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Promoting Innovation Ecosystems

Steinbeis experts support SMEs from Baden-Wuerttemberg in implementing the EU’s Digital and Innovation Strategy

The integration of regional companies into European innovation systems and thus the utilisation of the expertise available in Europe is an important component of innovation promotion in Baden-Wuerttemberg against the backdrop of unprecedented global challenges and rapid digital change. For over 33 years, Steinbeis Europa Zentrum has been successfully supporting the Baden-Wuerttemberg economy in the strategic promotion of innovation and the implementation of digitalisation and innovation processes. The close and continuous contact with the European Commission and European initiatives, as well as with companies and research institutions in the Baden-Württemberg, facilitates a fruitful exchange between politics and the business sector.

The consequences of the Russian war against Ukraine as well as the effects of climate change, environmental degradation, health crises, demographic change and growing inequalities pose major challenges to politics and society. In order to overcome these and future challenges, the European Commission regularly develops multi-annual strategies, that are implemented e.g. by way of funding programmes. In addition, the “NextGenerationEU Recovery Plan” was launched in 2020, providing over two trillion euros to support the green, digital, and resilient transformation of the European economy and society.  The Steinbeis Europa Zentrum promotes the implementation of these strategies by integrating Baden-Wuerttemberg stakeholders into the European innovation systems and developing and utilising innovative solutions from EU research and innovation projects. Our stated goal is to sustainably enhance the resilience, competitiveness, and innovation capacity of the Baden-Wuerttemberg economy.

Currently, the “Horizon Europe” funding programme (HEU, 2021-2027) is the European Commission’s central instrument for implementing the Strategic Plan 2020-2024. With a budget of around 91 billion euros, it is also by far the largest EU research and innovation framework programme ever. As the successor to the successful “Horizon 2020” funding programme (2014-2020), “Horizon Europe” strengthens the Union’s scientific and technological foundations as well as their practical application the economy and society. It also contributes to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The focus of funding is on supporting ecological, economic and social change in Europe and on implementing the Union’s strategic priorities, such as the “European Green Deal”, which aims to support the ecological transformation of the European economy and society, or “Europe Fit for the Digital Age”, which aims to accelerate the digital transformation.

Digitalisation of the European economy

Over the last few years, the EU has made particular efforts to promote broad-based digitalisation to provide targeted support for the digital transformation of the economy and society. The “Europe 2020” strategy placed the topic at the top of the European agenda from 2010-2020. In particular, the resulting “Digital Agenda for Europe” that emerged from it marked an important step towards a “digital single market” from which the entire European economy should benefit. The “Digitising European Industry” (DEI) initiative is of particular significance in this context. It focuses on developing innovative products, improving processes, and adapting business models.

Support, yes. But proper support!

By promoting collaborations between external partners, such as companies and research institutions, significant innovation potential can be unlocked. This so-called “open innovation” is considered indispensable as a way of remaining innovative and competitive. This applies to both small and large companies. However, it is still the case that many companies primarily cooperate with organisations in their immediate vicinity, and that these collaborations are rarely initiated in a targeted manner, but often arise by chance. The Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) were created to professionalise this regional cooperation on the one hand and to make targeted use of required expertise from other European regions on the other. The network of European Digital Innovation Hubs (EDIHs) currently consists of 151 EDIHs, co-financed by the EU with 7.5 billion euros from the DEI initiative.

The EDIHs serve as regional contact points, as “one-stop shops”, connecting companies directly with the right partners to support them with their digitalisation challenges. The services for start-ups, SMEs and medium-sized companies are mostly publicly funded and therefore typically free of charge for companies.

Services offered by the European Digital Innovation Hubs (EDIHs) include:

  • “Test before invest” – Experimentation spaces and experimental workshops
  • “Skills and training” – Support and trainings aimed at skills development
  • “Support to find investments” – Access to investments and advice on public funding programmes
  • “Innovation ecosystem and networking” – Creation of a powerful regional and European innovation ecosystem through different types of networking activities

Steinbeis Europa Zentrum plays a key role in the European cooperation among EDIHs. Together with three other partners from Spain, Luxembourg and Belgium, it operates as the “Digital Transformation Accelerator” (DTA) on behalf of the European Commission. This provides direct and fast access to all relevant information published at EU level. Steinbeis Europa Zentrum ensures the development of strategic partnerships and exchange between all European EDIHs in close cooperation with other international and European networks such as the Enterprise Europe Network, Startup Europe and the European Cluster Cooperation Platform.

