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NOP Research and Innovation annual event, strengthening university-business cooperation to meet the challenges of the future

Report of the plenary and the workshops organized on the annual event which took place on 22 and 23 February 2022 in collaboration with the European Commission’s University Business Forum

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“An event that is perfectly in line with the recent European Commission Communication on a European Strategy for Universities, which invites Member States and all actors involved in the education sector to closer collaboration within the European Education Area, the European Research Area and the European Higher Education Area”. With these words, the Minister of University and Research Maria Cristina Messa opened the annual event of the NOP Research and Innovation 2014-2020 which took place on 22 and 23 February 2022, in collaboration with the European Commission’s University Business Forum. 

The idea of holding the annual NOP Research and Innovation event in conjunction with the UBForum has proved successful since, by fully interpreting the objectives of the European Strategy for Universities, it offered concrete opportunities for collaboration aimed at creating synergies between businesses and higher education, strengthening the role of universities as a point of reference for increasing the skills of the new generations and preparing them to face the challenges of the green transition and digital transformation. The competitiveness of the European economy also depends on the promotion of tools that support universities.
“This event,” added Minister Messa, “represents a great opportunity to stimulate a dialogue on these issues through the presentation of some successful cases that have already established productive collaboration between higher education institutions and various stakeholders, also thanks to the fundamental contribution of European, national and regional funds supporting research and innovation. The most important aim of this initiative is to show some good practices on how universities and businesses can effectively cooperate even in different countries, using different resources and approaches, but looking in the same direction, with common priorities and objectives”.

The plenary session was chaired by Sara Rossi, NOP Research and Innovation 2014-2020 Managing Authority, who emphasized that “the aim of this two-day event is to reflect on the ongoing changes. It represents an extraordinary opportunity for exchange, sharing of experiences and best practices, networking and debate on how to further improve the relationship between university and business in order to address the challenges of modernity with regard to the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-pandemic situation”.
Speaking of the future and the new challenges, there was also a discussion on the National Recovery and Resilience Plan which, as Fabio Cencio, RRP Mission Unit, pointed out, “focuses on many issues that have always been at the heart of the support measures of the NOP Research and Innovation, such as the dissemination of innovative models for research carried out in synergy between universities and businesses, the support for innovation and technology transfer processes, the strengthening of human capital and the financing of research infrastructures.” The RRP also focuses on the development of Southern regions and outlines specific cross-cutting priorities aimed at stimulating youth employment, women’s empowerment and the fight against gender discrimination.

The event continued with a session in which representatives from the University Ministries of Slovenia, Portugal and Spain shared their direct experiences in their countries underlining the importance of exchange and sharing opportunities to establish new contacts and gain new insights. 
Luciano Conte, DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, and Monika Weymann, DG Education, Youth, Sport and Culture of the European Commission, reinforced this concept and expressed their appreciation for the new formula of the event.
The morning ended with a focus on the Mediterranean by Angelo Riccaboni, Chair of the PRIMA programme, and Giuseppe Provenzano, Union for the Mediterranean, who contributed to the discussion on university-business cooperation, in line with the Commission’s commitment highlighted in these days by the EU/Africa Summit that was held in February.

In the afternoon, six thematic workshops of an hour and a half each were held in three sessions, which specifically analysed some of the hottest topics of the moment, from digital transformation and green transition to the role of universities in the Smart Specialization Strategies, to innovation in education, business co-creation and the agri-food sector. Presentations covered various European programmes and projects funded both directly through initiatives such as Erasmus+, Horizon 2020 and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, and through the European Structural and Investment Funds, such as the NOP Research and Innovation 2014-2020.

The Programme presented the experiences of some of the good practices financed in recent years, such as the Gel4P project by the company Gelesis for the development of a super-absorbent hydrogel against obesity and other gastro-intestinal disorders, which is currently being marketed in the United States. As Gelesis coordinator Alessandro Sannino said to young people, the road to success is often paved with failure which is as important for reaching a goal. This is a concrete example of a path that has led from research to a winning company, which has also recently been listed on the Wall Street stock exchange. 
The workshop on digital transformation presented the Adam’s Hand project which involves the development of the world’s first fully adaptive bionic hand for people who have had their upper limbs amputated. The same workshop presented SIRIMAP that addresses the issue of marine microplastic pollution with an innovative waste detection system based on the acquisition of satellite images. 
In the field of innovation in teaching and learning, the VASARI project was presented, which brings together the most recent innovations in digital technologies, including augmented reality, to radically change the activities of enhancing, using and managing works of art, seeking to create a new cultural space in which the user feels immersed in a network of knowledge that goes beyond the boundaries of physical space. 
The workshop on the green transition presented the IPANEMA and the FOAK STEM projects. IPANEMA aims to strengthen the NatLab-Italy natural laboratory in Panarea which is part of the pan-European ERIC–ECCSEL (European Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage Laboratory Infrastructure) infrastructure dedicated to advancing skills and knowledge in the field of applied geoscience. FOAK STEM aims to improve the solar energy production and storage system, with important positive effects on the region in terms of sustainability and tackling climate change. 
In the third workshop session, the SAFE and E-Crops projects were presented. SAFE aims to develop and build smart, earthquake-proof and life-saving furniture systems for schools and offices; E-Crops intends to develop and integrate new technologies to promote the transition of precision agriculture towards Agriculture 4.0 in Southern Italy, combining it with smart grids and data management tools to enable process automation within an agro-environmental sustainability framework.
Finally, a project funded by a PhD scholarship under the NOP on Research and Innovation and become a startup was presented: MyLillo, a food delivery company founded in July 2019 by a PhD student at the Department of Economics, Management and Statistics of the University of Messina.

The second day analysed the main results of the workshops with short presentations given by students on scholarships and enrolled in Innovative Industrial Doctorates, coordinated by the two scientific and policy contact persons of the event: Maria Palladino, DG EAC, and Alessio Cavicchi, professor at the University of Pisa and external expert for the MUR on Smart Specialization and regional development issues. 
The morning continued with a plenary session attended by representatives from organizations committed to improving collaboration between university and business in the Mediterranean area, such as PRIMA, CIHEAM, UNIMED, EIT Food and BUSINESSMED. The event ended with a session dedicated to the theme “Sustainability in Action”, in which several startup initiatives funded or supported by the EIT and the NOP on Research and Innovation 2014-2020 were presented. 
As underlined at the end of the event by Pasquale D'Alessandro, DG Regional and Urban Policy, European Commission, thanks to the high number of projects, initiatives, personal stories and success stories, the event was a confirmation of how important it is to create a context in which universities, business, civil society and public administration can allow a real and useful collaboration between the scientific community and business to reduce the information gap between the actors of the innovation ecosystem in the various countries.

In the coming days the materials presented by the speakers, reports on the topics discussed in the workshops and, subsequently, the proceedings of the event, will be published on the NOP Research and Innovation website. 

Day 1, February 22, 2022
Workshop Session 1
Report of the workshop 1.1   Report of the workshop 1.2
Workshop Session 2
Report of the workshop 2.1   Report of the workshop 2.2
Workshop Session 3
Report of the workshop 3.1   Report of the workshop 3.2

Day 2, February 23, 2022


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