Innovation Center Denmark in Silicon Valley is looking for a Junior Science and Education Advisor to join our team as soon as possible.
In your position as Junior Science and Education Advisor you will work to promote Danish science and educational collaborations across the entire spectrum of science and education, ranging from all scientific fields to any level of higher education to advanced science. You will refer to the Scientific Attaché of innovation Centre Denmark.
Some of your primary tasks will include engaging with Danish stakeholders, assistance in conducting workshops and fact-finding trips for Danish parties and groups in the US, predominantly in California. You will continually help to fine-tune and explore the opportunities for Danish-US collaborations in science and education.
Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, is a generation of more than 80 million people, and it is the biggest generation in American history. One of the implications of this generation is their view on banking, and especially how the banking industry is next up for disruption due to unmet needs and dissatisfaction. For example are all four of the leading banks in the US among the ten least loved brands by Millennials, and one in three is open to switching banks in the next 90 days.
The disruption of banking is already happening, and at Innovation Center Denmark we have recently written a white paper focused on the development of new financial solutions within the FinTech space. FinTech is the condensed term for financial technology, and it describes the new business area spanning the intersection of financial and technological services and products.
The purpose of our white paper is to provide the reader with a general knowledge of the trends, technologies and companies within the Fintech space in North America. Specifically, the paper is zooming in on trends within Lending, Wealth management, Payments and Transfers. Furthermore, we do also touch upon the fundamental systemic changes enabled by Blockchain and Regulation. If you have not read it already, you can find our previous blog post about Blockchain here.
The white paper was conducted by Søren Gyde, Innovation and Investment Associate, Line Rodil, Innovation Advisor and Anders B. Christjansen, Senior Innovation Advisor.
At Innovation Center Denmark we provide various corporate innovation services within FinTech through our XPLOREit platform. If you wish to learn more, please reach out to Anders at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many people heard about Bitcoin in late 2013 when the so-called Cryptocurrency suddenly surged over 700% in value within less than 2 months, making early investors overnight millionaires. The following 2 years Bitcoin shook off almost 80 % of the peak value, while people discussed whether this seemingly volatile Cryptocurrency really is the future of payments. Is it secure enough? Can we have a stable economy without any room for monetary policy? The real innovation, however, is the technology underlying Bitcoin; the Blockchain.
The blockchain is a shared public ledger on which the entire Bitcoin network relies. All confirmed transactions are included in the blockchain. Once a transaction is added to a block, it is virtually impossible to remove it. Thus, you have a distributed chain of records, transaction history, time stamps of events, to refer back to. Those shared records are distributed across a global network updated in real-time.
Since 2013, the blockchain technology has begun to step out of the shade of the cryptocurrencies as blockchain companies have received almost $1 bn between 2014 and February 2016. Companies and investors alike are recognizing that bitcoin is just one of a wide range of applications. Imagine a world where you can buy a house in the Seychelles within half an hour while you are sitting in a café in France. Doing so with proper digital identifiers can reduce fraud of digital transactions to almost zero. The applications extent to voting, supply chain management, distribution of sensitive medical records or even reselling of concert tickets or limited edition shoes.
IoV: Internet of Value?
Recently, at a blockchain event hosted by VLAB at Stanford Research Institute, John Wolpert of IBM, noted that the buzz around this technology reminded him of the early years of the Internet 20 years ago. He attended an Internet event in the same auditorium back then where there was the same sense; the Internet will have a massive impact on our society.
Great innovation of the Internet in the early days was the ability to store and share information across the world at unparalleled speed. In recent years, Internet of Things (IoT) has evolved as the “second generation” of the Internet as we are becoming more and more connected to our material belongings through the Internet. We are storing massive amounts of data on the Internet, generated not only by our smartphones, TV’s or Coffee Machines but also generated by ourselves.
One might perceive blockchain as an Internet of Value (IoV). It is a database protocol that is extremely well suited at storing and sharing information about valuable assets because it is decentralized and distributed. In essence, blockchain is a chronological chain of bundles of information or “blocks”. The cryptographic nature of blockchain insures that no one can counterfeit or change it.
The fact that it is decentralized and distributed means that everyone is able to not only to use it but also to manage it because everyone on the blockchain holds a copy of the database as well as a “wallet” with a private key. This makes every user able to verify every transaction and in effect verify the assets of any user’s wallet and track the transaction history of the assets. It is exactly the secure verification that makes blockchain suitable for e.g. exchange of sensitive medical data or valuable assets that are easily counterfeited today such as art.
