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Smart Specialisation & Horizon 2020 – Making the most of new European funding opportunities

16 May 2014

On 28th April 2014, the ASTUTE team at Cardiff University and the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO) jointly hosted a special one day workshop at Cardiff’s SWALEC Stadium aimed at highlighting the opportunities presented by the new tranche of European funding for research and innovation.

The Smart Specialisation & Horizon 2020 workshop, organised with the help of Welsh Higher Education Brussels (WHEB), was specifically aimed at providing colleagues from industry and academia the opportunity to gain a better understanding both of current business support initiatives in Wales and the exciting opportunities afforded through the EU’s flagship €80 billion Framework Programme of research and innovation support.

The event attracted 85 attendees from a mixture of backgrounds including industry, academics and policymakers.

The workshop was split into two parts, with the morning session focusing primarily on highlighting the opportunities presented to Welsh businesses, both through currently operated support mechanisms and forthcoming opportunities expected within the new 2014-2020 European funding round. The afternoon session was aimed at a  mixed industry and academic audience and focused on the opportunities for collaborative R&D across Europe within the new Horizon 2020 Programme as well as providing examples of best practice from a range of successful projects funded under the previous funding round (Framework Programme 7).

Morning session

The morning session was chaired by Professor Rossi Setchi, Director of the Mechanics, Materials and Advanced Manufacturing Theme at Cardiff University School of Engineering, Co-Director of CAMSAC and a Senior member of ASTUTE’s Management Team. Professor Setchi also Chairs WHEB’s Advanced Engineering and Manufacturing Group.

Dr Alastair Davies, Head of Innovation Policy for the Welsh Government, spoke about opportunities for Wales through the new European focus on Smart Specialisation, whereby specific fields or areas of strength within a particular region are identified and prioritised for development. Dr Davies explained how this approach had been adopted and incorporated within Welsh Government strategy and policy development and how key research and innovation priority areas for Wales have been identified following wide ranging consultation and evidence gathering. These areas of existing and potential strength have been translated into the key themes and priorities highlighted within the Welsh Government Policy Framework and will be specifically targeted for future development and support.

Mr Phill Allen, Head of Knowledge Transfer and Communication for the Welsh Government then gave an overview of the wide range of Welsh Government business support opportunities currently available, including; the A4B Programme of support for collaborative R&D between businesses and academia; the Business Innovation Programme which offers businesses access to wide ranging expertise in areas such as design, manufacturing, New Product Development and Intellectual Property; the Innovation Vouchers scheme which provides flexible financial support for collaboration, equipment purchase and access to specialist expertise and SMART Cymru, which both advises SMEs on developing R&D projects aimed at product and process development and helps such businesses share the risk and cost of such activities. To round off his presentation, Mr Allen gave a brief rundown of Welsh Government plans to develop such existing initiatives and introduce a range of new business support activities as the new funding stream comes on line, highlighting the exciting and challenging opportunities ahead for both business and academia.

Mr Greg Green from the Welsh Government Innovation Team talked about the opportunities provided through the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB). The TSB supports a wide range of initiatives relevant to Welsh businesses through a £440m annual budget, often working closely with other funding bodies including the Welsh Government and the UK Research Councils. Support ranges from major UK wide strategic initiatives aimed at developing national capabilities such as the Catapult Centres, through Knowledge Transfer Networks aimed at creating communities of best practice and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships which bring together industry and academia to address real industry challenges within firms to the Small Business Research Initative (SBRI).   Mr Green also highlighted the work of the Welsh Government’s Collaborative Research Innovation Support Programme (CRISP) which aims to raise awareness within Wales of TSB opportunities, facilitate collaborative bids and provide professional support for bid development.

Professor Johann Sienz, Director of the Advanced Sustainable Manufacturing Technologies (ASTUTE) project and Deputy Head of the College of Engineering at Swansea University presented the ASTUTE project, a £27m, 5 year programme of knowledge exchange and collaborative R&D support for Welsh manufacturing firms based in the Wales Convergence Region (West Wales and the Valleys). The project is part funded by WEFO and brings together research expertise from all eight Welsh Universities aimed at working collaboratively with businesses to support them in improving their manufacturing technologies and business processes so as to enhance their long term economic, environmental and social sustainability.

Following this session, delegates were able to take advantage of a series of one to one brokerage sessions with a range of experts in Welsh and European funding and business support where they could ask for tailored advice on existing business support mechanisms and/or on developing bids for EU funding through the Horizon2020 programme.

