City Innovation: Inspiration from the World’s Best

City Innovation

Many might associate Denmark with healthy and happy people, a horde of bikes and a sustainable energy and electricity system including wind and district heating.

Copenhagen and Innovation Center Denmark were therefore invited as representatives as some of the most remarkable cities gathered at the City Innovate Summit in San Francisco this recent week.

City Innovation
City Innovation

While the Danish capital does indeed focus heavily on incorporating innovation and technology in development of existing as well as in the building of new neighborhoods, here is an insight into the newest projects from all over the world:

The city is the new smart phone

The common denominator is that to create a city that encompasses everyone, everyone must be involved in the planning. Silicon Valley executive Peter Hirshberg compares the city to a LEGO brick, a place for building up, trying new designs, tearing down, and building up again.

Look at the city as a smartphone: the place where developers and entrepreneurs get together to test out new ideas and solutions. What if we expanded the platform for new-thinking and innovations to be not just a smartphone but an entire city?

Recent trends in Tel Aviv, San Francisco and (yes!) Copenhagen, are to invite people to get access to the city data, space, sensors, and let them use the possibilities to create better solutions. It admittedly seems as a no-brainer, and the hardest part is surely also what concrete initiatives that can be brought forth in the cities.

Let’s look at a couple of the trends:

Trend 1: Free the data!

A number of cities have created portals, where citizens and companies can go in and access a lot of the (anonymized) data generated in the city. While the opening of data can not stand alone, the will to implementation of the ideas must follow.

An example is a San Francisco Urban Hackathon (a hackathon is an event where citizens and groups are invited to “hack” the city, meaning trying to solve problems in a new way), where a group made a map of all reported crimes and visualized it to find the “worst areas”. The police greeted the map as documentation of where they should put a larger effort, and the citizens were happy that their neighborhood problems were finally taken seriously.

Trend 2: Public sector innovation

Instead of leaving innovation and competitiveness to the private sector, a number of companies have started to make innovation part of the daily agenda. A number of cities have named a city official the Chief Innovation Officer or Chief Technology Officer. Those officers have broad areas of operations, and see if things can be optimized – both in the city and within the governing body. In Oakland, California, the office hands out “Most Innovative Employee”-prizes.

An initiative that has been used in the US on both a city and national scale, is the inclusion of private sector entrepreneurs acting as “intra-preneurs” or “Entrepreneurs-in-Residence” in public departments on a year-long fellowship, in order to bring new ideas to the table. An Entrepreneur-in-Residence in San Francisco for instance developed a system to ease navigation for visually impaired visitors throughout the airport.

The Code for America projects is worth looking into, with young designers and software developers trying to solve a number of tasks via virtual services as apps or text messages for citizens and administrators. Have a look at the video below describing a project: they might be joking a bit, but also shows what kind of tools that are possible when teaming up with entrepreneurs.

Trend 3: A city that accommodates ideas

Finally, one of the most striking trends is how a lot of cities really have realized how important innovation is, for instance, this year’s US Conference of Mayors had the theme “Innovation in Cities”.

“The trick is to make people think that government is fun – not the normal adjectives as lame, boring or basically anything but fun,” explains Director of Young Adults Michael Vole from Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv is the city that is consistently ranking in top 3 when Innovation and Entrepreneurship-rankings are published. The city has invested in the entire ecosystem around creativity, including free wifi, affordable housing, startup visas, a strong gay community (which for some reasons seems to be present in many innovative cities), and in general opening up start-ups for everybody, so that also elderly, school-kids and parents can see, what it takes to turn ideas into businesses.

He explains how they have also taken city officials out to meet people where they are – that is on online platforms and by giving brief 20 minutes talks in bars and cafes. Lastly he mentions how they have taken a number of public buildings, and turned these into study halls and co-work spaces when they are not in use.

City Innovation: Where to start?

With a lot of trends and possibilities, where do you even start? Looking at Danish examples, we have found three examples:

InnoCamp: Involving students, local industry and public institutions in a innovation competition, leading to actual tools for participating case companies.

Zero-Waste City: A Danish town where citizens compete about minimizing their waste. Another version is the Californian Coolest City Challenge, where you get points if you are below similar households.

Ideas from future users [Here is no link, as you probably know better who to contact in your community]: If you have an educational institution like a school, Danish “efterskole”, high school or a university college, then try to ask if they would be willing to work on a joint project, getting the students to point out problems and find potential solutions.


