Project summary

DEVISE, or ‘Digital tech SMEs at the service of Regional Smart Specialisation Strategies’ project, aims to give response to the current challenge that 9 European regions are facing to unlock and exploit the potential that digital tech SMEs have as enabler for the competitiveness of other SMEs belonging to sectors included in their Regional Smart Specialisation Strategies (RIS3).

By 2021, DEVISE will increase by 15% the number of digital tech SMEs enabling competitiveness in other strategic sectors through improved policy instruments  


We believe that more coordinated actions are required to foster the growth of digital SMEs providing innovative solutions that allow other sectors to be more competitive. In doing so, the project will follow an innovative intersectoral approach involving all the relevant stakeholders in the process of analysing the current context, learning from other EU regions and defining improved policies integrating the lessons learnt.


from 1 Jun 2018
to 30 Nov 2022

SME competitiveness

What will this project change?

DEVISE will produce concrete outputs to develop the definition of 10 regional action plans that will help policy makers to improve the effectiveness of the instruments they are responsible through more focused actions. 

The project will also put a lot of effort to set up 10 regional digital transformation enabling environments that will cooperate together. DEVISE will facilitate the creation of these environments formed by digital and other key sectors. Policy makers, business support organisations, educational centres and SMEs from the digital and other smart specialisation sectors will be the main participants and beneficiaries. These environments will bring improved coordination and increased collaboration between the digital sector and those belonging to other smart specialisation sectors. 

What policy instruments does the project address?

The BMW Regional Operational Programme 2014-2020 is a Regional Programme with a total funding package of €320m, 50% of which is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund. The Programme is comprised of 5 core Priorities in addition to a Technical Assistance Priority. The 5 Priorities are Research and Innovation, ICT Infrastructure, SME Support & Capability Development, the Low Carbon Economy and Sustainable Urban Development. The DEVISE proposal will embrace Priority 3 of the BMW Operational Programme, namely SME Support, Promotion and Capability Development. The DEVISE proposal aims to unlock the potential that digital tech SMEs have in boosting the competitiveness of those sectors identified as High Potential to enable the socio-economic growth of the partner regions. The Orientation of Priority 3 of the BMW Operational Programme targets the development of both micro enterprises and indigenous firms through enterprise training programmes, Business Incubation Programme supports as well as Management Development capacity building. In terms of projected outputs the Priority aims to support almost 16,000 enterprises, support over 1500 business start ups, as well as increase employment in the BMW region to 30,000 for Enterprise Ireland Clients and to 60,000 for client firms of Local Enterprise Offices in the region.

DEVISE will help to improve these activities aimed to support innovative and growth-oriented SME start-ups and expansions in growing sectors.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Northern and Western Regional Assembly

The project will address the Donegal Digital Action Plan. This is a plan developed within the framework of the County’s Local Economic and Community Planning (LECP).

One of the three main goals of this instrument is to grow ‘An expanded digital cluster, home to indigenous and Foreign Direct Investment companies’

The action plan contains concrete actions to be implemented over the next years. Among them and relate to the issue addressed in DEVISE, the plan intends to be a catalyst for the following:

• A number of new start-ups in the tech sector in County Donegal

• Encourage existing businesses to use digital processes, increasing their ability to compete, sell additional products and services and create more jobs

The revision of previous relevant “digital” work carried out in County Donegal has served to identify that the IT cluster in Letterkenny, with its mix of FDI and home grown companies provided a solid base for further job creation.

There is a need to grow and expand the reach of the Letterkenny IT cluster to other areas within the County and apply its potential to give response and increase competitiveness of other strategic sectors in the county (i.e. tourism and food). At the moment, there is a gap to cover when it comes to the cross-sectoral role that digital can play as a enabler of other strategic sectors in the county. The potential of the digital sector is there but a facilitation and oriented support is required to maximize this potential.

Which partners are working on this?
  • European Regions Network for the Application of Communications Technology

With an allocation of 40 million € budget, Priority Axis 2 of the ERDF OP for the West Region Romania aims to enhance SMEs' competitiveness focusing on Romania's high­growth economic sector. The investment priority concerned: 2.1: Promotion of the entrepreneurial spirit, especially through the facilitation of economical exploration of new ideas and by encouraging the creation of new enterprises.

