An ENRICHing experience: How a global exchange network between Europe and China can drive innovation

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Science and technology are advancing at a faster rate than ever before as more countries worldwide see the benefit of investing in research. No country has had more of a meteoric rise in the fields of biotechnology, computing and space technology than China. In recognition of this, the European Commission is now promoting a global network of centres and hubs that encourage the internationalisation of European science, technology and innovation. The European Network of Research and Innovation Centres and Hubs, China focuses on the free exchange of knowledge, experts and ideas.

As the second largest world economy and a powerful industry and technology innovator, China has in the last decade justified its position as a global leader in many science and technology sectors. The mutually beneficial network, the European Network of Research and Innovation Centres and Hubs (ENRICH) was set up to support European stakeholders who wanted to explore new and growing markets, and facilitated exchange between European research, technology and business operations and top global frontrunner markets, including China.

In this interview, we find out more about China’s current research strengths, how exactly ENRICH in China enables Europe and China to connect and how both sides can profit from such connections.

Can you tell us more about European Network of Research and Innovation Centres and Hubs, China (ENRICH in China) in terms of its background, core mission and goals?
Promoted by the European Commission (EC) through Horizon 2020, ENRICH in China is part of a global network of centres and hubs that promotes the internationalisation of European science, technology and innovation (STI). The network currently offers services to connect European research, technology and business organisations with three global frontrunner innovation markets: China, Brazil and the United States. ENRICH in China has a total of 13 implementing partners, eight European organisations, including the European Business Network (EBN) from Belgium, Fraunhofer IPK and Steinbeis 2i GmbH from Germany, the Austrian Research Promotion Agency from Austria, FORTH from Greece, EUrelations from Switzerland and Innovation Norway; and five Chinese partners, namely the China Science and Technology Exchange Center, TORCH High Technology Industry Development Center, the European Union (EU) Project Innovation Centre (EUPIC), Tsinghua University and the University of Nottingham Ningbo. The coordinator is Sociedade Portuguesa de Inovação (SPI), a private consulting company created in 1996 as an active centre of national and international networks connected to the research and innovation sectors. SPI has become a leading promoter of linkages between national and international public and private organisations/companies/science and technology (S&T) institutes. It has coordinated and provided expert support on projects based in Europe, Asia, North America, South America and Africa. SPI has had a physical presence in China since 1999 and has extensive coordination and international experience in EC projects related to bilateral S&T cooperation between the EU and China.

ENRICH in China aims at connecting and supporting European STI stakeholders in understanding and exploring the Chinese market. The main objective is to reinforce Europe’s STI leadership in China and to foster cooperation between both regions. ENRICH in China is ready to explore all the S&T collaborative potential of the Chinese market for the benefit of European research organisation and technology-based companies including start-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), research centres and individual researchers.

What is the added value of ENRICH to organisations? Can you tell us more about the services you offer?
ENRICH in China has seven distinct services. The service portfolio of ENRICH in China intends to be comprehensive and diverse, aiming at addressing the needs and interests of its European clients in the Chinese market and maximising the benefits of their activities and presence in China. Within the service portfolio of ENRICH in China, European organisations can benefit from personalised Research Development and Innovation (RDI) Consultancy and Coaching, where support in the identification, selection and contact with relevant Chinese partners can be done or even support in the establishment of technology transfer agreements with local entities. Development of tailor-made sector reports, feasibility and market studies are also available through the RDI Intelligence service. ENRICH in China regularly organises targeted training, short courses and workshops on open innovation management, knowledge and technology transfer, co-creation of products and user-driven innovation, through the Open Innovation Training service. Matchmaking sessions, roadshows, business visits, scientific exchanges, seminars and conferences that build trust and drive the exploitation of research, innovation and business collaborative opportunities are organised through the Cooperation Enabling Events service. Soft Landing and Co-working space in the different certified Soft Landing Zones in China is also provided. Any stakeholder, interested in knowing more about China and the Centre’s activities, can also follow all the latest updates in research and innovation through RDI Briefings.

