The ENRIITC consortium is working to establish a permanent pan-European network of industry liaison and contact officers to drive engagement between large-scale research facilities and industry. Project coordinator Anne-Charlotte Joubert reports on progress and next steps.
The European Network for Research Infrastructures and Industry for Collaboration (ENRIITC) has emerged as something of a bridge-builder between large-scale science facilities and key stakeholders in industry since its formation in January 2020. With over 500 network members – including more than 100 industry liaison and contact officers (ILOs/ICOs) from Europe’s big-science labs and the university research sector – ENRIITC’s goal is to accelerate the societal and economic impact of national and pan-European research programmes, working together to define best practices for industry’s relationship (as supplier, user or collaborator) with Europe’s large-scale research infrastructures (RIs).
Here Anne-Charlotte Joubert, ENRIITC project coordinator and grants officer at the European Spallation Source (ESS), a neutron science facility currently under construction in Lund, Sweden, tells CERN Courier how ENRIITC is helping ILOs and ICOs to join the dots between big science and industry.
How does ENRIITC connect ILOs, ICOs and industry?
Connection and collaboration underpin the ENRIITC mission to build a permanent pan-European network of ILOs and ICOs supporting cross-border partnerships between industry and RIs. Our first formal community meeting, for example, took place in October 2020 when Europe was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although a virtual rather than face-to-face experience, we attracted more than 120 RI and industry representatives from 21 countries for two days of interactive sessions and workshops to address topics relating to the growth and impact of the ENRIITC network.
Building on this initial success, we established #ENRIITCyourCoffee, a virtual meeting series to bring network members together on a weekly basis for group discussion on “issues arising” at the interface between big science and industry (with 38 sessions held to date attracting more than 200 unique participants). Initially launched to sustain the collective conversation among ENRIITC members through the Europe-wide lockdowns, #ENRIITCyourCoffee is now an established and ongoing part of the project mix.
What about support for training and education of ENRIITC members?
Under the snappy banner ENRIITC your Knowledge (you see what we’re doing here), the ENRIITC consortium organised a programme of eight training webinars (concluding in May this year) to encourage knowledge transfer, skills development and best practice around the ILO/ICO core competencies needed for successful industry engagement. The series attracted 140 new individual members into the network. In a different direction – with the aim of raising industry awareness about business and R&D opportunities at Europe’s RIs – the project consortium organised five brokerage events for existing and prospective RI industrial users and equipment suppliers (as well as funding five other brokerage events).
What lessons has ENRIITC learned about the relationship between Europe’s large-scale research facilities and industry?
ENRIITC members have conducted two surveys to map the level and scope of engagement between industry and RIs, looking specifically at “Industry as an RI supplier” and “Industry as an RI user”. The surveys focused, among other things, on the nature of the RI access routes used by industry; business sector and enterprise size; the effectiveness of current ILO and ICO performance indicators; as well as drivers of (and barriers to) closer collaboration between RIs and industry.
This granular mapping exercise laid the foundations for a set of complementary strategies, subsequently articulated by ENRIITC, to enhance collaboration between RIs and industry. The headline goal here: to promote – and scale – the role of RIs in supporting applied R&D, technology innovation and long-term growth opportunities for Europe’s technology companies. Equally important is the emphasis on coordinated operational implementation, with separate strategies to guide ILO/ICO training on industry outreach (including brokerage events) and policy recommendations to follow on optimisation of ILO/ICO performance.
The current iteration of the ENRIITC project wraps up in December. What are the priorities until then?
Although a lot has been achieved, there is much work still to do. Our immediate priority is the second ENRIITC community networking meeting, which takes place in October at the Big Science Business Forum (BSBF) in Granada, Spain, when we will bring together ILO/ICO members for a series of intensive knowledge-sharing, networking and training activities. Longer term, a policy paper is in the works to ensure the sustainability of the network, covering: strategic goals and propositions for the project’s continuation; the need to secure funding for a follow-on ENRIITC 2.0 initiative; a transition plan for 2023/24 to build support for our partners and associates; and a business case for the registration of ENRIITC as an independent legal structure. From there we hope to agree a memorandum of understanding between RIs and the ILO/ICO community.
Tell us about ENRIITC 2.0
Right now, the ENRIITC consortium is looking for sources of funding to support an ENRIITC 2.0 initiative, the plan being to consolidate a pan-European ILO/ICO network and secure the successes of the initial project phase. The business model for this follow-up activity is still under discussion, though it is already clear there will be a transition period between the current publicly funded network (within the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme) to a set-up that is necessarily self-sustaining in the long term – likely some sort of mixed membership model that is part open access and part membership/fee-based service offering. Operationally, one of the fundamental objectives of ENRIITC 2.0 will be to establish what we’re calling the Innovation and Industry Services Central Support Hub. The idea is for an online platform to deliver training, connectivity and professional development for ILOs and ICOs, while also streamlining industry engagement with a common pathway to handle the flow of requests from companies to RIs.
Define success for ENRIITC
Success is all about longevity: if the ENRIITC network is strong and sustained, the project has succeeded. What does that look like? I guess one tangible measure of success over the next decade will be the launch, and widescale adoption, of the ENRIITC Innovation and Industry Services Central Support Hub – a unifying vehicle to scale and diversify the innovation ecosystem connecting RIs with industry.
- ENRIITC is running a specialist workshop, “Infrastructures and industry engagement – enabling European innovation”, on 19 October at the International Conference on Research Infrastructures (ICRI 2022) in Brno, Czech Republic. The event is organised in collaboration with CzechInvest, the Investment and Business Development Agency of the Czech Republic.