Of course, every user will not spend time verifying transactions – this is taken care of by so-called miners, who are paid (in Bitcoins) to verify transactions. The order of verification is random and the miner, who “solves” the “verification puzzle” the quickest, is paid. The “verification puzzle” takes a large amount of computing power to solve fast but once a miner has solved it the solution is easy to verify. This means that the transaction is not instant and can take anywhere between minutes and up to half an hour but miners are incentivized to solve them fast as only the fastest get paid.
Still, this speed of transaction and (importantly) verification of authenticity is unprecedented and the decentralized nature makes it insusceptible to corruption as it would be extremely difficult for any one person to take down the entire system since everyone holds a copy of the database.
Buying property on the blockchain
Returning to an example of a possible application of blockchain. Consider the steps involved in buying a house: a mortgage is issued almost instantaneously by a blockchain enabled auction and the investor (which could be a bank, a private investor or a crowd of investors) enters into a smart contract with the house buyer where the bank, as an intermediary, is cut out. The smart contract is self-executable in terms of making payments and continuously monitors and verifies whether all parties involved are upholding the conditions of the contract. Ownership of the house and payment are transferred on a blockchain between buyer and seller, using Bitcoin or some other cryptocurrency. As there is no need for any human intermediaries (such as banks or lawyers), blockchain reduces the economic deadweight loss associated with these intermediaries, increases the overall economic surplus and potentially benefits both the owner of the mortgage and the house owner.
Consider the possible impact in developing countries where a well-functioning financial system is not present. A local farmer might not be able to loan money to buy a piece of land. No international bank will be willing to lend him money because there is no way to assess the assets of the farmer or the actual value of the piece of land. If property was exchanged on a blockchain, the bank could instantly verify (from anywhere in the world) the previous traded price of the land and verify the assets of the farmer, possibly enabling an extension of a loan and ultimately supporting economic growth.
When talking about Bitcoin, it is also worth mentioning that this removes the need for a central monetary institution such as a central bank. This could have a positive impact in countries with e.g. hyperinflation because of a corrupted monetary system or a central bank with no credibility. This will however be a drawback in countries that successfully use monetary policy to support economic growth in recessions and contain economic activity in booms.
Impacts of the Blockchain: Today and in the future
Today, the bitcoin blockchain manages around 200,000 bitcoin transactions a day, moving US$150 million around the world without interaction with any bank or financial intermediary. As mentioned in the beginning, a lot of funds are flowing into companies ´which are developing both consumer- and business oriented blockchain enabled applications.
Critics question the security because the decentralized nature of the database means that no central entity is able to step in and prevent a breach; the blockchain maintains itself, so to speak. Security is not an issue when assets are stored on a blockchain, however, security is a massive concern when those digital assets are secured in private “wallets” as is the case with Bitcoin. If the private key to this wallet is compromised, there is no way to retrieve your digital assets. However, many companies are working on how to strengthen security practices to reduce the likelihood of wallets being hacked. An example of a company is BitGo. This is an enterprise wallet and security company. More than $1 Billion USD moves through BitGo wallets each month by global businesses. They do this without taking custody of your funds, you maintain your funds. They enforce the security measures, policy and treasury controls on your behalf when you are ready to send a transaction.
Blockchain technology is already impacting international payments. Exchange infrastructure is in over 100 countries around the world. The questions no longer remain as to if this technology will change the way we live – the question is when. The possible applications are abundant but it remains to be seen whether blockchain is all hype or it actually will change the world with the same magnitude as the Internet indisputably has done.
On April 3-4, Minister for Higher Education & Science, Ulla Tørnæs, paid a visit in the Valley. Here is a summary of some of the great activities the Minister went to during her stay in Silicon Valley:
1. DANISH AMERICAN FRONTIER AWARD 2016
2. OPENING CEREMONY FOR VILLUM CENTER FOR SCIENCE OF SUSTAINABLE FUELS AND CHEMICALS AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY
3. LAUNCH OF WATER TECHNOLOGY ALLIANCE (WTA)
1) DANISH AMERICAN FRONTIER AWARD 2016
On Sunday April 3, around 230 people, Danish and American business representatives and members of DACC, joined the Danish American Frontier Award 2016 (DAF Award) which took place at Intercontinental Mark Hopkins in San Francisco. The purpose of the event was to recognise a person or group of persons who have distinguished themselves by their actions, exploration or presence in areas of leadership, business, commerce, service, science, technology, invention, arts or humanitarian ventures and is the most prestigious honor awarded by the Danish American community in the western United States.
Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO of LEGO Group was the winner of the DAF Award ‘16. The Danish Minister of Higher Education and Science, Ulla Tørnæs gave the price and stated “I would like to congratulate Jørgen Vig Knudstorp for the excellent price. He is a role model for many and the only director I know who can dance, sing and develop a presentation at once”.
