One of these projects is DeFINE, which stands for “Developing a Fashion-tech Innovation Network for Europe”. The project was launched in 2018 and worked on supporting the fusion of cutting-edge technologies and innovation with the European fashion and design industries.
Chiara Colombi, Associate professor at the Politecnico di Milano and its project coordinator, tells us more about their work, the impact of European funding on its development and gives us some tips for potential EU financial support applicants.
- The DeFINE project seeks to develop a fashion-tech innovation network for Europe. In this light, could you further describe the project and its objectives?
The DeFINE project aims at building a pan-European network of fashion-tech start-ups and SMEs, incubators and accelerators, financiers and investors to enhance the competitiveness of the European fashion ecosystem.
To achieve this ambitious goal, we need to overcome three big barriers adversely affecting the European fashion-tech sector. Firstly, the lack of networks and consolidated ecosystems undermines the possibility of cross-fertilization and collaboration across the fashion and the technology sectors. Secondly, the absence of fashion-tech specific knowledge in tech-driven and fashion-driven incubators and accelerators limits their capacity to effectively support fashion-tech businesses. Finally, there is a lack of knowledge in fashion-tech start-ups and SMEs on funding opportunities, leading to unsystematic, ineffective and time-consuming efforts to access support mechanisms.
In this light, our core activities revolve around networking, knowledge sharing, business development, and knowledge dissemination. We aim to map the relevant actors in the fashion-tech sector, build dedicated communities and bring together emerging and established players. We also want to disseminate and help implement best practices for delivering fashion-tech innovative products, services, and business models.
- DeFINE was launched in 2018. What are the project’s main achievements so far?
To date, our project consortium has reached and interacted with more than 500 fashion-tech start-ups and SMEs through information and networking events, bootcamps, entrepreneurial workshops, a mentoring programme, and its newsletters and dedicated digital channels. We have mapped 200 fashion-tech sensitive investors and financiers, directly involving 56 of them in investors’ workshops, pitching sessions, investment forums, interviews, and webinars. Furthermore, we have identified over 250 incubators, accelerators and hubs across Europe who supported at least one fashion-tech start-up and succeeded in actively involving 45 of them in the project activities. The project has created a digital space for the fashion-tech community to share events, incubation/acceleration/funding opportunities, as well as webinars, podcasts and articles on the sectoral trends.
In addition, we have supported 27 fashion-tech businesses through bespoke technical, business and investment readiness mentoring. Specifically, the companies have been gaining skills and knowledge on how to achieve product-market-fit and develop research on competitors, how to implement their innovative and technological product/service solutions and business models, and where and when to look for incubators, accelerators and investors. We are now systematising the lessons learned and good practices resulting from this experience for replication and transferability purposes.
- The Covid-19 pandemic has had a great impact on the way we work, on how we dress and on many other aspects of our lives. How has this crisis affected the project?
The DeFINE project was halfway through when the COVID-19 pandemic started. The restrictions and travel limitations affected the project in multiple ways.
For example, the businesses that benefitted from our first round of mentoring activities were not able to access laboratories, facilities and face-to-face training sessions later on. However, our mentoring team worked hard to reorient the support provided towards helping companies with their business management and strategy as well as communication and marketing activities. Interestingly, the businesses selected for the second round of mentoring activities included a higher number of applicants promoting digital and virtual fashion solutions and the digitalisation of various stages of the fashion value chain.
In addition, we have restructured the format of dissemination and networking events to take full advantage of digital collaboration opportunities. This has allowed the project to continue reaching key players and to even involve a greater number of interested stakeholders!
- How is European funding helping you in the implementation of the DeFINE project?
Crucially, European funding support has given a whole new dimension to the project. It has allowed us to reach out to the vast range of players present in the fashion-tech industrial ecosystem, thus helping us achieve greater impact. This sets EU financial assistance apart from other types of funding, as private funds or other financing entities usually target their support to specific categories or actors, such as industrial projects, or research, or development centers.
- As a successful applicant, which advice would you give to others who are interested in getting EU financial support? What is, in your opinion, the golden tip for potential applicants?
Our golden tip for potential applicants is to build a consortium that represents the players addressed by the very project. Actually, the DeFINE project consortium is composed by fashion, design and fashion-tech leading institutions, incubators and accelerators, a pan-European network of financiers, trade associations and business support organisations. This structure has enabled us to rely on a proficient mix of sector-specific experts with complementary skills, networks, and experiences.
DeFINE is a recently finished collaborative three-year (2018-2021) project co-funded by COSME which aims to support the fusion of cutting-edge technologies and innovation with the European fashion and design industries. In particular, DeFINE seeks to develop a network of incubators & accelerators, start-ups & SMEs, and financiers to form a European fashion-technology community.
Further details on the project are available at: https://www.define-network.eu/
The support to creative, social & sustainable projects will continue under the new Single Market programme. Most calls will be published on the last quarter of 2021, stay tuned to our website and follow us on social media for updates.
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