Flanders Make introduces Flemish companies into European innovation networks

Flanders Make is writing its European story. In 2019, we took part in no less than 114 European projects. "European partnerships complement our Flemish initiatives", explains Ger van den Kerkhof, Senior Account Manager EU Affairs at Flanders Make. "We not only build knowledge, we also share experiences with other European research institutions and learn from them as well, for instance how we should manage these networks. That is particularly valuable."

europese-onderzoeksprojecten

"We keep a finger on the pulse of what is going on innovation-wise in Europe."

The five aspects of our European story

Many European projects, such as interregional projects or Horizon 2020 projects, operate within the same framework targeting sustainable growth and job creation. These are multiannual action programmes tackling shared priorities and challenges, in line with European core themes. They focus, for instance, on enhancing the competitiveness of SMEs or on the development of new technologies.

By taking part in European projects, we position ourselves as a reference for the manufacturing industry on a European level. However, these projects are only one piece of the jigsaw, says Ger.

"The second aspect is knowledge sharing. It is important to have our voice heard at seminars and congresses and to clarify who we are and what we do. Our position in the European research landscape is rather unique. All Flanders Make colleagues can consider themselves as ambassadors and make their voices heard on European podiums. By sharing their expertise, we strengthen our position."

The third aspect is policy-making. At the European level, there are several technology platforms and work groups of which Flanders Make should be part. These commissions set out the roadmap for (among others) the European manufacturing industry. In turn, this same roadmap is the starting point for our own research. This is only logical. But it works both ways. By steering research at the European level, relevant subjects for Flemish companies are put into the spotlight.

Partnerships at European level, such as SmartFactoryEU, are the fourth aspect. SmartFactoryEU is an organisation in which Flanders Make, Brainport Industries (Netherlands) and Smart Factory Kaiserlautern (Germany) form a network of ‘smart factories’. This group of three will expand with organisations from five other European countries. The aim is to have these digital lead plants work together remotely in order to build additional knowledge around connected factories, modular production and communication systems.

"Finally, we aim at valorising our knowledge at the European level. Currently, we’re mainly supporting Flemish companies. However, our research, the technologies and applications that we develop and the test infrastructure that we make available can be used on a much broader basis, including in companies beyond our national borders. That is the fifth aspect on which we focus."

Setting to work with innovative technologies

"What many companies don’t know", Ger continues, "is that European projects offer great opportunities for local enterprises. For some of the programmes, a consortium of European research institutions and businesses is set up. By joining such programmes, companies receive a budget for developing a use case of their own. Together, we identify the technological challenge, in line with the project focus, and work on a solution. As such, companies can immediately identify the added value and try out the technology in their daily practice. Of course, this is only one type of programme. There is a whole range of possibilities available."

Three reasons for companies to take part in a European research project:

  1. Contact with other European companies they would normally not meet
  2. Development of their own use case with partners at a European scale
  3. European funding for their innovation project

"As manager of an SME, you must dare think big"

A clear win-win situation, you may think. However, there are still thresholds preventing companies, and especially SMEs, from fully embracing the opportunities.

  • European projects, such as the projects steered by Interreg or ERDF (the European Regional Development Fund), have specific rules about intellectual property. This may clash with how a company deals with IP.
  • Companies receive funding and knowledge from Europe, but in exchange they have to be able to provide the necessary operational capacity. Concretely, this means a willingness to travel and visit test labs abroad, being able to meet the expectations in terms of administration, reporting, communication and more.
  • The subject and timing must be compatible with the company’s purposes. Usually, European projects work from a very specific angle. As a company, you must be active in the very same niche to benefit from the partnership.

"We regularly post appeals for new projects. I can advise every company to keep an eye on them. The first step is usually a needs assessment. Even if you are not entirely sure whether or not a certain topic can offer added value to your business, it is still worthwhile contacting us. Who knows, we might be able to refer you to a different work group. The sky is the limit!"
 

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Ger van den Kerkhof - Senior Account Manager EU Affairs
Auteur

Ger van den Kerkhof - Senior Account Manager EU Affairs

Ger has worked at Flanders Make since 2008, first as Sales and Business Development Manager and since 2017 as Senior Account Manager EU Affairs. In this capacity, Ger supports the European expansion of Flanders Make. Ger has a Master's degree in Business Administration and has more than 22 years of experience in senior management positions at Philips Electronics.

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