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Published: 2023-04-06 Updated: 2023-04-11, 23:04

Helping businesses in rural areas increase their digital maturity

NEWS Small and medium-sized enterprises in the sparsely populated northern regions of Sweden can get a significant boost in their efforts to increase their digital maturity in the coming years. This is evident after the Upper Norrland Regional Fund now granted partial financing of Digital Impact North's initiative to be one of the digital innovation hubs in the EU program Digital Europe.

Text: Jonas Andersson

- Today's announcement gives us the opportunity to start targeted operational work to offer support and education to companies and public organizations in our region. It strengthens our competitiveness, says Lennart Edblom, associate professor at the Department of Computer Science, Umeå University, and one of the driving forces behind Digital Impact North.

Digital Impact North is an initiative by Umeå University, Region Västerbotten, Umeå Municipality, SLU, RISE, and Umeå Science Park, which together with, among others, the County Administrative Board, Akademi Norr, and Företagarna in Norrbotten and Västerbotten strive to establish the region as an internationally strong area for the development of the future digital society.

– For us, as for the EU, it has become increasingly clear that there is a need to accelerate digitalization, especially when it comes to small and medium-sized enterprises. If Europe, Sweden, and the region are to be at the forefront compared to our surroundings when it comes to innovation, we must join forces around it, says Lennart Edblom and continues:

– Our unique expertise is that we are specifically focused on adapting these services for sparsely populated areas. Solutions that work in, for example, Stockholm may not necessarily be applicable in rural areas, says Lennart Edblom.

The Municipal Association Akademi Norr, which represents 12 inland municipalities in northern Sweden, is looking forward to the initiative.

– This is exactly what the business community and municipalities demand when it comes to competence supply. We have already booked meetings with the business offices to continue working on this, says Martin Bergvall, CEO of Akademi Norr.

Providing the conditions for success

It has been clear for some time that they have qualified to be a so-called European Digital Innovation Hub, EDIH. But until now, the consortium has lacked the necessary financing to implement the program's goals and purposes. With the structural funds of just over SEK 7.8 million that are now provided, about 40 percent of the project, which initially lasts for three years, is financed. The total budget is approximately SEK 19.5 million.

– It gives us a significant boost and the conditions for success. As a European digital innovation hub, we become part of an international network where we can contribute with important knowledge, but above all, we can more quickly and more coordinated offer important services to small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as organizations within the public sector, says Ulf Hedestig, associate professor at the Department of Informatics.

Huge challenge for a small business owner in Sorsele

The services include, among other things, analysis, development work, educational initiatives, new methods and approaches, as well as opportunities to test technology and solutions before investing, but also assistance with seeking financing.

– As a small business owner in Sorsele, these issues can be a huge challenge. That's where we can help, says Lennart Edblom and explains that a number of project offices will be established in Umeå, where the organizations behind Digital Impact North have their headquarters and regional expertise. But that doesn't mean that all activities take place there.

– No, on the contrary, we will engage in outreach activities in many municipalities. This way it will be much easier to get in touch with us to use any of our provided services.

Creating new pathways 

Another important aspect of Digital Impact North now becoming part of the EDIH network is that it creates natural paths into Europe.

- On one hand, companies that have needs that cannot be met by us can have the opportunity to seek help from other innovation hubs, and on the other hand, companies that have attractive services and products can get help to reach the European market, says Mats Johansson, project coordinator at the Department of Computer Science.