Photonics – the science and technology of light – is popping up in digital products and end-user apps everywhere. Just in the last year, Tech.eu has written about photonics used in an at-home STI testing kit and quantum computing, or for cheaper 5G access and safer cars.

Perhaps that’s why PhotonHub Europe, a new photonics digital innovation hub based at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, has just won a €19 million investment from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.

The hub says its goal is to ensure Europe’s strength on the global tech stage, helping European SMEs and mid-market companies become competitive digital businesses through faster and smarter deployment of photonics-based technologies.

In the process, the hub predicts it will generate over 1,000 new high-tech jobs and nearly €1 billion in new revenue and venture capital by 2025. 

“Photonics is essential to the functioning of new applications which are powering the new industrial wave – Industry 4.0 – and which are also critical to our ability to fundamentally address the enormous global societal and environmental challenges of our times”, said Professor Hugo Thienpont, Director of Brussels Photonics at the VUB and overall coordinator of PhotonHub Europe.

He stressed that industry needs to be “working collaboratively across all member states”, and that this is the main motivation for the new hub.

The organisation will bring together 53 ‘top competence centres’ across Europe under one roof as a one-stop shop for technologies, training, expertise and advice about photonics. Services for photonics newbies will include upskilling, a ‘test before invest’ program, and further support to find investment if the technology is to be adopted in-house.

“PhotonHub can dramatically lower the barriers to innovation for these companies to start experimenting and expanding their use of photonics,” said Mr. Ewit Roos of PhotonDelta in the Netherlands, and co-leader of the ‘test before invest’ program. He says they have 500 of Europe’s top experts ready to advise on anything from design to prototyping, upscaling to manufacturing, and even intellectual property laws.

Not all of the activities will be centralised in Brussels, though. PhotonHub will also partner with universities and innovation labs in 18 regions of Europe, what they call “lighthouse regions”, so that best practices and expertise can be quickly shared on the local level.

Built upon 15 years of pan-European projects in photonics, everything about the organisation seems well thought out and thoroughly communicated – even its expected impacts.

In its first four years of operation, PhotonHub expects to have one-to-one expert discussions with at least 8,000 companies (90 percent of which will be SMEs), with nearly 6,000 trainings, 280 companies paired with an investor, and over 250 companies receiving cross-border support to speed up their Technology Readiness Level (TRL).

This is how the hub expects to create 1,000 new jobs and nearly €1 billion in new revenues generated and new venture capital raised. The group added that by seeking out regional and national funding across Europe, it expects to raise another €75 million, so that it far outlasts this initial grant from the European Commission.

PhotonHub Europe will kick off in early 2021 and hold a continuous open call for companies to apply for its support services. Interested companies can apply through the hub’s website.

Photo credit: PhotonHub Europe

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