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The ERNACT Network of Regions Secures €4 Million for 2 New Digital Innovation Projects

16 February 2016

The European Union has approved two new digital innovation projects in which the ERNACT network of regions participate.  One project deals with high-speed broadband services and the other with technology-driven innovation in the food sector.

The NICHE project which focuses on innovation in the food sector will serve to learn from peers in Europe facing similar challenges and opportunities around the food sector and its growth potential through a more intense introduction of innovation.  Ranked in the top 3 of the 261 proposal submitted to the Interreg Europe programme, the project will address challenges arising from changes in the food sector and will explore the potential of technology to increase innovation in seven European regions where food is important for jobs and economic growth.

NICHE has a budget of €1.7 million and several ERNACT regions will be involved, including Derry and Strabane (UK) and West Romania (Romania). The project could include looking at the use of information technology to trace food from the farm to the restaurant table or smart phones to help manage quality.

Mary Blake, Tourism Development Officer in Derry City council is managing the NICHE project locally and it is delighted that it has been successful in securing financial support from the European Union’s Interreg Europe cooperation programme, with a match from council. 

‘We are delighted to be part of the ERNACT network in this bid. This is a great opportunity to build upon international best practice and to reinforce our position as a real foodie hub. We have seen in recent years that food provenance and production heave really come to the fore. The NICHE project will help us to learn from peers in Europe facing similar challenges and opportunities around the food sector and its growth potential through a more intense introduction of innovation. We look forward to working with Food NI and the NW Regional College and industry partners to shape the regional operational programme.

The NICHE Project will build on NI’s regional priorities and strengths, through AGRI Food Technology. It will support the Agri Food agenda and will be developed in partnership to explore international best practice in Innovation, Research and Development in the Food Sector”. 

The second project approved, ERUDITE - Enhancing Rural and Urban Digital Innovation Territories -aims to exploit the potential of new high speed broadband services to meet public, private and community economic and social needs. An innovative aspect of the project is to use new Return-On-Investment (ROI) models developed in Scandinavia to justify investment of public money in high speed broadband services in rural areas. These new models differ from conventional models in that they include the social and economic returns to the entire community, not just to the broadband operator or supplier. For example, public investment in broadband can allow education and healthcare services to be delivered more cost effectively, lowering regional taxes and making the area more attractive for investors and job creation.

This second project will last a minimum of two years and has a budget of €2.2 million. A critical success factor will be the ability to convince government of merits of the new Return on Investment models.  The ERNACT regions of Derry and Strabane (UK), Donegal (Ireland) and Västernorrland (Sweden) will participate in this project, which is led by the Burgandy region (France).  ERNACT is a network of European regional and city public authorities that work together to access European Union digital technology programmes and funding for the benefit of their areas, companies and universities.

The network implements innovative digital-age projects. To-date, it has developed over 25 projects with governments, universities and research centres in more than 130 European regions and cities, with a combined population of 50 million, across 20 countries.