A particular focus of all EDIHs is on the use of artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and high-performance computing. In addition to companies, public organisations can also take advantage of the EDIHs’ digitalisation services, for example to digitalise administrative processes.

In Baden-Wuerttemberg, two EDIHs have been established: EDIH Südwest, coordinated by the Hahn-Schickard-Gesellschaft in Villingen-Schwenningen, and EDIH Artificial Intelligence & Cybersecurity (EDIH-AICS), coordinated by the Research Centre for Information Technology (FZI) in Karlsruhe. The application fields of EDIH-AICS include production, energy, mobility, trade and services. Steinbeis Europa Zentrum is one of the ten strong partners of the EDIH-AICS. Its services include consultations, workshops and training courses, feasibility studies, access to laboratories and test environments, development projects for functional prototypes and support in identifying funding opportunities or in monitoring markets and trends.

Funding for application experiments

For companies and startups interested in conducting their own research or development projects, Steinbeis Europa Zentrum offers funding opportunities as part of various EU projects. Through the EU co-funded project AI REGIO, which promoted AI applications in the manufacturing industry, 18 development projects, so-called “application experiments”, were funded with up to 100,000 euros. Robotextile GmbH from Baden-Wuerttemberg successfully participated in the call and was awarded 100,000 euros for its application project “AI for sensitive gripping of non-rigid parts and textiles”. It is working together with Fraunhofer IPA and Schmalz, the market leader in vacuum automation and ergonomic handling systems, to develop sensor technology that allows reliable separation and handling of textile cuttings. Bytefabrik.AI GmbH was the second company from Baden-Wuerttemberg to successfully apply for the call and was awarded 60,000 euros for its “Data Stories for Human-Centric Manufacturing AI” application project. The project developed an innovative approach that prepares AI-supported data analyses in such a way that even non-experts can understand and use them easily. The aim of the experiment was the rapid development of micro-AI applications focussing on predictive analytics applications or classification tasks based on raw and continuous sensor data.

Based on AI REGIO, the AI REDGIO 5.0 project, launched in January 2023, also targets SMEs from the manufacturing industry and supports them in introducing artificial intelligence into their processes. By linking the European Digital Innovation Hubs with test centres for artificial intelligence and data spaces that are currently being set up, AI REDGIO 5.0 initiates cross-border cooperation between SMEs. Steinbeis Europa Zentrum as project partner advises SMEs on the open calls, the first one published in December 2023. This and subsequent calls are a great opportunity for SMEs to participate in the digital transformation process of Industry 5.0 and receive complementary funding for the full realisation of their experiments. With a total budget of 1.2 million euros for the two open calls, the maximum amount per applicant is 60,000 euros. The first call will be open for four months and will support 10 experiments from SMEs, which are to be completed within six months.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or if you wish to avail of services in the areas of digitalisation, AI, or IT security. We provide guidance and connect you with reliable partners in Baden-Wuerttemberg or across Europe.

The ten partners of the European Digital Innovation Hub Artificial Intelligence & Cybersecurity (EDIH-AICS):

  • FZI Research Centre for Information Technology (Coordinator)
  • Steinbeis Europe Zentrum/Steinbeis 2i GmbH
  • Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
  • Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation
  • Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg
  • Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences
  • CyberForum e. V.
  • DIZ | Digital Innovation Centre GmbH
  • Karlsruhe Technology Region GmbH
  • CAS Software AG
  • around 200 associated partners


Sabine Hafner-Zimmermann (author)
Senior Project Manager
Steinbeis Europa Zentrum
Steinbeis 2i GmbH (Stuttgart)

Steve Bageritz (author)
Senior Project Manager
Steinbeis Europa Zentrum
Steinbeis 2i GmbH (Stuttgart)