EIT Digital: Our broader vision to enhance the digital innovation landscape in Romania

Newsroom 31/05/2023 | 11:46

Babeș-Bolyai University and EIT Digital have entered into a partnership for the establishment of the EIT Digital national center, with the aim of developing digital innovation, entrepreneurial education and boosting competitiveness. EIT Digital is a Knowledge and Innovation Community of the EIT, European Institute of Innovation and Technology, body of the European Union.

By Romanita Oprea

 

BR sat down with Tuan Trinh, Director Region East at EIT Digital and Federico Menna, CEO of EIT Digital and found out more about the company’s partnership with Babeș-Bolyai University, its plans for the Cluj area, future business goals, as well as how it is helping entrepreneurs position themselves at the frontier of digital innovation.

 

What determined you to start the partnership with the Babeș-Bolyai University (UBB)?

Tuan Trinh: Our decision to initiate a partnership with Babeș-Bolyai University was influenced by several factors. We first started collaborating with UBB in 2021 within the InnoChange project, launched under the ‘EIT HEI Initiative’ of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, and aimed at boosting innovation in higher education. Later, when we recognized the need to strengthen the local innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem in Romania, and the university seemed like an ideal partner in this effort. By partnering with UBB, we aim to equip Romanian entrepreneurs with the skills and resources they need to navigate market challenges and succeed globally.

Our commitment to responsible and ethical use of new technologies, such as AI, aligns with the university’s own research and educational objectives and we also think UBB’s expertise in cybersecurity education can bring substantial added value to our courses.  We believe that this collaboration will play a significant role in advancing Romania’s digital landscape and enhancing Europe’s digital sovereignty.

Why did you choose precisely this period in time?

Tuan Trinh: Our decision to focus on this specific period in time was not a random choice. We recognized that Cluj-Napoca was experiencing a significant growth trajectory, making it an ideal time to invest our efforts. The city has been consistently demonstrating its potential as a hub for innovation and development. Furthermore, the local innovation ecosystem has shown a strong interest in our initiatives and has been supportive of our endeavors. This combination of growth and support made it clear to us that now was the perfect time to concentrate our efforts here.

What are your goals for EIT Digital national center for 2023-2024?

Tuan Trinh: As we look ahead to 2023 and 2024, our primary objective for the EIT Digital national center is to further amplify the local innovation and entrepreneurial education ecosystem in Romania. We aim to achieve this by attracting new Romanian partners to join the EIT Digital ecosystem, thereby expanding our network and influence. We also hope to see more Romanian partners participating in our innovation initiatives, such as our Venture Program and Open Innovation Factory, as well as our entrepreneurial education activities, like our Master Schools. Additionally, we are keen on fostering more collaborations with Romanian partners in joint EU proposals. These goals are all part of our broader vision to enhance the digital innovation landscape in Romania.

What does Cluj represent for you in the company’s development?

Tuan Trinh: Cluj holds a significant place in our company’s development strategy. It represents EIT Digital’s expansion and increased presence in Romania and Eastern Europe. The city’s vibrant innovation ecosystem aligns with our mission and goals, making it a strategic location for our growth.

Do you intend to extend partnerships with other universities in Romania as well, in the future? Why?

Tuan Trinh: Absolutely, we are keen on extending our partnerships with other universities in Romania. We already have a fruitful partnership with UBB and the Technical University of Bucharest (UPB), and we are eager to build similar relationships with other institutions. We believe that these partnerships hold great potential for mutual growth and development. For instance, we can jointly run our education programmes and attract more Romanian students to participate in them. We see these partnerships as a valuable opportunity to further our mission and contribute to the development of the local innovation ecosystem.

Your organization believes in creating and shaping a competitive, inclusive digital Europe, whose characteristics include competitiveness, fairness and whose aim is to achieve global impact through European innovation, this being achieved through entrepreneurial talent and digital technology. Could you give us some examples that support these ideas?