The award recognizes the leadership of Jørgen Vig Knudstorp and the work the LEGO Group has done to build essential 21st century skills. The LEGO Group inspires and develops the builders of tomorrow. More than 17,000 LEGO colleagues around the world work every day to bring fun and creative LEGO experiences to children all over the world, and they recognize how important play is for the development of children. Children’s playfulness and curiosity, their eagerness to learn new skills and their courage to try new things inspire the LEGO Group to expand not only their own but also children’s frontiers. Playfulness was also something the guests of the event experienced as they were given LEGO bricks during his speech and were supposed to create a duck in 45 seconds.
About the DAF Award and Peter Lassen
The DAF Award celebrates the pioneer spirit with which Danish-Americans have explored, and are still exploring the boundaries of themselves, their enterprise and their world today and actively shape the world of the future. The recipient was honored with a statuette depicting Peter Lassen, one of the most important of early Danish-American pioneers and frontiersmen.
2) OPENING CEREMONY FOR VILLUM CENTER FOR SCIENCE OF SUSTAINABLE FUELS AND CHEMICALS AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY
Monday afternoon, Minister for Higher Education and Science, Ulla Tørnæs, together with Danish Ambassador to the United States of America, Deputy Director of Confederation of Danish Industry, CEO of Danish Industry Foundation and CEO of Confederation of Danish Enterprise went to the opening ceremony of the new center for Science of Sustainable Fuels and Chemicals at Stanford.
The purpose of their presence to this opening ceremony was to witness the potential for more cooperation in the light of Denmark’s leading position within renewable energy and California’s leadership in relation to battery technology / energy storage. Moreover, Stanford University is one of the world’s leading research and educational institutions and a perfect setting for a talk about energy and technology.
The Danish Minister for Higher Education and Science, Ulla Tørnæs, cut the red ribbon, and called the center for “open”. “It is crucial that we can cooperate in research across borders and between public and private. With Denmark’s strengths in renewable energy and California’s strengths in energy storage, I hope that the new collaboration between Stanford University and the Danish universities will lead to new sustainable solutions that will benefit us all”, Ulla Tørnæs said.
Afterwards, there were Danish cake and coffee at the balcony.
About the VILLUM center
The new center is a Danish-American research centre for developing sustainable fuels and chemicals. €20 million grant has been given by the Danish VILLUM FOUNDATION and therefore ensures exceptional research cooperation between SUNCAT Research Center at Stanford and the Technical University of Denmark, University of Copenhagen and the University of Southern Denmark can accelerate to new intensities. The grant builds on a foundation of cooperation initiated by a partner agreement between Stanford University and the Danish Agency for Science and Technology, facilitated by the Innovation Centre Denmark, Silicon Valley. The research at ‘VILLUM Center for Science of Sustainable Research’ aims at developing new technologies ensuring that future generations have electricity, fuel, and the necessary chemicals when fossil resources run out. The centre will primarily conduct research in catalysts and develop pioneering technologies to create sustainable solutions from research centres in Denmark and at Stanford.
3) LAUNCH OF WATER TECHNOLOGY ALLIANCE (WTA)
Another activity Monday afternoon took place in San Francisco; a launch of the new Water Technology Alliance. It was part of the conference “Water / More for Less – Sharing knowledge and best practice from the U.S. & Denmark” for American and Danish experts and policy makers in the water sector.
Ulla Tørnæs was present to inaugurate the alliance: “I am happy to see that Danish water technology companies have the expertise to help with the demand caused by the drought in California. The collaboration is a good example of how Danish research can take on international tasks beyond the borders of Denmark. Denmark and California can benefit from each other’s knowledge, and in the meantime also create jobs, Minister for Higher Education and Science”, Ulla Tørnæs said.
About Water Technology Alliance
A California-based alliance established by the Danish water distribution company Aarhus Vand, and supported by The Danish Industry Foundation and the Danish Trade Council in Chicago, is served as the foundation for a close partnership between Danish and American companies, public bodies, and education and science institutions in the water sector.
Denmark and Danish companies are leading in efficient, sustainable and energy neutral water solutions, however, they are still able to learn from their American colleagues in places such as the dynamic water technology-surrounded Silicon Valley. As such, a close collaboration between Danish and American water companies and organizations can be beneficial to all involved parties.
The alliance, called Water Technology Alliance (WTA) California, further consists of the companies Kamstrup, Applied Biomimetec, Danfoss, Grundfos, Ramboll, Smith Innovation, Skytem, DHI, and Leif Koch A/S, all of which are ready to take part in the partnership with their American colleagues.
