Through funding and support services, the Cyprus National Funding Agency for Research and Innovation (RIF) offers the maritime industry the right tools to sail to new horizons!
By Theodoros Loukaidis*
Standing at the crossroads of three continents, Cyprus is a world-leading, modern, efficient and integrated maritime cluster. Boasting one of the world’s most competitive and reliable shipping centres, the island has the 12th largest fleet in the world and the 4th largest in Europe. As the largest third-party ship management centre in Europe and among the top 3 worldwide, Cyprus is home to more than 250 companies offering shipping and shipping-related services, from ship ownership and ship management to maritime technology in satellite and radio systems. The sector produces 7% of the country’s GDP, employing 9,000 people in Cyprus and another 55,000 seafarers aboard ships registered in Cyprus.
Like many others, however, the maritime industry worldwide has been experiencing significant changes due to global economic, environmental, and technological factors. Digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Big Data and Machine Learning, IoT and Sensors, Blockchain, APIs, Communication Technologies and Earth Observation Technologies are leading to faster, safer and more efficient operations. At the same time, the race is on for the decarbonization in maritime. Selecting the best alternative fuel in terms of emissions, safety, feasibility and cost has sparked intense research in the area. Digital and Green are paving the way for a more sustainable, profitable and more resilient future.
In the Cyprus Smart Specialization Strategy 2023-2030, shipping and maritime is a Research and Innovation investment priority area. Through an array of funding tools and support services focusing on commercialization and internationalization of innovative products and services, we are supporting the transformation of the maritime industry and maximizing its contribution to the green, blue, and digital transition. We invest in areas with high innovation potential, such as alternative and green fuels for decarbonisation, energy use optimisation, design of small zero-emission vessels, digitalisation for better monitoring and operations, advanced materials that improve the performance of vessels, safety of seafarers as well as the use of drones and robots for inspections and repairs to name but a few.
€13.5M allocated to 30 transport and shipping projects
Research, innovation and technology can help us navigate through a world of ever-increasing complexity and challenges. RIF’s investments are fuelling the transformation of our national economy and drive its growth.
In the last five years we have invested €13.5M in 30 projects in the field of shipping.
We will continue to announce funding programmes that cater to all stages of the research and entrepreneurial journey, including thematic calls for the shipping and maritime cluster. From small tickets of €40,000 for technology proof of concepts to €600,000 tickets for industry-academia collaborations to co-develop solutions that address industrial challenges, and larger funding tickets of up to €1.5M to take to international markets disruptive innovations that can change the dynamics of the industry. We have funding programmes that cater for all stages of the new product development journey. And these are all complemented by State-funded state-of-the-art infrastructure for the maritime and shipping sector.
We have come a long way; however, there is still a lot more way to go. The journey of progress is ongoing and the possibilities endless. Since 2021 we have established a strong partnership with the Deputy Ministry of Shipping supporting the implementation of the National Shipping Strategy with targeted investments and jointly leading efforts to create a strong R&I culture in our shipping industry, in collaboration with all stakeholders of the strong and diverse local maritime cluster and beyond.
Cyprus has, today, seven Centres of Excellence, one of which -CMMI- has significant capacity in Marine and Maritime Research, Technology Development and Innovation. The other Centres of Excellence also have significant capacity to innovate in the field of shipping, leveraging on expertise in IoT, Earth Observation, Augmented and Virtual Reality to name but a few. 12 Universities and a number of Research Institutes also bring in significant know-how in digital and green technologies for shipping. Last but not least, a number of startups and companies are active in the field and are gaining traction in international markets from Cyprus. Cyprus is a great place to develop, test and launch products and services and a launchpad to scale up in international markets. There is an array of funding programmes and incentives to facilitate that.
Upskilling and nurturing of R&I culture
Technological advancements have drastically transformed the skills profile of the industry’s workforce, as jobs have become multidisciplinary and more data- and tech-driven. To remain competitive, shipping professionals should continually update and upgrade their skills and knowledge to adapt to the evolving industry landscape, regulatory changes and digital transformation.
Already, a significant number of local maritime companies are investing in reskilling/ upskilling, making the most of the RIF’s relevant tools, such as the Post-Doc and PhD in Industry programmes, which fund the employment of PhD graduates and PhD students respectively, in Cypriot companies. These two programmes have benefits for both the employee and the employer, as they provide companies with the opportunity to build in-house innovation capacity, either by employing new skilled talent, or by enabling existing staff to enhance their skills and knowledge, undertaking a PhD and carrying out an R&I project within their workplace.
A regional innovation hub in the making
Through strong incentives and targeted investments, Cyprus has managed to make great strides in recent years, reshaping traditional sectors, like shipping and developing new ones with high growth potential. Capitalizing on its geostrategic location, developing a business-friendly environment and adopting the opportunities that research, tech and innovation have to offer, it has become a destination of choice for entrepreneurs, startups and corporates alike. Even more so for the shipping industry.
As the driving force behind the growth of the national R&I ecosystem, RIF remains committed to its mission, aiming to unfold the country’s full potential as a regional tech and innovation hub. The maritime sector, as a cornerstone of the Cyprus economy, not only in the modern era, but throughout its history, has been placed at the core of our strategy and at the forefront of our research and innovation programmes. Our key strategic objective is to support the growth of the industry’s technological and digital capabilities, enhance its capacity to innovate, and contribute to the creation of a fit-for-the future workforce that can drive the journey of change.
As the pace of innovation accelerates, RIF is a trusted ally, offering the maritime industry the right tools to sail to new horizons and thrive.
* Director General of the Research and Innovation Foundation
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