Combining the two heavyweights bioeconomy and digitization - that was the aim of the 'Smart SMEs' project. The project focused especially on natural fiber-based value chains which should be analyzed for opportunities and obstacles of digitization. To achieve this goal, BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg worked together with partners from Italy, Lower Austria, Slovenia and Switzerland in an international consortium.
Every SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) routinely uses email addresses, but digitalization now offers enterprises a whole raft of solutions to make life easier and business more profitable – from electronic document management systems, promoting goods and services on social media to eCommerce and Big Data. Digitalization measures are only successful when company managers want and support them. SMEs, however, tend to have small management teams that are overwhelmed by other tasks, leaving them little time to identify and use the potential offered by digitalization. Businesses in rural areas have the additional problem of often unreliable internet connections.
The Smart SMEs project contributed to finding solutions to overcome existing barriers. The project specifically focused on enterprises in biobased value chains that produce, process and apply natural fibre-based materials, both cultivated and recycled from biological waste. The project therefore tackled the idea of sustainable transformation in the Alpine region through the bioeconomy concept. This involved gathering existing digitalization knowledge from research institutions, clusters, digital innovation hubs and other service providers, evaluating the digitalization level of SMEs, pinpointing issues that hamper the implementation of digitalization as well as demonstrating precise measures (technical and non-technical) to overcome existing barriers. Pilot cases were developed for application in specific biobased value chains.
BIOPRO’s task was to map the status quo of the digitalization “ecosystem” in participating regions (Baden-Württemberg, Italy, Lower Austria, Slovenia and Switzerland). BIOPRO developed a methodology to analyze the needs of SMEs with a special focus on natural fibre-based value chains. It also identified bottlenecks as well as key factors that would enable SMEs to exploit the digitalization potential. In addition to this, BIOPRO hosted a Policy Action Forum to bring policy makers from different sectors (digitalization, rural development and bioeconomy) together to begin sharing experiences and to validate the roadmap.
Smart SMEs was launched at a kick-off meeting in Bern in July 2019. The meeting took place at the Swiss Center for Mountain Regions (SAB), the lead project partner. The other partners are the Department for Economic Development, Research and Labour of the Autonomous Province of Trento (Italy), Hub Innovazione Trentino - Fondazione (Italy), ecoplus, the Business Agency of Lower Austria, the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Maribor (Slovenia), Poly4EmI - Anteja ECG (Slovenia), and BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg GmbH (Germany).
The project was funded with 309.833,33 Euro, incl. co-financing of 278.850,00 Euro by the European Commission through the Alpine Region Preparatory Action Fund (ARPAF), and ran 22 months until the end of May 2021. Along with AlpLinkBioEco, CirculAlps and ARDIA-Net, this was the fourth Alpine project involving BIOPRO.