As part of the CARPE DIGEM project, funded by Interreg Europe, which aim is to improve public policy support for stimulating digital innovation ecosystems in European regions and cities, a study visit for project partners took place between 09-12.05.2022. It was organized by the leading partners ERNACT Network, hosting project partners from Slovenia, Sweden, Portugal and France.

The aim of the visit was delivering a series of workshops, meetings and study visits that can make a positive contribution to strategies to develop and dynamize regional digital innovation ecosystems. The creation of such ecosystems is key to creating high quality jobs and new companies in a digitally transformed global business landscape.

One of the aspects of the visit to North West Ireland was focused on the role of the 3rd level education sector, particularly in delivering high-end digital skills and diffusing its research and skills into local businesses, including multinational tech companies. Additionally, the role of digital innovation hubs as innovation, as well as policy tools was explored.

The visit took place on the education campuses in Letterkenny and Derry Londonderry and included study visits to key digital transformation research, innovation and digital hubs. Professor Malachy O’Neill from Ulster University welcomed the team to the Intelligent Systems Research Centre in Derry (Northern Ireland) where we have had the opportunity to learn about digitalization technologies in AI, data analytics and visualization. The visit has continued with a guided tour by Mr. Peter Devine, also from Ulster University to the Centre for Artificial Intelligence (CARL), to discover different cutting-edge innovation and automation good practices. This represents Ulster University-led research group in Derry applying Digital Transformation technologies in AI, Data Analytics, Visualization, Cognition to create real-world applications and pilots in medicine, etc. CARL represents a pioneering case of an AI and medical technology hub. Afterwards, the visitors together with local experts from Donegal and Derry & Strabane got the opportunity to find out more about the industry-focused research Centre for Industry 4.0: the Centre for Industry, Digitisation, Robotics and Automation (CIDRA).

At the end, another study visit to the Clinical Transnational Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC) of the Ulster University, the local Council and the Western Health Trust was carried out. This research and innovation Centre is located at Altnagelvin Hospital which acts as a state-of-the-art bridge between frontline medicine and cutting-edge science.

All of the above-mentioned partners of the City Deal led by Derry City and Strabane District Council, connect their capabilities on working and better understanding, treating and predicting outcomes for patients with long-term medical conditions. The example from Donegal represents a good practice on the relationship between university applied digital research centers, digital innovation hubs and other important actors in the digital innovation ecosystem, such as local government, enterprise agencies and large tech companies. What is more, the Government is supporting the further development of groundbreaking research projects from health, medicines, artificial intelligence and robotics and technology by its largest-ever investment in the region for further development of the health-innovation project THRIVE.

Another aspect of the visit in relation to digital hubs was to explore their role in the The CoWork Plus digital hub as part of the Donegal Digital ecosystem, acting as a benefit of the region, offering a wide range of activities based on the needs of the community. The services they offer are bike hire, childcare with a possibility of full day care and part time care, coworking space with good infrastructure and work pleasant environment. The total number of people employed in the hub is 24, funded under the Community Services Programme. The benefits from this hub are numerous and in favor of employed people, families, older people, people with disabilities, education providers, entrepreneurs and local businesses.

The hub, together with 30 more hubs is part of the gteic Digital Hubs which operate on five different regions and its focus is on enterprises, innovation, remote working and gaeltachta diaspora. To provide quality services such as good working environment, business growth opportunities, to attract new companies and to create high quality jobs for the mentioned target groups, they regularly organize seminars, tech talks, networking events, mentoring and trainings, access to financial support. Gteic represents a good way of how to double the benefit an individual hub can offer, by connecting a group of hubs together.

It is important to mention another aspect of the remote working strategy. The goal of this strategy is to attract remote tech workers and to promote remote jobs in the country. In order to achieve these goals, the following labs and projects are taking place: the CoLab digital hub in the Atlantic Technological University, which represents a model for university-company collaboration. The organyzing partner ERNACT, also presented the WISAR Lab which is focused on developing products and industry solutions using expertise in Wireless, Embedded Systems and related software. Connected to this is the #IaaS project, a model that assists transfer of technology to business in rural remote areas, offering better quality of life, growing economy, digital connectivity and talent acquisition.

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