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Digital innovation hubs: a key ingredient of digital transformation

Working in collaboration with Hahn-Schickard, Steinbeis 2i is offering companies access to Smart Anything Everywhere (SAE), a strategic initiative of the European Commission. The aim is for all companies in Europe – independent of size, sector of industry, or location – to derive benefit from the full scope of digital innovation and leverage this to improve their products, processes, and services. Digital innovation hubs will play an important role in this by helping companies to become more competitive by introducing the very latest digital technologies.

Since September 2017, Hahn-Schickard and Steinbeis 2i have been taking part in an EU project called Smart4Europe, itself part of a Horizon 2020 initiative called Smart Anything Everywhere (SAE). Their role is to represent the interests of industry in Baden-Wuerttemberg. The project will help forge stronger networks between regional, national, and European initiatives. The teams are using a technology radar system to identify emerging technology, and they are sharing trade show booths to pave the way for new business relationships. “The success of the SAE initiative is based on a three-pronged approach: access to modern digital technologies, contacts with comprehensive sources of expertise across Europe, and funding for SMEs, for example in the form of cascaded funding. But the initiative is much more than a pot of funding. It’s a lively community that regularly shares ideas and presents the results of joint projects at conferences and trade shows. That’s something we all benefit from,” emphasizes Dr. Stephan Karmann, Business Development Expert at Hahn-Schickard and a member of the Smart4Europe coordination team.

The consortium consists of seven institutions from Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Hungary. Steinbeis 2i is responsible for spearheading “outreach and sustainability” activities and is working with other project partners on a communication strategy to involve national and regional initiatives and investors. They also want to reach out to other key stakeholders.


Digital innovation hubs (DIHs) are a fundamental part of the European Commission’s digital technology strategy. As regional entities, they allow firms to gain access to digital technologies and skills, to try out innovative concepts, to train and educate personnel, to spot marketing opportunities and funding options, and to exchange views within networks. Steinbeis 2i and Hahn-Schickard are also using these hubs to bring industry players together across Europe and Baden-Wuerttemberg, as was the case at the Digital Innovation Hubs event in Stuttgart on May 14, 2019. The event was attended by more than 70 representatives of DIHs. It provided an opportunity to forge networks between initiatives in Baden-Wuerttemberg and the neighboring countries of France, Switzerland, and Austria, to compare concepts, to talk about different experiences, and to prepare future shared activities. The patron of the event, Dr. Max. Lemke of the European Commission (DG CNECT), introduced the pan-European context of DIHs and their development potential from the point of view of the Commission. Talking on behalf of the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry for Economic Affairs, Dr. Peter Mendler emphasized that a common and well-coordinated network allows hubs to deliver sustainable benefit to the economy on a regional, national, and European level.

The organizer’s critical assessment – from an SME perspective – is that regional and national DIH funding is primarily aimed at bolstering industry and different sectors on a local level, especially if it helps small and medium-sized business enterprises with digital transformation. For example, the seed financing provided to ten DIHs through the state program in Baden-Wuerttemberg only runs for the first three years, and the general feeling among the participants at the event was that as a timeframe, this is much too short. They also felt that it will be extremely difficult – especially in such a short time – to implement a complex digital transformation strategy for businesses in parallel to setting up sustainable structures with a self-supporting financing concept for the DIHs.

On the EU level, aside from the Smart Anything Everywhere digitalization initiative, support is also available through ICT – Innovations for Manufacturing SMEs (I4MS) initiative.


The project is being funded through the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement 761448. For more information on the project, go to the website: https://smartanything­everywhere.eu 


Dr. Meike Reimann (author)
Senior Project Manager for ICT, smart production and materials, factories of the future
Steinbeis 2i GmbH (Stuttgart)