Excellence hubs are an initiative to strengthen regional innovation excellence in placed based innovation ecosystems by cross-border collaboration on a common strategy and/or alongside value adding chains. Place based innovation ecosystems are interconnected companies, research institutions, governmental bodies and societal actors that are mutually reinforcing each other in a territorial context and together raise the level of innovation excellence in their regional fabric.

Projects are expected to contribute to the following outcomes:

  • Excellent and sustainable place based innovation ecosystems in Widening countries and beyond in relevant domains of cutting-edge science and innovation
  • Long term joint R&I strategies underpinned by concrete action plans of European relevance
  • Common investment plans for R&I including infrastructures leveraging national, regional and European funds as well as private capital in a synergetic manner
  • R&I pilot projects alongside a joint strategy and in line with regional and national strategies, notably regional innovation strategies for smart specialisation (RIS3)
  • New competencies and skills for researchers, entrepreneurs and professionals in R&I intensive domains
  • Strengthened linkages between science and business
  • Poles of attraction for talents in catching up regions and countries
  • Improved knowledge transfer and development of entrepreneurial skills.
  • Uptake of innovative technologies
  • New business opportunities especially for SMEs and new employment.


Excellence hubs are part of the European excellence initiative and complement the science oriented schemes Teaming, Twinning, ERA Chairs and the European excellence initiative for universities by a dedicated innovation component. Excellence hubs will focus on innovation by allowing innovation ecosystems in widening countries and beyond, to team up and create better linkages between academia, business, government and society. This will foster a real placed based innovation culture in widening countries based on a strategic agenda aligned with regional or national smart specialisation strategies. In this context, synergies will be sought with the programme parts on European Innovation Ecosystems and the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT).

This action is embedded into the broader European initiative on ERA hubs and will help to bridge the innovation divide in this context. It responds to the third priority in the ERA communication on translating R&I results into the economy and will especially support R&I policies aiming at boosting the resilience and competitiveness of our economies and societies. This means ensuring Europe’s competitive leadership in the global race for technology based on excellence while improving the environment for business R&I investment, deployment of new technologies and enhancing the take up and visibility of research results in the economy and society as a whole. This action addresses regions as R&I actors since they are the place where the innovation and industrial ecosystems breath and develop, making the links between Europe and industry/SMEs, research centres, innovation stakeholders as well as citizens. Regionally developed innovation ecosystems connected across Europe will be the driver of new European strategic value chain.

Unlike Teaming projects that are centred around a single beneficiary Excellence hubs are networks of place based innovation ecosystems in widening countries involving larger communities of actors in a regional context based on the quadruple helix principle (see below). Individual participants and ecosystems from other EU member states, associated countries and international co-operation partners may join in duly justified cases e.g. given by a specific expertise needed or the involvement in a relevant value adding chain.

Projects should be established around the following core components:

  • Cross-border joint R&I strategy aligned with regional smart specialisation strategies and/or European policy priorities such as the green and digital transition
  • R&I project consolidating academia business linkages and providing evidence for strategy building and investment
  • Action and investment plans for implementation of the strategy
  • Conceptual design and pre-planning for pilots and demonstrators (if applicable) in line with the strategy
  • Accompanying measures e.g. to raise visibility, citizen engagement, technology transfer, entrepreneurship training, staff exchange, mutual learning etc.

Excellence hubs should improve access to excellence for R&I actors in widening countries and elaborate joint R&I strategies that are aligned with national, regional (notably RIS3) and/or European strategies or policy priorities (e.g. Green Deal, Digital transition). These strategies will be underpinned by concrete actions plans and an investment strategy that reaches out beyond the project’s lifetime and will leverage national, regional and European funds as well as private (venture) capital. Investment plans may include pertinent R&I infrastructures as well as demonstrators and pilots.

The research component should be developed by joint pilot research projects in a domain covered by the joint strategy that will facilitate long term cross border and inter-sectoral collaborative links between partners notably academia and business and advancement in science and technology development with market potential. In a particular R&I projects should serve the purpose to close knowledge gaps and develop evidence to underpin the development of the strategy and the investment plans. For example, in the R&I projects lab prototypes might be developed leading to the design of pilot plants or demonstrators (see above). However, the realisation of such pilots and demonstrators must be financed by other sources in particular programmes co-financed by the ERDF. The approach how to access such co-funding at a later stage should be sketched out in the proposal. Notably for the case of ERDF the proposal should demonstrate the alignment with the pertinent regional smart specialisation.

Accompanying measures are complementary activities that may promote knowledge and technology transfer, mutual learning and skills development especially in research and innovation management and entrepreneurship as well as citizen engagement. Mutual secondments and staff exchange within and between ecosystems will help to build trust and long term collaborative links.

Proposals should outline the nexus of collaborative links and if applicable competitive relations of commercial actors within each of the ecosystems in a conceptual model. Ecosystems or individual partners from outside the widening countries may participate in the consortium as long as they prove added value by facilitating access to excellence for the widening countries. Proposals should convincingly demonstrate the relevance of the chosen scientific domain by its alignment with regional (in particular RIS3), national and/or European R&I strategies and policy priorities. Applicants may choose between a more regional orientation e.g. proven by a common denominator in their regional smart specialisation strategy and/or a more global orientation towards European policy priorities such as the green or digital transition.

The description of R&I content based on this choice should include a long-term vision beyond the state of the art of the chosen R&I domain. On top of that, proposal need to demonstrate the win-win effects of the partnership established by the consortium and the benefits for employment and post crisis recovery. For the implementation, proposals should present a coherent package of actions well proportioned in terms of strategy development, research, innovation and outreach activities.

Excellence hubs as a new action under the widening component are complementary but different to initiatives such as Digital hubs or the EIT regional innovation scheme (RIS) because of their strategic orientation, broader scope and alignment with widening eligibility criteria.

The expected duration of the project is up to 4 years.

To learn more and apply for the grant, please visit the website of Funding and Tenders Opportunities Portal.