Digitising SMEs sustainably with a digital ecosystem

Fontys Information and Communication Technology

Competitive power through digitalization

SMEs must get down to work, and not just to recover economically and socially after the coronary crisis. Digital transformation is a must, and with the DRIVE project, Fontys University of Applied Sciences, together with a group of partner organisations and companies from Eindhoven, Tilburg and the surrounding area, is making an important contribution to this. Imagine a one-stop-shop ecosystem with everything that is needed for successful data-driven digitisation. A digital community, where the door is open to organisations in retail and hospitality.


The Sustainable Regional Innovative & Resilient Ecosystem (DRIVE) project is all about revitalising SMEs by providing them with digital power. The collective partners from education and business aim to find a way to unlock innovation and education for SMEs. Digitalisation and data-driven entrepreneurship can give smaller organisations the resilience and flexibility they need to compete in markets that are increasingly dominated by large players such as Amazon or Deliveroo (in retail and hospitality).

Mark de Graaf, lecturer in Interaction Design and principal investigator of the project, sees an important social role: "The pandemic has caused a lot of damage to SMEs. You see that 'unicorns', like the companies mentioned, have gained a lot of market share. An important lesson from the lock-down is that local entrepreneurs who are present both physically and digitally are the most resilient. Digitalisation and data-driven work can make SMEs even more agile and resilient. Scale is a problem here, compared to the large Internet companies. A local digital community where data, knowledge and services can be shared in a safe way is an answer. The combination of local connection and cooperation on digitisation gives SMEs a strong position compared to the Internet giants. A vibrant SME sector means important activity, employment and therefore quality of life for our cities. Helping SMEs to advance is therefore of great social benefit."

Learning by doing and learning by doing

Education is developing rapidly. Particularly in ICT, learning is never ending. For years, Fontys University of Applied Sciences ICT has seen an increase in education for professionals in refresher courses and, extra important because of the shortage, retraining via the Make IT Work programme. Rapid technological developments make it necessary to learn differently; in practice. School-leavers will learn by working, and professionals will learn by working. The idea of lifelong development is therefore at the heart of the ecosystem that DRIVE aims to create.


Imagine an ecosystem in the form of a digital community that makes technology and education accessible. Think of plug & play applications for SMEs, more easily accessible thanks to open source software and No Code / Low Code platforms and online hubs for knowledge sharing. All of this is supported and driven by an interaction between the work field and ongoing research, which keeps developments in motion, thereby keeping competitiveness intact. The end result of the project is a 'self-sustaining' ecosystem that facilitates more sustainable business for SMEs.

To shape this ecosystem, the collective is opening its doors to SMEs interested in sustainable digitalisation, welcoming organisations from any sector, especially the retail and hospitality sectors, where the need is high. For more information and participation, please contact the project group at drivemkb@fontys.nl.
DRIVE MKB is a project by ROC Tilburg, MindLabs, Binnenstad Management Tilburg, Appsemble B.V. and Fontys Hogeschool ICT. SPARC, the collective partners of the Fontys ICT InnovationLab, co-finances the project application.