For further information, feel free to contact Innovation Officer Christian Vinther: chrvje (at)

A successful Gamification conference in the summer heat in Copenhagen

On June 20th Innovation Centre Denmark partnered with the International think tank and knowledge center for new technology, Innovation Lab and ran a one-day conference and workshop on the topic of Gamification.

The day proved to be a great success and we were happy to see that 70+ Danish corporate representatives, public administrators and researchers found their way to the new locales of Innovation Lab in the heart of Copenhagen and, in spite of it being one of the first hot summer days in Denmark, spent the entire day indoor getting updated on newest trends on how to engage customers and employees in order to sustain a competitive edge in the global competition in the years to come.

If you missed this opportunity to hear from the biggest gurus in Gamification, you can still get input from the day by clicking on the links below. Specifically the two keynotes are well worth a few minutes of your time if you, at all, are interested in the topic of gamification – and all indications say you should be!

Overview of the day and Agenda

Pictures from the day

Keynote I: Gameful Design: Creating passionate customers and co-workers by Sebastian Deterding

Keynote II: A Framework for Actionable Gamification by Yu-Kai Chou

Video Interview w. Yu-Kai Chou

Introductory presentations by Innovation Lab & Innovation Centre Denmark



Greener cities – Copenhagen taking the lead

Going green is a global issue, but some cities do not wait for international agreements to reach goals on becoming greener. Copenhagen is aiming at becoming the first CO2-neutral capital in 2025, and the city is actively measuring and reporting on greenhouse gas emissions, and has already been able to report a reduction of 5.2%.

Further, the recent Global Green Growth Forum located in Copenhagen kicked off the Green Growth Network, which is being led by the city of Copenhagen. The Green Growth Network has the aim of cities sharing and discussing best practises on how cities can work with private sector organisations, establish green clusters, establish an economic rationale for green growth and justify the benefit of green policies.

That Copenhagen is a green frontrunner is backed by the recent OECD Report Measuring the Potential of Local Green Growth. This report describes Copenhagen as an environment with significant first-mover advantages with green industries and technologies, and points out that the cleantech cluster in the Greater Copenhagen Area is one of the leading cleantech clusters in the world. This is due to factors like public sustainability strategies, a tradition of collaboration and consensus-building within the political system, knowledge sharing and research cooperation as an integral part of the cluster, and a highly specialised pool of talent.

These factors have led to the city of Copenhagen performing better than the OECD average on parameters such as per capita emissions, energy consumption, water consumption, regional waste collection, per capital recycling, R&D employment and ‘green’ patents.

The conclusions of the OECD report are backed by The 2012 Global Green Economy Index , issued by Dual citizen. Denmark comes in the top with regards to green perception as well as performance. Of the top green cities Copenhagen also comes out with a very strong reputation.

Startup Weekend in Denmark – Want to start a business in just 54 hours?

“It is truly a special kind of people who attend Startup Weekend – Who else will come in and work through their whole weekend.. And pay for it!” Alex Farcet, moderator Aarhus Startup Weekend!

The concept of Startup Weekend is to bring people from diverse backgrounds and skill sets together and let them form a business by doing hands-on work in just 54 hours. They compete to develop the idea throughout the weekend to win the main prize of 10.000 DKR (Approximately 1700$). It is a concept that is held in many cities worldwide, and some pretty successful startups have been created from Startup Weekend.

Last weekend around 70 motivated and excited participants went to Incuba Science Park in Aarhus for Aarhus Startup weekend. On Friday night they had to pitch a business idea to work with through the weekend. 41 ideas were pitched and a total of 11 teams were formed. Saturday the teams worked to develop the ideas and received valuable feedback and advice from different experiences entrepreneurs and experts. Sunday was presentation day! And the teams worked up to 5 pm when they gave their best 3 minute pitches in front a jury, who then selected the idea with the best business potential.

The winner of Aarhus Startup Weekend was the idea (and future company) called Shogoo – who created an indoor map application for retail shops to make it easier for the consumer to go shopping. The award for most innovative idea went to Liveresult (App for small mobile surveys) and best pitch went to (A bookmark service – which let your share only important text)

This was definitely a promising weekend for some potential new companies. The winning team is of course off to a head start with their 1st prize and there is potential for many of the other ideas as well. So far 5 teams from Aarhus Startup Weekend have confirmed that they are proceeding with their idea from the weekend an will try to make it into a business!

If you have the entrepreneurial spirit this is a unique chance to meet cool people who share this spirit and a way try out some of your ideas. So, to all of you that are interested to try this yourself, there are still a few spots left for Copenhagen Startup weekend from the 25-27 February.. So sign up for it – It is an awesome experience. – See pictures and video from the event – Read more about the concept and history

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