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Getting hooked on the digital transformation? Welcome to EDIH NN!

It's hook up or drop out. That's why EDIH NN helps regional companies accelerate digitization. The digital innovation hub of the Northern Netherlands does so with a wide range of partners, programs, tools and more. With an important focus on autonomous systems in addition to digitization in a general sense.

Digital transformation is in full swing. There is no escaping it. Technologies and digital infrastructures are becoming increasingly sophisticated and have forever changed the way we look at innovation, flexibility and process and cost optimization. They offer opportunities and business models that were previously unthinkable. In every sector and every organization. Adapting is no longer a choice, but a necessity to stay relevant, overcome labor shortages and maintain competitiveness.

Digitalization therefore runs like a thread through the policy of the European Commission (EC). Hence, as a crucial part of the Digital Europe Program, the EC subsidizes and facilitates a network of more than 200 so-called European Digital Innovation Hubs (EDIHs). The great thing is: our region has also established such a hub: European Digital Innovation Hub North Netherlands, or EDIH NN for short. The new program supports companies in discovering, testing, funding and implementing digital technologies and promoting digital skills among employees


'Of course, in recent years we in the North have already put a lot of effort into accelerating digital transformation,' says Hans Praat, business developer at EDIH NN. 'Now we have even more concrete opportunities to expand that further and wider. For many companies, especially SMEs, it turns out to be quite difficult to really weave digitalization, the process of becoming a digital company, into the corporate DNA. After all, it is about more than just digitizing existing processes. It is also about using digital technologies as a catalyst for creating new opportunities, new revenues and structurally increasing added value to the business. In other words, it also requires a change in mindset and corporate culture.

Self-learning and self-directed systems

EDIH NN, with of course a Northern Netherlands approach and agenda, is supported and funded by the European Commission, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Environment and the three Northern provinces. The program is a partnership between FME, Hanzehogeschool Groningen, NHL Stenden, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Innovation Pact Fryslân on behalf of the front-line organizations (Ynbusiness, IBDO and GroBusiness) and NOM, which serves as lead partner.

In addition to digitalization in a general sense, EDIH NN also focuses explicitly on the development and application of self-learning and self-managing systems, also called autonomous systems. To increase the autonomy of products or processes, combinations of technologies are usually deployed. Think of data technology, AI, HPC, robotics or sensor technology to, for example, make a tractor operate unmanned, develop self-navigating logistics systems, set up intelligent energy networks or realize innovative autonomous factories.

Living Lab

'Autonomous systems make companies and sectors more efficient and flexible,' said Anna Moerbeek, EDIH project manager. 'Simply because a lot of work is taken out of their hands and fewer mistakes are made. Not unimportant now that personnel is becoming increasingly scarce. At the same time, autonomous systems are becoming indispensable to go through important transitions. Think of the transitions in the energy supply, agro chain, care, construction, infrastructure and industry. We need autonomous systems everywhere. There is plenty of expertise at Northern Netherlands companies and knowledge institutes and businesses to grow into a national and international leader in this field. Indeed, the EDIH NN has the ambition to become the testing ground for autonomous systems. A place where entrepreneurs and developers can test their ideas and innovations, at one of the demonstration and test sites.'

But yes, where and how to start with digitization and autonomous systems? How do you make the right choices? And where do you find the necessary partners? These are questions that many companies struggle with. For example, because they have insufficient insight into what is involved or are uncertain about the return on investment. EDIH NN removes barriers by helping companies to get started in an accessible and practical way. They can contact the specialists of the first-line organizations Ynbusiness, GroBusiness or Ik Ben Drents Ondernemer (IBDO) with questions or ambitions in their own province.

Scouts and innovation brokers

'Within EDIH NN, we perform a sort of general practitioner function,' Dennis Carton explains. 'With the difference that we also visit unsolicited.' Dennis is director and sector specialist Industry of Ynbusiness and active at EDIH NN as a representative of the scouts. 'Whether you can call it an entrepreneurial counter? Sort of, but a counter on wheels. As scouts, we try to find out which companies are facing which problems. Where are you and where do you want to go? On that basis, we fill out our services. If we don't have an immediate solution ourselves, we look for a party that can help the company along. Questions related to autonomous systems we put through to one of the innovation brokers.'

Joint challenges

At its core, the program is there for all companies in the Northern Netherlands. However, the focus of EDIH NN's innovation brokers, also called brokers, is on the transition areas Lifescience & Health, Agro & Food, Energy, Smart Factories, Mobility and Built Environment. Or more precisely, within the transition areas they represent, innovation brokers focus specifically on autonomous systems. For each transition area, they actively seek common challenges, in order to formulate a joint approach and initiate innovation projects. In short, innovation brokers bring together companies with the same ambitions and issues and build an ecosystem around them.

Where and when necessary, companies are linked by the scouts or the innovation brokers to one of the Solution Providers from EDIH NN's database. Solution Providers are parties who contribute solutions and expertise that can be used to accelerate towards digitization or the application of autonomous systems.

Of course, within EDIH NN there is every attention to training company employees. An important but quite often underestimated part in the process. Among other things, there is the Smart Makers Academy that helps employees develop or increase the right and desired digital and technological skills.

Large international network

As mentioned, there are numerous digital innovation hubs spread throughout the European Union. This means that EDIH NN, in addition to collaborating with other Dutch EDIHs, now also has access to a large international network. Northern companies can obviously benefit greatly from that as well.

So is it hook up or drop out? To take focused steps, you need insight. EDIH NN is happy to help you gain insight.