“Green deal”, the transition towards a climate-neutral sustainable EU economy, is resource intensive and strongly depends on the availability of the raw materials, particularly of the critical raw materials (CRM). EU’s production is 20-25% while 62% is imported from China. It is expected that the EU’s demand for raw materials will double by 2050.

Securing a sustainable supply of metals and minerals is vital to meet the EU’s energy and climate targets for 2030. When effort is put into the development of circular economy, such as recycling and urban mining systems or expanding the use of secondary materials, the primary production – mining and the raw material industry will remain important for many decades to come. Circular economy operations and concepts must start from the very beginning of every industrial value and supply chain. That would mean to bind stronger the regional and local Innovation Ecosystem in cooperation with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) as a relevant operational starting point of the value chain and supply.

In order to reach the EU’s vision, to increase self-sufficiency in raw material production, the EU Smart Specialization S3P Mining Industry strategy underlines that a systematic approach and capacity building will be needed by inviting the core actors in EU mining regions joining the forces to develop transnational industrial-academic-technological collaborations in among raw material industries and related services and by involving regional innovation ecosystems, industrial-driven clusters, SMEs and HEIs.

The vision of HEI4S3-RM for 2030 will be to develop a novel pathway for entrepreneurial universities by performing research and development to ensure and accelerate innovation and commercialization with the involvement and collaboration of many internal/external stakeholders (academic and non-academic staff, as well as students) in HEIs regions.

The new operational framework will be introduced via Ecosystem Integration Labs (EILs), which will be developed and implemented by each participating university (by relying on existing infrastructures, such as research support offices, incubators´ academies, technology transfer offices, and/or other instruments and tools like for example university-driven chairs and agreements with topic related companies).

The EILs will be tailored based on each university’s HEInnovate needs assessment and following the spirit of the EU Smart Specialization S3P Mining Industry strategy, which will govern the focus of the envisioned innovation and business projects, Talent Labs and Open Innovation and Training Programs. As a result, this will motivate each higher education institution (HEI) involved to commit to its proper Innovation Vision Action Plan (IVAP). Fostering smart specialization and sustainable raw materials will be of importance in driving bottom-up innovations, as well as the engagement of stronger HEIs capacities to join the forces and knowledge bases to develop the cross-sectorial industrial value chain(s), especially in EU Carbon-Intensive Regions in Transition.

While global innovation is concentrated in urban areas and large universities compete in global rankings, HEI4S3-RM connects small and medium-sized, but agile HEIs and is very well connected with their regional and local innovation ecosystems.

Six universities (Spain, Romania, Germany, Finland, Greece), two RTO – Competence Centres (Serbia, Slovenia), and one SME – strategic and innovation consulting service (Poland), will jointly implement at least six HEI initiative actions (WP1-WP6). Also, four others associated HEIs linked to the consortium (Estonia, Romania, Sweden, Senegal) will significantly increase the impact of the HEI4S3-RM actions.

Additionally, a wide variety of other associated partners will collaborate with the HEI4S3-RM knowledge triangle. These include business agencies, incubators, accelerators, industrial-driven clusters, start-ups, SME and large companies, technological competence centres, and other agents of change for a digital and green transition linked to the EU raw material industry. Some of them are linked regionally and connected globally, offering access to regional communities and resources, as well as relevant thematic-driven European networks.

This enables a realistic Innovation Vision Action Plan (IVAP) to reinforce the innovation capacity building of Europe, aiming for long-term sustainability and circular economy approaches. The project’s results will contribute to the strategic objectives and missions of at least three EIT Knowledge and Innovation Communities: EIT Digital, EIT Climate, and EIT Raw Materials, including the vision of the EIT Regional Innovation Scheme.

To further develop and strengthen innovation capacity, HEI4S3-RM defines four long-term strategic priorities:

  • Provide expertise and resources to turn ideas into value to foster smart and sustainable specialization in EU regions.
  • Empower and support “HEI4S3-RM Innovators” to bridge the gaps within the knowledge triangle and HEIs.
  • Enhance entrepreneurial education to enable learner-driven innovation
  • Link smart specialization and open innovation to connect regional and local ecosystems with pan-European networks.

These priorities are broken down into six selected actions and eight core objectives, which will be carried out in the framework of 6 work packages (WPs):

  1. Foster entrepreneurial universities & innovation policies
  2. Build capacities for inter and multi-disciplinary support structures, test beds and other structures (Ecosystem Integration Labs)
  3. Strength networked innovation ecosystems & partnerships
  4. Open innovation, entrepreneurship, and business creation
  5. Favour structures and conditions for innovation-driven research
  6. Continuous mentoring and training on staff and students’ level in R&I skills
  7. Innovation and entrepreneurship education
  8. Management & dissemination & transferability