DIGITAL SME supports AURORAL to help reverse the urban-rural “digital divide”

  • Europe’s rural areas are still struggling to keep up in the digital age. Many countryside communities lack access to broadband internet, skills and technologies to keep their businesses competitive

  • Under the Horizon 2020 initiative, the new AURORAL project seeks to reverse the “digital divide” between urban and rural areas by delivering a comprehensive digital environment of interoperable service platforms

  • Joining a consortium of top European partners, DIGITAL SME will play a pivotal role facilitating ecosystem building, the management and promotion of an SME open call, and developing policy and standardisation recommendations.

Rural businesses are struggling. Due to a lack of connectivity, skills, and access to emerging technologies, rural SMEs, in particular, have difficulties competing on the Internal Single Market. This leads to a “double digital divide”[1]: a lack of connectivity on the supply-side, and a lack of digital skills for emerging technologies on the demand-side. In addition to an exacerbated lack of digital skills in rural areas, the urban-rural gap in broadband penetration has remained virtually unchanged between 2010 (16%) and 2019 (14.6%).[2]

To help bridge this gap, DIGITAL SME is supporting the new AURORAL project to place Europe’s rural areas at the forefront of digital innovation. AURORAL aims to increase connectivity and digitalisation of rural areas by providing a comprehensive digital environment of interoperable service platforms. This connected digital environment will allow rural businesses, the overwhelming majority of which are SMEs, to utilise emerging technologies and stay competitive on an increasingly fierce and international market.

Through the participation in AURORAL, DIGITAL SME further delivers on its objective of Sustainable Digitalisation. It ensures that a vital part of European SMEs—those located in rural areas—are not left behind in the digital race. This is especially crucial for SMEs in sectors such as agrifood, crafts, tourism, and retail, which account for a substantial share of Europe’s GDP. By providing the possibility to use emerging technologies and embark on their own digitalisation journey—facilitated by other innovative ICT SMEs and their ecosystems—rural businesses can stay competitive and create much-needed jobs and prospects in their communities.

Smart village communities for sustainable rural development across Europe

The AURORAL project focuses on “smart villages”, a relatively new paradigm in the EU policy landscape aiming for sustainable rural development. Smart villages are understood as “communities in rural areas that use innovative solutions to improve their resilience, building on local strengths and opportunities.”[3]

By providing digital tools and services in an open and transparent online marketplace, AURORAL’s digital environment will allow rural communities to share and exchange data, innovative products and services, matching technology and end-users in need of it. This marketplace will be supported by an open innovation ecosystem of developers, service and application providers as well as platform operators and user communities.

AURORAL will be implemented and tested in five EU member states and in five different domains: smart health, smart energy, smart mobility, smart farming and smart tourism. In addition, SMEs selected through a competitive open call will validate AURORAL’s solution. This will allow the project consortium to assess and demonstrate the acceptance by the local and regional ecosystem actors and end-users.

DIGITAL SME’s role: ecosystem building

The project of more than €16 million is led by the Alentejo Regional Development Agency. Other partners include rural innovation stakeholders (Smart Innovation Norway, Catalonian Bioenergy Cluster, Kemi technology park in Lapland, etc.), world-class technical research centres and universities (CERTH, Polytechnic University of Madrid) as well as digital SMEs and leading industrial companies.

It takes a village to build a community. And from DIGITAL SME’s ‘village’, an extensive network of digital SME innovators, deep expertise and valuable knowledge in sustainable digitalisation will be brought to the table. DIGITAL SME’s role will be to contribute to ecosystem building, connecting the members of rural innovation ecosystems (digital SMEs, local universities, industrial bodies) and local and regional authorities managing the rural development funds. In addition, DIGITAL SME will contribute to the management and promotion of the SME open call.

DIGITAL SME will also develop policy and standardisation recommendations to ensure the interoperability of the project architecture, as well as recommendations on developing an investment platform that will support investors and private stakeholders in providing new services.

Learn more about AURORAL by visiting the project website.


[1] https://enrd.ec.europa.eu/sites/enrd/files/s4_rural-businesses-factsheet_digital-hubs.pdf
[2] DESI 2020. Connectivity – Broadband market developments in the EU, p. 13 (https://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/dae/document.cfm?doc_id=67079)
[3] https://enrd.ec.europa.eu/smart-and-competitive-rural-areas/smart-villages/smart-villages-portal_en?2nd-language=cs