Digital innovation hubs are the future

The establishment and support to the development of services of digital innovation hubs is one of key activities of the project EU4DigitalSME for the purpose of contributing to the establishment of an ecosystem for digitalisation, automation and innovation at small and medium-sized companies in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The supported hubs will ensure a state-of-art platform for providing support to small and medium-sized enterprises in the improvement of their business processes and the structure of their finished products. A wide range of services in the form of applied and specific digital solutions will soon make the hubs a bridge between digital innovations and the business sector.

Those hubs that function as partnerships are LabHub – Sarajevo, led by the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology (SSST), IDEMO HUB – Banja Luka, led by the Innovation Centre Banja Luka, Digital Storm HUB – Sarajevo, led by the company QSS and Industrial HUB – Tuzla, led by the company Industrial Automation.

– The support for digital hubs in Bosnia and Herzegovina is extremely important for two reasons. Firstly, it helps us establish links with partners in developed countries of the EU and adopt the best practices and methodology, that is, it enables us to see and learn from how hubs in their economies can contribute to the development. Secondly, this helps us analyse how we can help our economy. Today, there is no strong link between the scientific community or the academia and the economy, there is no systematic approach and we do not see where solutions might be implemented in the economy, says Drago Gverić, Head of the Innovation Centre Banja Luka for Dnevni list.

Networking in the region

He offered a specific solution for future activities to improve this field and achieve progress.  

– A network and links should be established with partners and investors in the region. This would ensure a new platform for the economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina, explains Gverić.

The Sarajevo School of Science and Technology (SSST) from Sarajevo will be in charge of one of the digital innovation hubs in the framework of the EU4DigitalSME project. The consortium comprising the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology (SSST), the Institute of Metrology of Bosnia and Herzegovina (IMBIH), the Institute for Standardisation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ISBIH) and Society for Medical and Biological Engineering in Bosnia and Herzegovina (DMBIUBIH) was officially named one of digital innovation hubs that will be developed in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the framework of the development programme supported by the European Union and the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of the Federal Republic of Germany.

– Digital innovation hubs are extremely important for us, primarily because of the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina is an upper middle income country or middle income country today. For anything else, we need a higher income that should be generated, which is logical. We have to build the innovation capacities. The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is quite bad in this respect. There are no investments in research and development, there are no researchers and no research centres. The state allocated more funds for this purpose in 2012 than today. Also, there are unfortunately less and less researchers. We do not have high-tech products. We have the production of antibiotics at the company Bosnalijek and that is it. We cannot produce and export raw, unprocessed materials and be a high income country, says the Rector of the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology (SSST), Professor Vjekoslav Domljan, in his statement for Dnevni list. He is therefore convinced that these centres are of great importance.

They will connect higher education and economy in the future.

– In all regions or centres in the country, we have engineers, professors, master artisans, etc. We can therefore establish centres of excellence by regions and also ensure their specialisation. It is necessary to identify what individual regions are specialised in and work on that. The first step would be to analyse what Mostar can do, what Sarajevo can do, what Banja Luka, Tuzla, Bijeljina, Zenica and Bihać can do… These are important centres in which the economy and higher education should be connected in those areas in which there is a specialisation. Bosnia and Herzegovina today can be compared to a factory that is losing workers and clients. In order to stop that, it is necessary to increase productivity and exports. We need exports, i.e. we need a victory abroad. We do not need a situation in which we are exporting raw materials. That means that we need high-tech products. We cannot have high salaries, if we are extracting and exporting raw materials. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, we do not even have 150 full-time researchers at the moment. You understand now how bad the situation is. Nobody even thinks about this. These centres should help us use this and achieve something, since our politicians have not done anything, clearly says Professor Domljan.

He also offers specific solutions in this field.

– We have to focus on areas with smaller investments and be as efficient as possible. The lower the investments, the better the results. In Sarajevo, it can be a park, such as Sarajevska dolina. An investment in software production. In Mostar, it can be renewable energy sources and tourism. To see where we stand. We will focus the investments on these areas and search for researchers. Such support will include innovation. If a country is extremely underdeveloped, then it imitates. Once it achieves some progress, it can innovate, and after it has reached a higher level, it can focus on inventions and push the boundaries. At the moment, we are standing between imitation and innovation. We have to focus on innovation, but we have to be precise about the sectors, says Domljan.

Small and medium-sized enterprises as drivers of economy   

Sarajevo Canton could, for example, focus on TIC development in the field in which it has a latent comparative advantage. TICs, the icons of a productive public and private partnerships in Taiwan, have developed into institutions at which high-tech companies research and adapt the latest technology and prosper in the greatest possible proximity, which enables them to use the synergy created by technological advancement.

– The latest trends regarding the functioning of universities also favour TIC. They imply a diminished role of central governments as clients and managers and opening of new regional, international, social and economic markets. Also, the importance of competitiveness of universities in the increasingly competitive education, research and economic cooperation markets is emphasized more and more. Strategic partnerships with the economy are increasingly used. In simple terms, European universities are slowly heading towards the Anglo-American model. Generally speaking, TICs are increasingly implying intensive research and doctoral studies. PhD students are becoming involved in research through them, in particular applied research, which helps TICs build their capacities and attract employees. As a result, the employees are able to complete their own doctoral studies while at the same time being employed by TICs and they do so in addition to their regular research duties at TICs. TICs are therefore becoming PhD student-oriented centres. These research-intensive centres are increasing the scope of receipt and financing of PhD students and measures in the framework of which their part-time staff participates in university classes as professors or mentors of doctoral dissertations, says Domljan.

The contribution to a more intense use of digital technologies and innovation will result in better performance and competitiveness of both small and medium-sized companies and relevant service providers in the domestic, regional and international markets.

– Small and medium-sized enterprises are key drivers of economic growth and development, and supporting digitalisation will help the companies to be more competitive in the local and international market. The funds allocated to the support for the green and digital transition in the framework of the EU Pre-Accession Instrument amount to around 50 million EUR and the support focuses in particular on small and medium-sized enterprises. Small and medium-sized companies must have full benefits from innovative technologies, skills and services, not only in order to ensure a more sustainable growth, but also to survive in the economy of the future, says the Head of Cooperation of the EU Delegation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Stefano Ellero.

The value of the project ”EU4DigitalSME” amounts to a total of 6.1 million EUR. The European Union provided 5 million EUR and the Federal Republic of Germany provided 1.1. million EUR. The project lasts until 2024 and is implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH.

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