By Jacob Hagemann, Senior Commercial Advisor, Innovation Center Denmark, Silicon Valley
How fast is your industry moving and are there any signals that it is to be disrupted by exponential organizations?
This was the key question in a recent Copenhagen event that I had the opportunity to participate in. Organizers were the Danish Society of Engineers, IDA in cooperation with Deloitte.
Driving Technology was the main theme, which in this specific case not only refers to actual driving technology like driver-less cars and other inventions within the transportation industry. It most importantly also refers to keeping up with the technologies that will influence your industry.
Singularity University representatives were the guides throughout the day, and Salim Ismail did an outstanding job in presenting their take on what the future will bring us. Singularity University is not really a university. At least not in the traditional understanding of a university and they will not become one any time soon, simply because of the way they develop their programs.
To be a real university the curriculum has to be approved and go through different stages which often takes 1-2 years, meaning that there is a high risk that the curriculum will be outdated by the time it finally reaches students. This is partly what Singularity wants to challenge. There is a need to study, investigate and get involved in not only the present, but especially the future.
3D printed cars and disrupted business models
The fundamental thing that is part of everything inside Singularity is the exponential growth. Technology has been set free and we cannot hold back the development. This will happen at an exponential rate – think of a curve with a steeper and steeper climb.
The exponential growth is something that we as human beings have to adapt to in many ways. And one of these is certainly how we set up our companies for growth and survival in a world where disruptions come from everywhere. No one is safe as a team of 2-3 young entrepreneurs in a garage can change business models everywhere.
An example of a complete change in industry is collaborative consumption and how Airbnb built the world’s largest “hotel” business without owning a single property.
One of the really exciting cases came from Local Motors, who were also represented at the conference by Damien Declercq, EVP for Europe, Asia and Africa.
Damien gave us a fascinating introduction to the work of Local Motors and the one thing that really caught my attention as the fact that they recently 3D printed a full car during 42 hours at a trade show. And then drove away in it :)
Altogether these impressions really make you think about where the future is going: How fast is your industry moving and are there any signals that it is being disrupted by exponential organizations?
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.
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) um.dk
The US offers a wide range of conferences within technology, cleantech and life science in 2013. At Innovation Centre Denmark we keep a close eye on the trends and technologies presented at the events.
We have collected a non-exhaustive list of some of the biggest and best conferences in the US.
MarketWatch‘s Steve Gelsi just wrote an interesting article about how the US military has set very aggressive goals to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
Last year, the US military spent as much as $13 billion on petroleum for its ships, planes, and combat vehicles alone! On top of that, energy dependence and supply reliability makes the military’s energy mix a priority, says Navy Secretary and former Mississippi Govenor Ray Mabus.
The military is looking at solar, wind, and improved batteries in order to minimize risk for its troops, and this may well be in favor of companies that can help the military cut costs over the next decade.
Silicon Valley is overflowing with experts on cleantech. Last week, a few of them met to discuss the future of green transportation. I listened in on their discussion ranging from an already existing technology on personalized airplanes to general skepticism about cleantech’s role in transportation.
Listening in on the SVForum’s ‘trends in Green Transportation’ event last week, one popular opinion was that Americans don’t drive electric vehicles simply because they don’t have an incentive to do so. The electric vehicles in the market already are not driven to save cost nor the environment. Rather, as venture capitalist Matt Trevithick jokingly said, “a Tesla is someone’s 7th car”. Ian Wright of Wrightspeed who was actually one of the co-founders of Tesla, added that not only are EVs not a particularly attractive choice for consumers, EV researchers and scientists are working on the wrong technologies. Instead of spending vast sums on trying to improve the mileage on the Prius, researchers should look into improving the internal combustion engine instead.
Improving the Prius by 100% would make less of a difference than improving trucks such as the Ford-150 series, from 10 mpg to 10.2 mpg, Wright argued. This however, is true only because Americans still love their trucks more than the hybrid alternative. In 2010, America’s favorite vehicle sold almost 530,000 trucks. The Prius came in at 140.000.
Breakthrough or Behavior?
There seems to be two ways of changing this state; one is through breakthrough innovation that will radically change incentives for consumers, the other is a question of behavior. How do we get Americans to use public transportation. According to the panel, Americans’ need to drive their own car is a cultural aspect linked to a sense of freedom. As such, Americans would rather sit alone in their own car – and be stuck in traffic – than save the time and money from taking the bus or train. Therefore, it would seem wiser to put your money on breakthrough innovation.From an investment point-of-view also, public transportation was seen as a very risky investment. “They are all subsidized and none of them are making any money”. The heavily subsidized industry risks being changed unfavorably for investors “at the stroke of a pen” as Matt Trevithick put it.
One of these could be the Green Flight Challenge which Brian Seeley from the CAFE Foundation brought up. The foundation is currently setting up a technology competition for an automated safety system for personalized airplanes. The NASA project which was recently further funded by Google hopes to put 30% of road traffic in the sky, eliminating the worst congestion. Instead of cars, commuters would fly silent, 200 mile-ranging ‘green’ airplanes for up to 6 people. Who knows, maybe we’ll have airplane pool lanes in a few years.