Boost regional smart specialization strategy with Robotics: RobotUnion’s experience from EU Week of Regions and Cities

By November 9, 2020Uncategorized

Last October 13th, the EU Week of Regions and Cities gathered FundingBoxMobile World Capital BarcelonaInvest in Odense and MADE during the workshop “Regional smart specialization: Robotics” to share their insights about the deployment of a smart regional specialization strategy.

The RobotUnion project is the first pan-European acceleration programme in robotics that has been running since 2018 and now is reaching its final stage. For this reason, the partners decided to present some of the success stories that have been possible through the support of an exemplary partnership between business, research and technological institutions, robotics associations, and corporates. 

The workshop, moderated by Marta Portalés (MWCapital), was created with the aim to explain how to boost the regional investment strategy by developing a smart specialization in robotics and it was structured in three parts: 1) an introduction of the RobotUnion projects and its outcomes by Izabela Zrazinska 2) an explanation on how Denmark became a leading country in robotics, specifically the region of Odense by MADE and Invest in Odense; and finally, 3) the new funding opportunities in the robotics sector by Fundingbox. 

RobotUnion’s achievements:

RobotUnion’s project coordinator, Izabela Zrazinska (from FundingBox), introduced the most meaningful achievements along and some of its 20 solutions, which were selected from 424 applications submitted through 2 Open Calls. The solutions have been supported by the consortium of 14 partners from 6 European countries and is “a perfect representation of what smart specialization idea is about, because it’s based on the partnerships between business, public entities, and knowledge institutions”. 

The acceleration of the companies from the 1st Batch was achieved by the collaboration of over 40 researchers from 5 research centers, who helped boost the companies’ TRL levels by 3 points, on average, in one year. 10 startups, which ended up raising over €8 million in private investment in total, also benefitted from the involvement of 26 business mentors.

The consortium goal was to contribute to overcome systemic challenges (# innovation barriers) that are constraining the capability of European promising companies to develop novel and innovative technology that has the potential to open new markets for Robotics in domains like Manufacturing, Agro Food, Healthcare and Civil infrastructure. 

Some of the main technical challenges that European robotics SMEs struggle most are:

  • Limited access to technology services and facilities in many regions.
  • Lack of awareness of the availability of research organizations
  • Complexity of technology integration
  • High-cost technology acquisition

Other, non-technological barriers are:

  • Lack of internal capability to grow
  • Deficiencies in the external environment
  • Psychological barriers and misconceptions
  • Lack of awareness of added-value of robotics

The succeeding part of the session was divided into 3 presentations which were focused on the methodologies on how to boost robotics in a region.


Robotics clusters: Odense Invest and MADE 

The next speaker, Martyna Waliszewska, is a Junior Investment Manager at Invest in Odense. She explained how Odense has become the global centre of robotics and automation. In fact, over €800 million euros have been invested in robotic technology, and where considerably large acquisitions have taken place. Out of the 133 active companies in the city of Odense, three have been selected to join the RobotUnion program. The companies are: Proxima CentauriSmooth Robotics, and Tendo. The three winners have helped create jobs in Odense and attract foreign investment.

Invest in Odense has more than 30 years of experience developing Odense’s Robotic Cluster and the Robotic Startup Hub Incubator. Martyna talked about the different success stories that arised in the Danish city. 

There are three key activities to successfully develop and implement a regional specialization strategy:

  • Identify local capabilities
  • Establish a strong communication strategy and keep direct contact with local companies
  • Commit to long-term engagement and ambitions.

Martyna has appreciated the RobotUnion’s programme, because of its networking opportunities and a high level of expertise from the project consortium partners. She confirms that startups gainednew competitive advantages through the acceleration program.

Another key speaker was Merete Norby, an international senior consultant  from the Manufacturing Academy of Denmark (MADE). MADE comprises different members: more than 200 industries, 5 universities, and 9 educational institutions, and innovation partners. The Robotics Digital Innovation Hub that they are part of, links SMEs different services, such as financial advisory, (project openings and calls, innovation actions (SMEs can get help to test their technologies), and matchmaking services (between competence centres, European companies, and research and technological institutions.

As a case study, Merete presented the case of the startup Smooth Robotics that MADE supported through the RobotUnion programme. The company has been able to increase performance of welding production though robots by getting technical help, business coaching and financial aid provided by the consortium. The key point according to the International Senior Consultant would be inspiration and encouragement to reach success, having the connections to start the dialogue, a range of services and be part of a network: “Most of the impact is created by partners themselves and not by the association behind it, we are only a facilitator”.


FundingBox: The ecosystem for success 

The last participant of the workshop was Jakub Kruszelnicki, a Technology Transfer Expert from FundingBox, which distributes European grants through Open calls. He defends that RobotUnion has generated a lot of good practices among the robotic startup community.


According to Jakub, there is a huge demand for robotics-oriented acceleration programs. This fact has been confirmed by 424 SMEs, that applied to RobotUnion’s open calls, and nearly 30.000 innovators who are part of the Fundingbox community. FundingBox (FBOX) has distributed over €120 million in cascade-funding grants to SMEs and Digital Hubs from different industries, such as: Manufacturing, Digital Innovation Hubs, Education, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and others.

 Despite of the fact that RobotUnion is reaching its end, there are still open calls and opportunities to match knowledge with SMEs demands, click here to learn more.¨ 

At the end of the session Izabela Zrazinska shared the ways on how regions and other stakeholders can benefit from the RobotUnion program and connect to its ecosystem. 

 The video from the session is available:  


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