Afternoon session

The afternoon session was chaired by Dr Kay Swinburne MEP, who opened proceedings with a rousing address encouraging Welsh businesses and academics alike to take full advantage of the huge opportunities available through the Horizon 2020 Programme and to thus ensure maximum benefits for Wales in terms of both economic and scientific development.  Dr Swinburne’s team subsequently issued a press release entitled “Welsh scientists need to seize EU funding opportunities”, in which ASTUTE was highlighted as an exemplar project. The afternoon session was split with the first part focusing on the Horizon 2020 Programme and the final session being made up of a series of case studies showcasing a range of successful European funded projects supported through the Framework 7 Programme. Three presentations were made on Horizon 2020, as follows:

Richard Tuffs, Director of the European Regions Research and Innovation Network (ERRIN) outlined the work of his organisation, which is a Brussels based network of European regions, comprising over 100 members, which aims to help these regions strengthen their Research and Innovation capabilities through sharing best practice in policy and innovation, developing collaborative projects, raising their profiles and helping them get their voices heard in Brussels. ERRIN also supports the implementation of the Europe2020 growth strategy, the Innovation Union Flagship initiative and Smart Specialisation. Mr Tuffs then went on to give an overview of the opportunities that will be available through Structural Funds between 2014-2020 and to discuss Smart Specialisation, providing examples of the varied approaches being taken by EU regions to take advantage of this new approach, which has the potential to radically alter the EU innovation landscape. He finished his presentation with a discussion on the Synergies between Structural funds, Smart Specialisation and Horizon2020 and how to work across these to best advantage.

Craig Sharp, UK National Contact Point for Nanotechnologies, advanced materials and advanced Manufacturing and Processing (NMP) described the role of the National Contact Points in providing advice and assistance to UK participants bidding into specific areas of Horizon2020, both in terms of developing collaborative partnerships and then producing and submitting bids. Mr Sharp then gave an overview of Horizon 2020 initiatives and mechanisms before going on to describe specific call topics within the NMP area and provide advice on what elements were likely to be required in successful bids and what resources were available to help prospective bidders.

Geraint Green, Head of the Horizon 2020 Unit at the Welsh European funding Office (WEFO) presented a Welsh perspective on Horizon2020 funding, describing how WEFO’s Horizon 2020 Unit had been established as a means of facilitating greater Welsh involvement and success in the new programme through a combination of targeted awareness raising,  focusing investments on building capacity or addressing barriers that will ensure improved access to competitive research funding and working with stakeholders both to build new links between existing support structures and to identify and target ‘competitive funding ready’ researchers and businesses. Mr Green then talked about the SCoRE Cymru initiative which aims to facilitate bid development through providing funds towards the costs of accessing professional bid writing expertise and to support travel associated with creating collaborations with partners across the UK, Europe and beyond.

EU FP7 case studies

To round up the day, three case studies focusing on successful EU FP7 projects were presented:

Dr Susan Grant from Brunel University School of Engineering and Design presented on the KNOWNET consortium, an initiative funded via the Marie Curie Industry-Academia Partnerships and Pathways (IAPP) scheme which brings together Brunel University and Universitat Politecnica De Valencia, SPAIN (UPDV) with the Royal and Sun Alliance insurance company. KNOWNET aims to assess the value of social media mechanisms for sharing knowledge across an Insurance supply chain and to build and trial a ‘peer to peer’ web based interactive environment to support/facilitate knowledge exchange, using a community-centric approach to develop a methodology and framework for industry use and in the process to build a long term partnership between industry and academia.

Dr Samuel Bigot from Cardiff University School of Engineering spoke about the EcoLaserFact project, a Regional Transnational Cooperation project bringing together 10 partners from four EU member countries supported by the INTERREG IV B NWE Framework. This Network of Excellence, composed of laser micro machining specialists from academia and industry aims to facilitate the transfer of know-how from the partners to SMEs in order to facilitate the development of improved eco-friendly and cost effective laser based industrial processes.

Dr Iñigo Llanos from the IK4 IDEKO Technology Centre in Spain gave the final presentation of the day on the Minimizing Defects in Micro-Manufacturing Applications (MIDEMMA)project an EU-FP7 research project, a consortium of 17 industry and academic partners which aims to support the drive towards ‘Zero Defect’ micro-manufacturing through developing improved manufacturing processes, monitoring and control systems and decision support tools. Dr Llanos then spoke briefly on the Zero-Defect Manufacturing Clustering  & Networking Initiative (4ZDM) of which MIDEMMA is a component project and which brings together 28 technology providers, 24 Research & Technology Development partners/Universities and 16 end-users from across eight EU member states with a common vision to share knowledge and develop common processes and standards that will lead towards ‘Zero Defect’ manufacturing.

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