource to the centre’s ESP network. It also intends to enhance the synergies and cooperation with EU member states, by providing a jointly agreed set of activities. Finally, ENRICH in China intends to start operating in 2021 as a fully independent centre, with own staff allocated and with set of clients and members that enables the centre to foresee its financial sustainability in the medium term.