One way to increase the competitiveness of the region is related to the creation of high value added niches. The Regional Operational Programme is not sufficiently customized on business niches, on the development level of the digital tech companies, on the regional specificity of the business environment of each region. 

Therefore, a sharper focus on digital tech entrepreneurship support is envisaged. This means moving towards very selective practical and financial assistance to enterprises in key sectors only and/or enterprises considered of “high­growth” potential. This implies turning away from an undifferentiated approach to a more specific one, focussing more on the business challenges and needs. There may still be a case for SME support to other sectors but only in less favoured areas of the Region. SME measures under ROP will also need to be reconfigured.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Regional Development Agency of the West Region Romania

DEVISE will address the Cantabria Regional Operational Programme 2014 - 2020 and more concretely its thematic priority 3: SMEs competitiveness, With an ERDF allocation of: 52,657,054.00 €, the regional programme is based on 6 priorities being SMEs competitiveness the most important one in terms of budget allocation with a 37.58 % of the total budget.

SMEs competitiveness is encouraged through the implementation of different regional measures targeted to improve the starting process of new companies and specially those from key sectors identified in the Cantabrian RIS3 (iCan2020).

According to this regional strategy the digital sector, due to its capacity and cross-sectorial application, is one of the sectors with real potential to boost economic development, innovation and competitiveness. Although a big progress has been made in the way of orienting this policy instrument to provide specific support to those sectors identified as high potential for a smart growth and reflected in the RIS3, there is still a gap to cover in the way they can interact and in particular to exploit the contribution of the digital sector to increase the competitiveness within these sectors.

As it’s identified in the Regional Operational Programme, SMEs from the region present a low critical mass and reduced levels of coordination that makes difficult their access to international markets and mobilise resources that allow them to innovate and grow. This issue must be addressed and improved.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Regional Government of Cantabria

DEVISE will address the “Strategic Plan San Sebastian 2020”, more concretely objective 7: to boost the entrepreneurial culture, training and offer the adequate conditions for the development of innovative business initiatives, especially considering the capacities the city accounts for. This becomes especially relevant to promote and position the emerging sectors identified in the city.

The Smart Cluster is growing in the city. Within this Local Innovation Strategy, and through the "Smart City Plan" (2016-2020), one of the objectives is to position the city as a smart city and transform it as a smart city hub for SMEs.

Aligned with the Strategic Plan, the "Strategic Commercial Plan" for the city analyses the economic measures aligned with the local commercial trends to improve the local offer and the competitiveness of the businesses. It is important to highlight the growth and relevance that local commerce has in the city.

According to the local strategy, the economic competitiveness should be based on the balance between traditional activities that are city attractors (commerce) and the emerging and innovative initiatives (Smart, Digital, etc)

The challenge is to promote knowledge-based initiatives and to integrate more traditional sectors in advanced innovative processes and models. This will enable the traditional businesses to compete at global level and position the city at the time that digital tech SMEs grow providing solutions for this purpose.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Fomento San Sebastian

The project will specifically address Priority Axis 2 which corresponds to the thematic objective: Enhancing the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises. Within it, the Local Economic Development (LED) activity will take place under Priority Axis 2 of the Programme. This Priority aims to enhance the Competitiveness of SMEs and is aligned with the transfer of economic functions that took place as part of the reform of Local Government in NI. The 11 Local Councils, among Derry City and Strabane District Council (DCSDC) is included, are the beneficiaries of this funding which is administered through Invest NI. The LED activity has one primary target which is the creation of jobs. This can be achieved either through start-up or business growth activity with particular focus on the micro and small business base (i.e. those with under 50 employees).

DCSDC has secured ERDF funding under the LED measure to deliver the Business Boost Programme. This will be DCSDC principal business support and growth programme. It will provide specialist mentoring support to micro and small enterprises with the specific aim of supporting the development of a more prosperous economy. There is a need in focusing in those sectors with high potential, among them digital tech presents a significant opportunity to grow as a sector but also helping SMEs of others sectors including creative industries, culture and tourism, life sciences, agri food, engineering and textile manufacturing.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Derry City & Strabane District Council

The Program’s main objective is the achievement of dynamic and competitive economy through the development of innovations, entrepreneurship, growth capacity of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), energy and resource efficiency of enterprises.