SEE GALLERY FROM MINISTER VISIT IN SILICON VALLEY HERE:
What is the next crazy idea that will be spun out of Silicon Valley as a massive, multi-billion dollar company? Do you think it could be a social media platform like Imgur, which has successfully managed to have millions of users request more advertisement from Walmart? Or what about an Air B’n’B for sea vessels, Boat Bound?
In the beginning of October, more than 150 companies in Silicon Valley opened their doors to the general public during the NewCo festival. It offered an insight into some of the projects that are taking shape here. For instance, Planet Labs creates “cheap”, miniature satellites to map the entire Earth’s surface every day. They launch 30 at a time like baby turtles – some of them simply don’t make it all the way up and out. Meanwhile, here in the world’s largest consumer nation, public authorities have managed to cut Californians’ water consumption in half over the last decade with captivating campaigns. Perhaps this is why ‘luxury’ water with taste from Hint Water has subsequently become one of the fastest growing brands in the US.
Let us take a deeper look into 3 of the companies that we visited during the festival.
1) Alt School
Alt School is a network of micro schools founded by former head of personalization at Google, Max Ventilla. The idea is to bring the innovation of Silicon Valley into the classroom even on elementary level. Fundamentally, it means that each child gets a personalized curriculum that is constantly adjusting to fit the child’s needs and eradicate competition with others. This is done through technology in combination with a very high teacher-to-pupil ratio on the order of 5-8. Pupils of different ages share the same classroom that is constantly video monitored such that teachers can figure out what works and what does not.
Alt School’s ultimate vision is to make schools be ahead of their time instead of behind. Price for enrollment? $20.000/year. Actual expenses/pupil for Alt School? $150.000. This enormous gab is currently financed by venture capital investment of more than $100M for Alt School’s 3 campuses in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Brooklyn, New York.
Now that’s how you are visionary with big money!
Metromile is an insurance and smart driving app. They offer pay-per-mile car insurance, which means that you only pay for what you drive.
So how do they do this? Metromile offers a free Metromile tag, which is a small GPS unit that can track your car. This means that they can accurately estimate the insurance premium, customized to your driving behavior. Therefore, drivers who only drive very little, no longer subsidize drivers who drive very much, which to a certain extent is an underlying mechanism of car insurance today.
However, the smart driving app also offers complimentary services enabled by accurate tracking of your commuting behavior.
For instance by using machine learning and algorithms, the app is able to provide you with driving statistics that can be used to better optimize your daily commute, saving you time and gas. The intimate knowledge that the app obtains about your car and driving behavior is also used to provide diagnostics of your car’s running condition and is able to find local mechanics when it is time for it to be serviced.
The GPS can also be used when you are not driving. The app allows you to always find your car, even when you park it in a small alley way, an Ikea parking lot, or your car has gotten stolen. Lastly, the app is able to alert you when you are parked in a street sweeping zone so that you avoid a sweeping ticket. And as a resident of central San Francisco, this feature should not be underestimated – trust me.
Overall, whether the technology of Metromile is going to become the new standard is still difficult to say, and how this fits into a future of driverless cars is impossible to predict, but right now, all Metromile is doing is trying to make every car a smart car.
Brigade wants to become your online platform for civic identity
Our social and professional lives are already mapped online, whereas civic life isn’t that well represented. Brigade seeks to fill this gap by matching you with advocacy organizations and politicians based on your answers to online surveys and policy statements. The hope is that this, along with easily accessible records of personal political opinions, will motivate us to become more engaged in elections and the society that surrounds us.
The total number of elected officials in the US is currently around 520.000 and has been rising for a number of years. Meanwhile turnout has fallen to historic lows with only 36.4% turning out to vote in last year’s midterm elections. This can be seen as a sign of declining civic engagement levels in the US.
In this connection, the obvious Silicon Valley question is why digital technology hasn’t been applied more to civic and public issues? One answer might be that the sector has a bad reputation, especially with VCs. Another answer can be found in public disillusion and a lack of collective action due to an individualized zeitgeist. Also, voters have to form opinions on an increasing number of issues that are becoming increasingly complex. This especially goes for California with its plethora of referendums.
By making it easier to form opinions towards different policies and candidates, by reminding us of our attitudes and letting us compare them to others’, and by crowdsourcing reasons for stances towards issues, Brigade wants to empower action and opinion expression.
On top of all this, Brigade, by leveraging the opinions of its users, hopes to become a reliable provider of representative information to public officials.
Platforms like Brigade bringing the civic sphere into the digital age might be perceived as a consumerization and watering down of important issues, but wet issues might after all be preferable to a participatory drought.