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The Journey to New Key Enabling Technologies

The SEZ is working as a partner on two EU projects: NUCLEI and KETGATE

Novel kinds of key technologies in the fields of ICT, production, photonics, modern materials, microtechnology, and nanotechnology are important drivers of innovation. Exploiting these new technologies on a multinational level will help safeguard the long-term competitiveness of manufacturing in Europe. Central to this will be knowledge exchange between European research institutions, universities, and trade and industry. Two Interreg CENTRAL EUROPE projects, NUCLEI and KETGATE, which the Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum (SEZ) is also working on, will help improve access to key technologies, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises as part of open innovation processes.

The term “open innovation” is attributed to Henry Chesbrough, a professor at Berkeley University in California. He coined the term to describe the strategic “opening up” of innovation processes within organizations and making use of processes in the outside world. A distinction is made between three core constituents of open innovation processes: outsidein processes, whereby external knowledge is integrated through external parties; inside-out, where internal knowledge is taken to the outside world to be used there; and a coupled process, which combines outsidein and inside-out through alliances with complementary partners. Applying such processes improves the ability of an organization to innovate, making it possible to introduce market-ready products more quickly and secure competitive advantage.

Key enabling technologies (or KET) are drivers of innovation and fuel ideas of different ways to achieve smart and sustainable economic growth. But there are major differences within Europe in terms of companies’ ability to access KET. There are particular problems in central Europe, where there are not enough of the right services or infrastructures – factors that are important to SMEs when accessing new market-ready technologies. The aim of the Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum in supporting the NUCLEI and KETGATE projects is to help SMEs gain better access to such technology services and thus initiate open innovation processes.

The focus of the NUCLEI project lies in manufacturing. The NUCLEI project focuses on the advanced manufacturing branch. Partner come from different regions in Italy, Austria, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, and comprise research institutions, advanced manufacturing clusters as well as technology transfer centres. Their common goal is to exchange knowledge and forge networks between the different regional contact points in order to pool know-how and line up and implement open innovation projects, especially among small and mediumsized businesses. By means of a collaboration plattform with a number of at least 100 companies from the regions of Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Upper Austria, Bavaria, Lower Silesia, East Slovakia, and Prague. NUCLEI partners promote transantional innovation services. The initiative will end in December 2018. However, in spring 2018, a series of free seminars in the area of digitisation and Industry 4.0 will be offered to companies, research institutions, and other prospective partners in the field of digital solutions and Industry 4.0. The Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum is providing support with the planning of internationalization projects and required processes, including training on open innovation.

With KETGATE, an Interreg project for central Europe, the Steinbeis-Europa- Zentrum is acting as a project coordinator. Here too, the idea is to make it easier for SMEs in central Europe to access key technologies, only in this case the emphasis lies in modern materials, photonics, microand nanotechnology for transportation, the food and beverages industry, and healthcare technology. The project kicked off in July 2017 with the support of five economic development and three research institutions from Germany, Italy, Croatia, Poland, Austria, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. These regions are being used as a kind of testing ground. The experts want to gauge the effectiveness of a network of innovation support centers and technology service providers. These should be in a position to help SMEs access suitable applied research institutions even beyond the borders of their own countries.

The support centers are being set up in each of the partner locations to provide SMEs with advice in their native languages on the application options for key enabling technologies. By developing service provision models together, the companies selected to take part in the pilot projects should be enabled to use KET in specific applications, also by working with research and development institutions in other countries. Overall, the aim is to bring 90 central European SMEs on board by August 2020. Also, 15 transnational pilot alliances should be put in place involving different innovation service providers. KETGATE is building on experience gathered by the Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum while working on the KET Inventory in 2015. This involved pulling together a list of possible suppliers (research and development institutions) on behalf of the European Commission. To ensure SMEs gain access to prototypes, process developments, and test installations across all KET, they will be allowed to use a European database of KET technology centers pulled together by the SEZ.


Sarah Mortimer, Simone Jung, Dr. Petra Püchner
Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum/Steinbeis 2i GmbH (Stuttgart/Karlsruhe)