More concretely we will focus the Priority Axis 2 "Entrepreneurship and capacity for growth of SMEs", Investment Priority 2.2: Capacity for SMEs to grow which envisages support for the growth of businesses by improving the quality and by promoting the use of ICT and services. The digital tech companies are into the scope of support as related to the described objectives.

This priority needs to be improved since on one hand, it sets a broad framework for improving the efficiency and competitiveness of enterprises through measures such as the implementation of new technologies, practices, methods, systems to improve resource efficiency and effectiveness in the production process, among others. On the other hand, it’s linked with the RIS3 thematic areas and is based on the regional specification of high-tech and knowledge-intensive products and services but the whole program does not focus specifically at digital companies, lacks on detailed description of the digital tech business opportunities and does not envisage specific measures oriented towards supporting the boosting the competitiveness of those sectors identified as high-potential for the socioeconomic growth of Bulgaria.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Business Agency Association

Regional Strategy of South Ostrobothnia directs the use of ERDF-funds in the region. Within it we will focus on Investment Priority 2: To increase companies’ competitiveness through a new kind of product development. This development work requires investments in the development of smart products, the utilisation of new materials in production and the integration of service business activities with products. In a product’s life cycle, the secondary market offers excellent opportunities for new business. Service business activities improve the profitability and international competitiveness of companies that manufacture machines and equipment.

Present stage is that manufacturing SMEs show growing awareness for digitalisation. However, networking manufacturing and digi tech SMEs need still activation. There will be lack of digital tech SMEs in the region without specific actions, both growth and new companies are needed.

Under the “Smart and energy efficient systems” SeAMK has guided the development of Digital Factory concept. Digital Factory concept means the management of the whole product lifecycle chain with digital tools.

DEVISE will bring more practical and strategic approach for the Digital Factory and IoT-Compass Hub with an aim of facilitate the flourishment and grow of digital tech SMEs around the manufacture sector.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences (UAS)

DEVISE addresses the ERDF Programme "Pays de la Loire" which aims to create a dynamic economy to place the region among the most developed in Europe. More concretely, the specific investment priority related to the project is 3-d : ‘To support the capacity of SMEs to grow in regional, national and international markets as well as engaging in innovation processes’.

The ERDF intervention strategy for the competitiveness of SMEs, is based on:

• the actions conducted by individual companies or by the interface structures for the benefit of a collective of companies (support for the transfer of technologies, development of research).

• transversal tools contributing to the competitiveness of SMEs (advanced advisory services).

Compared to other French regions, the productive apparatus of the Pays de la Loire is relatively diversified. The weight of the industry(19.7% of jobs in 2010) is above the national average.

Thanks to this and a high density of SMEs, the region benefits from several growth engines that should be maintained and reinforced. It's very important to help SMEs to find new levers of development and to strengthen their competitiveness.

One specific challenge is to promote the adoption and dissemination of digital tools. The ERDF will thus intervene for the development of applications with high added value for the creation of intelligent services (Industry 4.0, IoT, Virtual Reality, Big data, geographical information, etc) and the development and support of uses.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Laval Mayenne Technopole

With an allocation of 34.6 million € budget, the Operational Program 'Investment in Growth and Jobs' Flanders 2014-2020 aims to enhance SMEs’ competiveness. Key priorities of this economic transformation plan are a leading start-up policy, an industrial policy (Factories of the Future), a future-oriented, multimodal logistics strategy, an R & D-stimulating and enterprise-oriented development of higher education, a real retail and core reinforcing policy and an economic impulse plan.

The link between the start-up policy and the industrial policy should be stronger, and could be combined with the R&D stimulation within SMEs. The three combined would be of great importance for the competitiveness of the SMEs and the general economic growth of region. R&D stimulating is one of the priorities, but the region still has brain drain problems and the link with the national research institutes should be stronger.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Voka - Chamber of Commerce West Flanders