ENRICH in China aims at connecting and supporting European STI stakeholders in understanding and exploring the Chinese market.

While Europe and the United States have traditionally led scientific development, China has emerged as a new S&T powerhouse – what are your thoughts on China’s global impact, position and importance in the world of scientific research right now?
There is no doubt that China has been growing very fast in the past few decades, not just economically but also in STI. China went from being barely mentioned in world scientific rankings, always associated with cheap and precarious labour, to taking first place in terms of the number of scientific papers published (more than 33,000) and being the second largest expender in R&D in 2016 ( It is also worth mentioning the massive steps China has taken in medical science and sea and space exploration.

Sara Medina, PhD
ENRICH in China Project Coordinator
SPI Member of the Board.

This growth is the result of China’s recognition of S&T and development of its S&T infrastructure; an integral fuel for economic growth. The country constantly seeks improvement and ultimately wants to become leaders in S&T related fields, positioning China as an attractive country to host foreign talent. This is a strategy that would benefit China in the long term.

Additionally, considering the new technology generated by the increasing and sustained R&D investments in China, the country provides a range of diverse opportunities to expand the boundaries of global knowledge, feeding and accelerating the process of innovation.

How do international researchers help contribute to the development of research in China? Why is it important for Chinese research teams to collaborate and engage with Western research teams?
China’s improved research ecosystem and high-quality infrastructure attract more and more foreign researchers willing to set up in China or cooperate with Chinese stakeholders. On the other hand, international researchers can help Chinese entities and/or researchers to further improve their technology. Foreign researchers have support from the government and benefit from quality resources, hi-tech infrastructures and a very big market to test their products on.

Western regions (in particular Europe and the United States) have know-how and technology that China has still not achieved. Thus, cooperation is crucial, and seen as a win-win situation for all regions, enhancing industry development and fostering economic growth. This, of course, contributes to long-term basic research activities by all, as scientists mutually learn new research methodologies.

Researcher ‘migration’ is not a one-way street either. Chinese researchers studying and working abroad have also either collaborated with foreign researchers or are employed by Chinese research institutes or universities, for example, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Tsinghua University, Tongji University, etc. The famous Talent 1,000 programme, that aims to attract senior scientists and experts globally to China, was very successful and is a perfect example of investment by the government.

Cooperation is crucial, and seen as a win-win situation for all regions, enhancing industry development and fostering economic growth.

Chinese investment is paying off with serious advances in biotech, computing and space. Is China edging ahead of the West?
It is hard to say in which fields China has already surpassed the West, but the country has clearly made impressive progress in several industries. The Chinese government identified the pharmaceutical industry as a key sector for the international strategy of China. The Chinese Minister of Health has stated that the country will spend an additional €10 billion to foster innovation in biotech from 2015 to 2020 (EU SME Centre: The Healthcare Sector in China). China is one of the largest medical device markets in the world. From 2015 to 2016, sales grew 20.1% to €50.89 billion ( This growth is expected to continue due to regular investment from the government.

The strategy ‘Made in China 2025’ has been the main booster of innovation in China, especially in software and information services. The government is trying to stimulate an innovative economy and is incentivising the production of better quality products by compensating the labour costs, which continue to increase. However, this move also aims to protect domestic products, causing foreign companies to have second thoughts about establishing themselves in the country.

The Chinese space industry is still lagging behind the United States, however, it has improved greatly and now surpasses other nations. On China’s first Space Day (24th April 2016), President Xi Jinping made clear that China is aiming at ‘becoming an aerospace power’( Plans for sending a probe to space and, ultimately, men to the moon are already in place for 2018 and 2036, respectively. In 2016, China tied with the United States for the most orbital launches. Even more recently, there has been an increase in the involvement of Chinese private companies in the commercial space industry (incentivised by government projects), which will certainly give a boost to the industry in terms of innovation (

The Chinese innovation ecosystem has taken a big leap to stay ahead of the competition in multiple sectors. Now, through transnational cooperation, we think China will learn from other regions to improve where it is still lagging and maintain its dominance where it is doing best.

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