“Smart Cities and Communities” for a few, not for everyone?

As many will know, the MIUR has issued the long-awaited “Smart Cities and Communities” tender (links). The deadline for presenting project proposals is 30 April 2012, a date which coincides with another important deadline, that of Apps4Italy.

I quote verbatim from the official press release: “The design ideas will have to promote interventions able to use the most advanced solutions of direct impact on areas of public interest e develop models of social integration to solve problems on an urban and metropolitan scale. The scope of application is that of the Smart Cities and Communities or the development of innovative models aimed at giving solutions to problems on an urban and metropolitan scale through a set of technologies, applications, integration and inclusion models”. The areas of intervention identified are:

  • Smart mobility
  • Smart health
  • Smart education
  • Cloud computing technologies for smart government
  • Smart culture and tourism
  • Renewable energy and smart grids
  • Energy Efficiency and low carbon technologies
  • Smart mobility and last-mile logistics
  • Sustainable natural resources (waste, water, urban biodiversity)

Eligible subjects and partnership

They can present design ideas the businesses, i research centers, i consortia and the consortium companies, i science and technology parks (as defined in Article 5 paragraph 1 of the Ministerial Decree 593/2000 and subsequent amendments) with operational headquarters in the Convergence Regions or who undertake to set up a branch in one of the four Regions in case of approval of the project.

The art. 3 paragraph 3 imposes that every single project idea can be presented by a maximum of 5 proposers, with one total cost not less than 15 million euros and not more than 30 million euros. The partnership must respect (among others) the following elements:

  • there industrial component of the partnership (art. 5, co. 1, letters a)-d) of Ministerial Decree 593/2000) will have to bear at least 50% of R&D activities and 5% of experimentation costs;
  • a share of no less than 25% of the total cost of the proposal must be borne directly by University and state universities;
  • a share not less than the total cost of the proposal must be paid directly to 10% by National Public Research Bodies and Institutions.

It also has to be mandatory identification of a Public Administration in which it is expected to carry out the experimentation activities object of the project proposals (art. 2 paragraph 2 of the Notice) and which will then have to acquire the tested services. The available financial resources are divided as follows:

  • Integrated action for the Information Society 100,348,410.50 euros
  • Integrated action for sustainable development 100,348,410.50 euros

Why for a few and not for all?

I express now some doubts regarding the real access for a large number of subjects to the allocated resources for the two main actions. The announcement requires two major constraints, one of order economic, the other on type of partnership who can participate.

As mentioned, the resources for the two individual actions amount to just over 100 million euros, while the individual project proposals they must cost no less than 15M and no more than 30M euros. It can therefore be reasonably expected that they will have a average cost of 20M euros, as a consequence the number of eligible proposals cannot possibly be greater than 4-5 for each of the 2 actions.

We come to type of partnership. No less than 50% of R&D costs will have to be borne by the company, no less than 25% of the total by the state university, no less than 10% by public and state research institutes. A Public Administration must also be part of it, which will be the recipient of the experimentation activities, and whose "relevance and significance" will be one of the selection criteria envisaged by art. 7 of the Notice.

You think how many subjects are currently really able to put together a partnership that can succeed at national level? Because let's not forget that the proposing subjects may not even be from the south, provided they undertake to set up an operational headquarters in the Convergence Regions (Campania, Puglia, Calabria and Sicily) even after winning the tender.

In short, personally I have great doubts about the real accessibility to funding by subjects who do not already have a significant economic, technological, scientific as well as political caliber (involving a "weight" PA is not within everyone's reach). That way, it's very likely million euros will end up in the balance sheets of the usual 5-6 largest companies nationwide – I am omitting the universities and research centers – while there won't be room for many others, perhaps precisely southern ones, for which a tender built with less selective parameters from an economic point of view – lower thresholds of 15M and 30M euros – it could have been a great job opportunity for a greater number of people, as well as the possibility of innovate more widely, with a greater number of eligible projects. Anyway, I sincerely hope to be proven wrong.

There is hope however that for the "twin" call for the central-northern regions – which according to rumours, will be issued by the end of the summer and will have a budget of ben 700 million euros – these absurd economic thresholds will not have the same dimensions, and one can hope for 10, 100, 1000 smart cities…

Social innovation projects, for gifted youngsters *

Additional 40 million euros (10M for each of the four Convergence Regions) are made available with the same call for local innovation projects with a maximum cost of 2M euros proposed by young resident in the 4 Regions of not older than 30 years. The projects must foresee the development of technologically innovative ideas for the solution in the short-medium term of problems present in the reference area, always in the sectors of intervention described above.

Unlike the two macro-shares worth more than €100M, in this case the only threshold envisaged at an economic level is the maximum of 2M €, condition that will allow many kids with big ideas to participate without being intimidated by the need to propose very expensive projects. In fact, if – let's make a hypothesis – every single project idea will be worth an average of 1M euros, in each of the 4 southern regions involved we will have no less than 10 innovative projects financed. Forty "small" steps for as many young minds, forty big steps for society.

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