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INDUSTR_I4.0 invests in digitization of SMEs in Dutch-German border region



New European project offers subsidy for feasibility studies and innovation projects

The 'small projects fund' INDUSTR_I4.0 will accelerate the digital transition within the manufacturing industry in the entire Dutch-German border region. The project does not focus on the frontrunners, but rather on the group of SMEs that follows: the pack. The focus is on the adoption and implementation of digital technology in order to accelerate innovations among SMEs. INDUSTR_I4.0 is supported by the Interreg VI program Germany-Netherlands. Oost NL is executing the project. From mid-April 2024, it will be possible for companies to apply for subsidies for feasibility studies and innovation projects. A total of 10 million euros is available for this purpose. INDUSTR_I4.0 runs from 2024 to 2027. 
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In recent years great strides have been made in the digital transition of the (manufacturing) industry (Industry 4.0, or Smart Industry). But we are not there yet: Research by Radboud University shows that only 15% of entrepreneurs in the border region use advanced Industry 4.0 technology and that much of this technology is developed in isolation and barely connects with other digital technologies (Ligthart, P.E.M & Vaessen, P.M.M. (2020). Digitalization in the Manufacturing Industry. Radboud University). 
While a small part of the industry has benefited from digital transition support measures in recent years, a larger part seems to be struggling to capitalize on the opportunities of the digital transition: The "pack" thus risks falling further and further behind the leading group and losing touch.

Subsidy enables SMEs to innovate

INDUSTR_I4.0 wants to change this. Specifically, by realizing 80 cross-border digital innovation projects and 80 feasibility studies. With its focus on adoption and implementation of digital technology, the instrument connects with the target group. For example, the focus is not on the development of an entirely new AI protocol, but rather the application of AI to further innovate business processes. In the coming years, INDUSTR_I4.0 will thus support up to about 200 entrepreneurs in the border region. Within the projects, cooperation between Dutch and German partners is a requirement. 

As co-financiers, the provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel are closely involved in INDUSTR_I4.0. Helga Witjes is Gelderland's deputy for economy and chairman of the Supervisory Committee of the Interreg A program in which this project is implemented. "This small projects fund is a nice addition to the EDIH Boost Robotics program in the Eastern Netherlands. Because with this small projects fund, SME entrepreneurs show fellow SMEs the possibilities of digitization in cross-border demonstration projects. And that's worth its weight in gold, because that's how you reach SMEs. By applying and demonstrating digitalization and AI in feasibility projects, we can make the desired digital leap of scale in the eastern Netherlands. And that is important for entrepreneurs, because they benefit from digitalization."

In the border region, cooperation is sought not only with the European Digital Innovation Hub (EDIH) in the eastern Netherlands, but also with those of the northern and southern Netherlands, as well as the EDIH in Lower Saxony. In Nordrhein Westfalen, contact is also being sought with the DigiHubs. These hubs offer subsidies for individual companies and for connection and anchoring in the region, where INDUSTR_I4.0 financially supports SMEs with subsidies for Dutch-German cooperation. 
Gert Harm ten Bolscher, Commissioner for Innovation and Digitalization of the province of Overijssel, among others, says: "One of the biggest challenges for regional SMEs is 'working smarter': How to get work done in times of a tight labor market. Digitalization helps with that. For small companies, the challenge is often great to make a digitalization change. INDUSTR_I4.0 ensures that regional SMEs can also keep up."

INDUSTR_I4.0 builds on two European projects from the previous Interreg period: Digipro and iPro-N. Wendy de Jong, CEO at Oost NL: "Two thirds of the companies that participated in these former projects indicated that they wanted to continue working together. The Netherlands and Germany have traditionally been important trading partners of each other. Especially in the border region there are still a lot of opportunities. With this new project, together with funders and other partners, we are providing an important boost to international cooperation and innovativeness in the border region. By innovating together, we are making the industry from the border region even more resilient in the international playing field."

Official launch at Digital Summit Euregio

INDUSTR_I4.0 will officially launch on April 17, 2024 at the Digital Summit Euregio in Münster. From then on, it will be possible to apply for feasibility studies and innovation projects of up to €100,000 per project. If you want to know more about the launch of INDUSTR_I4.0 and the exact terms and conditions of the project, keep an eye on the announcement. 

The small project fund INDUSTR_I4.0 is implemented within the framework of the Interreg VI program Deutschland-Nederland and is co-funded by the European Union, MWIKE NRW, the Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Bundes-und Europaangelegenheiten und Regionale Entwicklung, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate and the provinces of Fryslân, Groningen, Drenthe, Overijssel, Flevoland, Gelderland, Noord-Brabant and Limburg. INDUSTR_I4.0 is carried out by the following partners: NOM/TCNN, BOM, LIOF, Emsland GmbH, FH Munster/TAFH, HS Niederrhein, WIR4/MCC and Oost NL.