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Column Digital innovation and enterprise needs to be nurtured at an EU level

As Ireland and other EU member states grapple with economic recovery, one issue is clear: digital now dominates the way in which we learn, do business and conduct many activities in our home-life, writes Edel Flynn.

‘DIGITAL CLUSTERS’ from eight European regions will come together at Dublin’s Digital Hub this week to explore how they can better collaborate  to ensure that European policy is supportive of digital innovation and enterprise.

The eight clusters – which include Dublin’s Digital Hub – comprise those from Scotland, Spain, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Portugal, England and Malta.  We all share a common goal and purpose since we provide scaling space in a supported environment for high potential digital media enterprises.

Digital dominates

In my view, this gathering of digital clusters is possibly the most important of Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union. As member states grapple with recovery, one issue is clear: digital now dominates the way in which we learn, do business and conduct many activities in our home-life.

The EU needs to prioritise and support digital growth and innovation so that digital competency is pervasive in all member states and across all aspects of people’s everyday lives.  Digital has become a utility – just like electricity or water – that’s crucial in supporting economies and populations.  The EU needs to champion smart cities; promote new ways of learning among our children; support research and innovation; and help scale digital enterprises.  Leadership, strong policy and support to pilot new services to implement actions at an EU level will resonate with national governments.

The Digital Hub’s experience in understanding the digital-deficit is vast, and it’s shared by our fellow digital clusters from around Europe.  At a very basic level, The Digital Hub runs an out-of-school programme for young people to teach them in areas such as coding and app development.  The programme, called Future Creators, is now in its second year and is hugely successful in engaging with young people.

However, when the programme was originally constructed, one of our biggest challenges was recruiting tutors who had sufficient digital competency to teach on the programme.  Our challenge was eventually addressed, but it was a stark reminder to us of the digital deficit among teachers and educators.  At the foundation levels within the education system, unless teachers can deliver digital learning to their pupils, at the very least, they risk alienating them because so many youngsters take digital for granted.  More pressing, they risk disadvantaging their pupils in the future jobs market.

Digitally-focused jobs must be a priority

At a higher level, many third level institutions are struggling to deliver the graduates that are required to fill digitally-focused jobs.  The enterprises within Europe’s digital clusters are all too aware of the difficulties in filling jobs in areas such as gaming and app development.  At The Digital Hub, small and medium enterprises regularly have to look far beyond the domestic jobs market to fill positions.  The layer of administration associated with securing visas and vetting potential employees can be frustrating and hugely time consuming for small business operations.

It is against this backdrop that digital enterprises need to be supported.  And this is where clustering comes in.  Ten years ago, The Digital Hub opened its doors to digital media start-ups.  We provided a supportive environment whereby small and start-up enterprises could collaborate, share space and leverage advice and support.  The space provided was – and still is – flexible and of very high-quality, with a grade A broadband supply.

We facilitate enterprises to grow and compress, depending on their levels of business.  When the big gaming wave happened throughout the last decade, brands like Havok and Gala, went through ebbs and flows and now are well-established and sustainable brands in the gaming world that exist beyond The Digital Hub cluster as part of our alumni.

Data mapping and app development

The digital space is ever-changing.  One of the big areas of growth and development is now in the realm of health, including data mapping and app development for community, primary and tertiary care use.  Digital start-ups which seek to address emerging opportunities – and challenges – need a supportive environment.  Apart from flexible space, they benefit from co-operation with likeminded enterprises, gaining seamless access to research and development and having support and advice services on hand.  Without this infrastructure, too many start-ups fail and too many good ideas are never brought to the fore.

By talking to each other, and working together, the coming together of Europe’s eight digital clusters should act as a game-changer.  The issues of the digital deficit and the importance of clustering in supporting one of our biggest future sectors deserve a collective and strong advocate.  It is no surprise that so many countries look to create a ‘Silicon Valley’ which attracts entrepreneurs to innovate; deliver ideas into commercial products and public services; and create substantial high-quality employment opportunities.

The Digital Hub, for one, understands that the digital space is fast moving and needs to be supported in all stages of its rapid development.  That’s why we’re working to renew our vision and strategy.  Collaboration and open innovation will be at the heart of this.

Edel Flynn is the Chief Executive of the Digital Hub Development Agency, and was appointed to this position in April 2013.  She previously served in the role as Chief Operations Officer in the Agency.

The Digital Hub is a vibrant cluster of digital content and technology enterprises, located on a state-of-the-art campus in the heart of Dublin City. Set up in 2003, The Digital Hub fosters innovation, technological development and creativity in a supportive, entrepreneurial environment. Our resident digital media and technology businesses enjoy excellent infrastructure and support, as well as ample opportunities for collaboration, networking and knowledge-sharing.

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