2 new hubs to help digitalise Ireland’s SMEs

Data2Sustain in Sligo and FactoryxChange will be first of 4 in Ireland and part of a wider EU network of 200 digital innovation hubs across Europe.

Two new research hubs in Sligo and Mullingar are to be the first of four hubs that will make Up make up Ireland’s membership of the European Digital Innovation Hubs (EDIH) network.

Data2Sustain is a consortium led by the Atlantic Technological University, Sligo, which will deliver a comprehensive digital services programme to increase the capacity and speed of SME transformation, with a focus on the circular economy and sustainability areas. The online hub, with €5.4m in funding, will support regional SMEs over the next three years and be connected to a network of over 200 other EDIHs across the European Union.

“The European Digital Innovation Hub initiative is designed to improve digital adoption among our SME sector and ensure they have access to transformative technology”

FactoryxChange is a consortium led by the EI/IDA Technology Centre Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR) in Mullingar, which will accelerate factories to become ‘Factories of the Future’ integrating ecological, digital, and societal solutions into their core business models.

What EDIHs will do

EDIHs offer a portfolio of free services to help companies become more competitive through the adoption of digital technologies.

Businesses that engage these one-stop-shops for firms with digital challenges will be able to gain expertise on research and development in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Blockchain technologies. The hub will also be used by public sector bodies to help make their services more efficient. 

Users will be able to access applied digital research, expertise and solutions from the region’s universities – including Atlantic Technological University and University of Galway – through a number of channels and technology transfer centres.

Each Irish hub is set to receive annual funding of €1.9m. In total, the European Union is investing over €700m to co-fund a Europe-wide network of hubs.

It is expected the remaining two EDIHs led by Tyndall National Institute in Cork and by University College Dublin, will be formally established in the coming weeks.

“The European Digital Innovation Hub initiative is designed to improve digital adoption among our SME sector and ensure they have access to transformative technology,” said Leo Clancy, CEO of Enterprise Ireland.

“Four hubs in Ireland will be part of this initiative and I’m delighted to see two of these hubs now up and running. Data2Sustain will focus on the circular economy and sustainability and FactoryxChange will shape the factories of the future. Both these areas are important for the productivity and competitiveness of Irish enterprise and I look forward to the additional capacity and innovation that both projects can bring to these vital policy areas.”

Moving away from a two-speed digital economy

“I am delighted to establish Data2Sustain and FactoryxChange, the first of a coming network of European Digital Innovation Hubs,” said Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Simon Coveney, TD.

“With formidable partners right across the country, these new European Digital Innovation Hubs will represent valuable opportunities for SMEs to digitalise and advance in the technology areas of the future. Data2Sustain’s focus on the green and digital transformation of our economy will be an important step towards contributing to those vital areas, while FactoryxChange will focus on driving resilience and competitiveness for industry and our manufacturing sector.”

In a report on the digitalisation of SMEs in Ireland, the European Investment Bank said the country had a two-speed digital economy with the divide most obvious in the Northern and Western region. EDIHs combine the benefits of a regional presence with the opportunities available to a pan-European network that can exploit radical disruptions in advanced digital technologies.

For example, Sligo’s Data2Sustain, will drive digital transformation for businesses across a range of sectors, including Agri and Bio-based Food, Marine and Aquaculture, MedTech and Lifesciences, Manufacturing and Engineering, Construction, Tourism and Public Services. A particular focus will be applied to the circular economy and smarter and greener processes, systems, products, services and business models.

SMEs and public sector agencies can access the hub’s services through a region-wide network of contact points including Local Enterprise Offices, universities and Údarás na Gaeltachta – giving it one of the largest footprints of service provision in the country.

“The majority of Irish small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) have little knowledge of the requirements of digitalisation and are hesitant to embark on their own digital innovation projects,” said Chris O’Malley, vice-president of the Atlantic Technolgical University (Sligo Campus).

“We are enabling businesses to gain better access to data or use solutions powered by artificial intelligence. The programme also invests to ensure that our regional talent can get the right skills to actively participate in the labour market. The aim is that everyone in the region – citizens, businesses and public services – can benefit from market-ready technological solutions.”

Image at top: Pictured at ATU, Sligo for the launch of the new European Digital Innovation Hub (EDIH) called Data2Sustain are Allan Mulrooney, Interim CEO, Western Development Commission; David Minton, Director, Northern and Western Regional Assembly; Helena Deane, West Regional Enterprise Plan and Chris O’Malley, Vice President, Research, Innovation & Engagement, Atlantic Technological University. Picture: James Connolly

John Kennedy
Award-winning ThinkBusiness.ie editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.