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RIF Director General highlights rapid growth of Cyprus' R&I ecosystem

The Director General of the Cyprus Research and Innovation Foundation (RIF) Theodoros Loukaidis, has highlighted the rapid growth of the country's research and innovation ecosystem, in an interview with the Cyprus News Agency (CNA).

Loukaidis said that this growth began just before the pandemic, and pointed out the establishment of more universities and centres of excellence in the last ten years, which as he said, expanded with RIF’s support and funding from a highly competitive European Commission program. He added that Cyprus recently achieved its seventh success in this program, for a Centre of Excellence focused on Renewable Energy Sources.

He also mentioned the increase in research centres, organisations, and businesses in Cyprus in the last ten years. As he said, today, there’s a critical mass of innovative businesses, both startups and established companies, investing in research and innovation. These businesses, Loukaidis said, have been supported by the RIF and are now competitive in markets, even exporting their innovative products and solutions abroad, creating thus new job opportunities in the country.

"The ecosystem has grown rapidly. RIF supports all these efforts, and our greatest achievement is that in the past two years, Cyprus has been classified as a 'strong innovator' in the European Innovation Scoreboard. We are not only striving to maintain our position but also to further improve it," he noted.

RIF programs see strong response

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Regarding the response to current and previous programs of RIF, Loukaidis mentioned that there has been a significant response, which has been expanding in recent years.

From 2016 until today, he noted, there have been over a thousand proposals submitted and awarded over €148 million. He added that the allocation was balanced, following a five-pillar policy for the period 2021-2027. These pillars included research, collaboration and knowledge transfer to the market, innovation, strengthening of structures and capabilities, as well as internationalisation programs.

He also emphasised the encouraging fact that there’s now nearly a 50-50 distribution between research organisations and businesses, indicating a high level of interest from the business sector. Approximately a thousand businesses, he added, participated in IDEK's programs.

"Our major challenge is to involve even more Cypriot businesses in research and innovation," he noted.

"Health, digital technologies, agri-food, and defence leading in R&I

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When asked about the sectors that have benefited the most from RIFs programs he pointed out, that within Cyprus' ecosystem, there’ re particularly promising opportunities in the field of health, which has absorbed a significant portion of the total funding. Additionally, digital technologies, communication and information technology, agri-food, maritime, and the defence sector also exhibit strong potential within the national ecosystem. He emphasised that RIF, for the first has initiated thematic programs, one of which was in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence resulting in a three-million-euro funding program, which supported seven projects that address challenges faced by the Ministry of Defence.

Furthermore, Loukaidis mentioned that they have bolstered the energy ecosystem with new funding programs, which would be announced as part of the "REPowerEU" initiative under the National Recovery and Resilience Plan.

He also noted that they have funded projects in other sectors such as tourism, financial services, and a wide range of fields.

Connecting academic research with the market

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Loukaidis also stressed that the connection between the research space and businesses, with a focus on enhancing competitiveness and the country's economy, was a main goal. He mentioned that there were examples of successful collaborations, increased partnerships, and networking among research and businesses, reflected in European indicators.

"There are cases where individuals left the academic field with their knowledge and experiences, maintaining their relationships and connections and receiving support from these research organisations," he said. He added that within a very short period, they have managed to raise private investment funds, have brought products to market and generated their first revenue from sales of such products.

Furthermore, Loukaidis highlighted the challenge of involving more Cypriot businesses in R&I and leveraging the excellent knowledge produced by Cypriot research organisations, not only nationally but also internationally, to lead European programs and participate in large research networks.

“The message is clear: there are now more financial tools and highly targeted RIF programs that can be utilised by all stakeholders, including researchers, businesses, whether they are well-established or newcomers to the research and innovation ecosystem”, he said.

Ongoing programs

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Loukaidis also mentioned the rich toolkit of RIF, including ongoing programs and services aimed at further developing the national R&I ecosystem.

Among these programs is the "Pree-Seed" program, which supports the initial establishment of innovative businesses with funding of up to €120,000, with a deadline of November 3rd.

Additionally, the "Co-Develop" program focuses on collaboration between research organisations and businesses to facilitate knowledge transfer from research organisations to the market. The current call for proposals covers the fields of agri-food, maritime and shipping ecosystems, and healthcare, with project funding of €600,000 each and a deadline of October 20th.

Loukaidis also highlighted networking workshops for organisations and individuals within the ecosystem taking place from September 19th to 25th in Nicosia.

Furthermore, he mentioned the "Proof of Concept" program, a small financial program providing €40,000 per project with a deadline of November 10th. This program focuses on the preliminary exploration of technology application in the market.

The "Bridge2 Horizon" program aims to enhance the internationalisation of the research and innovation system by supporting research teams to strengthen their proposals, which will then be submitted to the ambitious European Commission program "Horizon Europe."

He also mentioned the "DISRUPT" program, a mixed-funding program designed to support companies with Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) in the market.

European Researcher's Night

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The highlight of RIF’s informative events is the "European Researcher's Night," held this year at the State Fairgrounds, with the theme "European Missions."

As Loukaidis explained, this theme was chosen by the European Commission and reflects ambitious EU programs addressing significant challenges like cancer prevention and treatment, climate change mitigation, ocean and water cleanliness, and more.

The event takes place simultaneously in 350 cities across Europe, celebrating science. Cyprus' research and innovation ecosystem will participate with booths, aiming to showcase their work to young students, inspiring early development of skills and curiosity.

“The event's goal is not only to inspire the younger generation but also to emphasise the importance of research and innovation to the broader public, highlighting Cyprus' outstanding achievements in these fields”, Loukaides said. The event is held under the auspices of the President of the Republic of Cyprus.

The exhibition will feature live experiments, competitions, interactive games, and surprises for all ages. It will commence in the morning and continue throughout the day.

(Source: CNA)

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