• Published on 27 Jun 2017
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ECSEL Joint Undertaking shaping Digital Innovation in Europe

Success breeds success: ECSEL Joint Undertaking shaping Digital Innovation in Europe

On 14 June 2017 ARTEMIS-IA travelled to St. Julians, Malta to visit the ECSEL Symposium. The European Union’s €5bn flagship Research and Innovation public-private partnership for Electronics, the ECSEL Joint Undertaking, organised this event under the auspices of the 2017 Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union and aimed at delivering on its objective of bridging the gap between research and exploitation.

Malta is one of the longest continuously-inhabited locations in Europe; colonised by the Phoenicians around 1000 BC and a favoured location for traders, invaders and holidaymakers ever since. Although at first glance it appears to be from a different age, the EU’s smallest member state offers excellent modern IT infrastructure and a digitally literate population. In other words, the ideal location for a new set of invaders, the benign but no less dynamic delegates attending the ECSEL JU symposium on “Shaping Digital Innovation” (nice link indeed but if we use that once we cannot use it again).

Attendees had come to discover not only what the ECSEL-JU has achieved to date, but also why the work it is doing is so important. The world is increasingly a connected and ‘smart’ environment; not simply the internet as we know it, but the ‘Internet of Things’ where billions of devices are connected. This connectivity is set to drive the modern economy; if Europe is to play a part in this revolution and determine its own role, it needs to be properly equipped to compete. This means ensuring Europe can make the most of the innovation happening within its borders, ensuring its innovative talent and technological know-how does not slip through the gaps, or worse still, move to other regions.

Bert De Colvenaer, Executive Director of ECSEL-JU, said “Too often, our rich research capabilities have not benefited Europe to the extent they should. Fragmentation provided an obstacle between concept and market. The ECSEL-JU was conceived to ensure that Europe retains and maximises this capacity, helping Europe compete in the technology systems market. By all measures, it has been successful.” He continued, “More than this, it is now helping to orient this capacity to address core societal needs and provide solutions to pressing problems, and we’re now ready to play a role in the next phase of development.”

ECSEL is creating clusters of excellence where SMEs and large enterprises can engage and cooperate. Although the benefits seem obvious, such an ecosystem was unlikely to form spontaneously; SMEs don’t have the resources, while large companies need encouragement to look outside their core expertise. ECSEL has encouraged these clusters to form, leading to something greater than the simple sum of the individual parts. In turn, this attracts external investment that pulls in more companies – a virtuous circle. It’s a success story that Europe can take pride in.

Indeed, arguably, the only place where ECSEL is not excelling is in selling. It seems unduly modest about what it has achieved; not simply the individual projects, but also the ecosystem that it has created. Bert De Colvenaer, Executive Director of ECSEL-JU, is keen for this to change. “Success breeds success, but we need to make people aware of that success. All our stakeholders should be vocal about the benefits of ECSEL. Let SMEs know that we can provide access to a wider range of opportunities and end games than they could establish themselves. At the same time, encourage large enterprises to look beyond their core activities and see the potential of research and developments that may not yet be on their radar.”

Recognising this is one of the key reasons for launching the 1st ECSEL Symposium, and with this, ECSEL JU is positioning itself to become more visible - at the political level also - as the leading European strategic initiative. After all, as De Colvenaer states, “ECSEL is the reliable, affordable and credible platform for bringing all these stakeholders together”, and now wants to prove this by providing dedicated opportunities for the ECSEL funded projects to show off their results in a forum that can spearhead their concrete economic and societal valorisation at all levels within the EU.

The ECSEL JU has been, and will continue to be a success, and will provide a vital component in Europe’s economic future in the smart economy. It may not be with us for as long as Malta’s 3000 years of habitation, but clearly it will be around for some time yet. The Phoenicians, the Mediterranean’s original trading nation, would be proud.