Federico Menna: There are several examples. A key asset is EIT Digital’s pan-European ecosystem, a vibrant network comprising more than 300 top European corporations, SMEs, startups, universities, and research institutes. It’s a melting pot of ideas, talent, and innovation, where technology, talent, and skills are addressed in a collaborative and inclusive environment. We have offices across Europe, and we recently increased our presence in Southern and Eastern Europe and the Baltics specifically, opening offices in Tallinn, Athens, Thessaloniki and Cluj-Napoca. It’s within this environment that talented students and innovators can flourish.  The EIT Digital Master School, for instance, offers two-year programs that allow students to study at two world-class universities located in two different European countries. This unique approach enables students to build a tailor-made curriculum based on their unique skills and interests and exemplifies EIT Digital’s commitment to fostering entrepreneurial talent and digital technology. Thanks to the partnership with Babeș-Bolyai University, Romanian students can now also get access to this opportunity through the EIT Digital-UBB Master School programme on Cybersecurity.  The EIT Digital Challenge is another example of this commitment. This competition supports the growth and development of deep tech scaleups in Europe and gives European entrepreneurs visibility and support to grow their company internationally. EIT Digital is also involved in several EU-funded projects that aim to shape a competitive and inclusive digital Europe. One such example is the TANGO project to foster symbiotic human-machine decision making. Together with 20 other partner organisations from 9 countries across Europe, EIT Digital is set to develop a new generation of human-centric AI systems to enhance human decisions and to avoid cognitive overload and bias in high-stakes settings, such as in hospitals, tribunals and public administrations.

How are you helping entrepreneurs position themselves at the frontier of digital innovation?

Federico Menna: Here are some ways EIT Digital helps European entrepreneurs position themselves at the frontier of digital innovation.

EIT Digital helps deep tech scaleups – startups looking to scale up their businesses – to grow internationally. A team of experts and business developers spread across Europe provides support for access to markets, fundraising, and internationalization. The EIT Digital Open Innovation Factory fosters innovation by bringing together students, researchers, engineers, business developers, and investors to work on strategic areas such as digital cities, digital finance, digital industry, digital tech, and digital wellbeing. This collaboration promotes the transfer of knowledge and technology and allows early-stage digital startups to boost their growth. The EIT Digital Venture Program supports early-stage entrepreneurial teams on their journey to market. It offers an intensive eight-week program to help these teams turn their digital deep tech business idea into a startup. This initiative not only helps launch startups but also encourages them to attract investment from private investors.

How were you impacted by the pandemic?

Federico Menna: In these tragic circumstances, the pandemic underscored EIT Digital’s resilience. As our team is distributed across Europe, we were already used to working and collaborating remotely therefore our activities mostly kept on going and were not forced to a halt. While some of our supported startups faced unavoidable challenges, with a few unable to carry out their scheduled pilot trials due to the lockdowns, overall the pandemic served not as a setback, but as a springboard for us to evolve and push forward.

What do you believe are European entrepreneurs’ main challenges in 2023?

Federico Menna: In 2023, European entrepreneurs are navigating a complex landscape marked by several significant challenges. First and foremost, the current economic turbulence resulting from the conflict in Ukraine has created an uncertain business environment. This instability can make it difficult for entrepreneurs to plan for the future and make strategic decisions.

Additionally, entrepreneurs in Europe are facing stiff competition from other regions around the world. As globalization continues to accelerate, European businesses must find ways to differentiate themselves and stay competitive on the global stage. This requires not only innovative products and services, but also effective marketing and business strategies. In this respect, it is also important to speed up the implementation of the digital single market, allowing entrepreneurs to consider Europe as their domestic market.

Lastly, access to finance remains a significant hurdle for many European entrepreneurs. Scaling up business activities often requires substantial financial resources, and securing this funding can be a major challenge. Despite the presence of various funding options, from venture capital to government grants, many entrepreneurs still struggle to obtain the necessary capital to grow their businesses.

What are the myths about the new technologies that you want to debunk?

Federico Menna: When it comes to new technologies, particularly in the realm of Artificial Intelligence (AI), there are several misconceptions that we feel need to be addressed. One common myth is that AI technologies, and Generative AI in particular, are inherently dangerous or unethical. In reality, the ethical implications of AI are largely dependent on how these technologies are used. Issues of ethics, bias, transparency, and responsible use are indeed important considerations, but they do not negate the potential benefits of AI. Rather, they highlight the need for thoughtful regulation and oversight to ensure that AI is used in a manner that is beneficial and fair.

Another myth we’d like to debunk is the notion that Space Tech, cybersecurity, and the semiconductor industry are peripheral to Europe’s digital sovereignty. In fact, these sectors could prove to be key drivers of Europe’s digital future. As we continue to advance into the digital age, these industries will play an increasingly important role in shaping our technological landscape and ensuring our digital independence.

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