Arjan Paans is editor-in-chief of Innovation Origins DE. Between 2003 and 2008 he worked in Berlin as a foreign correspondent. Aftewards he was a news manager for several Dutch newspapers. Arjan is married en has one son.
Ard van de Kreeke (52) from Middelburg became an organic farmer ten years ago. Prior to that, he had owned all kinds of companies in the sustainable quarter. But since he had bought a farm as a house with plenty of land and was kind of done with traveling all over the world, he thought: “I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m going to be a farmer.” As of this year, he owns GrowX vertical farming, a company that grows micro vegetables and supplies top restaurants in Amsterdam. He told Innovation Origins about what drives him.
What motivated you to set up GrowX?
I didn’t set it up, that happened back in 2016 thanks to John Apesos, a Dutch American from Amsterdam. However, the company turned out not to be viable, due to the high cost price of the products and the poor market. Apesos had hoped to produce for the general public, but the product is not yet suitable for that.
What is your product?
We grow mini vegetables in racks, using LED light and in cellulose instead of soil. Without any pesticides – just light, seed and water. For example, we grow wasabi mustard leaves, three different colored radishes and five types of basil. Our range now includes 50 varieties for the hospitality industry, chiefly the higher-end restaurants. I already had leading chef Sergio Herman as a customer at my organic farm and that’ s a great way in for other top restaurants. I deliver to Le Ciel Blue in the Okura hotel and La Rive restaurant in the Amstel Hotel. They use our mini vegetables to enrich their dishes.
What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
I had to shift the company’s culture from high-tech to regular farming. Technology is the means and not the end.
What has been the biggest breakthrough so far?
The biggest breakthrough was when the best restaurants started appreciating our produce. When it comes to vegetables grown in greenhouses, it’s a bit like: how can that taste so good? The opposite is true. You get a more concentrated taste. You can even influence taste by changing the color of the light. My customers – and they are really super-critical – absolutely love it. We didn’t do any marketing; word of mouth did the job. A number of chefs, like the Zeeland folk in Amsterdam, told their colleagues: you have to taste this, I have something pretty special. This year’s produce is already sold out.
What can we expect from GrowX over the coming year?
We have demonstrated that the product actually works. The only thing is that the production unit isn’t working as we would like it to be. This is due to personnel and energy costs and investment in technology. I want to robotize a large part of the production, so that a robot can water and weigh the plants from now on. That saves 25 % in costs.”
Where do you want to be with GrowX within five years from now?
In principle, I would like to have 25 of these units in place all over the world. In cities, close to the end user. You chop the vegetables and they reach the customer a few minutes later. I hope that by then we will not only have a product for the high-end user, but also for the mainstream consumer.
What does GrowX’s innovation improve upon compared to other products in your segment of the market?
There is already something like this, but it is so expensive, I’m already now more than 50 % cheaper than that. I can handle that side of things much better, thanks to robots and AI in the main. I’ m never satisfied, but it’s still not quite where I want it to be yet. I currently have 5 switches that I can turn, that should be 20. The major advantage is that I understand how a great chef thinks. Sergio Herman once said to me: everything has to be fucking perfect. We won’t do it for any less than that.
The annual Smart City Expo World Congress is taking place in Barcelona. It is the largest in its field with 25,000 visitors. The motto of this edition is Cities made of dreams. Nevertheless, all those dreams also involve a whole lot of hardware.
Dreams are wonderful. But 5G doesn’t just happen, as the people who are responsible for laying the infrastructure are well aware of. “All those 5G antennas that will soon provide super-fast connections will also have to be connected to fiber-optic cables below the ground,” says Petra Claessen at the Smart City congress in Barcelona, She’s the director of BTG, the Dutch branch association for ICT. “In order to avoid having to break open the sidewalk three times in the future, a law must be quickly put in place to ensure that the mobile network operators will share their infrastructure.”
The BTG has come up with a uniform standard that should ultimately lead to legislation, but it is hasn’t gotten that far yet. The three major providers -KPN, T-Mobile and VodafoneZiggo – are currently all building their own transmission masts. Given that 5G requires many more masts, the BTG acknowledges that this will be a never-ending task. “The operators should be able to share the costs in the future.”
Not solely on dreams
Smart Cities are fabulous. However cities can’t be built solely on dreams, as they all know at the BTG. “This also requires a lot of hardware. Lampposts of the future will become multifunctional. In addition to light, there will also be Wi-Fi, and possibly power for electric cars. At the moment, the population is insufficiently informed about what is coming their way. Smart cities are going to matter a lot as far as infrastructure is concerned.”
According to Irene van Bruines (from the brand new procurement platform Smart City Plaza) a lot of missionary work also needs to be done in the municipalities. “In a certain municipality, they have already come a long way with smart street fixtures. But in another municipality, a public servant put it quite bluntly: ‘I don’t want any gimmicks on my patch.’ In that respect, there is still so much that has to be done.”
Bruines, who has a long career in construction and infrastructure, now makes it very easy for municipal purchasers by providing a complete, independent, overview of products for smart cities through her platform. From sensors to charging stations and from solar-powered rubbish bins to ultra-quiet wind turbines, Smart City Plaza offers it all. The only thing municipalities have to do is subscribe to this gift guide for smart city officials.
Rotterdam designs a modular streetlamp
The city officials of Rotterdam no longer need to be told anything more about smart cities. It’ s buzzing with ambition in the Maasstad, which this year almost clinched the ‘Innovation Capital of Europe‘ award. The city aims to be a model digital city by 2025.
One of the projects that fit in with this, was the design of a smart lamppost. The city has developed CENT-R, a modular lamppost, together with start-up Lightwell, the Da Vinci College in Dordrecht, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and the manufacturer Valmont. The CENT-R (Connective Energy Network Tool – Rotterdam) prototype was finished just in time for the expo in Barcelona and was unveiled there. In addition to 5G, electric charging, cameras and lighting, the lamppost can also be retrofitted to accommodate any future innovations. Three smart poles will be put into use in the Rotterdam district of Reyeroord towards the end of next January.
The Smart City Expo World Congress takes place in Barcelona, with 25,000 visitors the largest in this field. Over 250 of them come from the Netherlands. Report from the Holland Pavillion.
It is a coming and going of international delegations at the booth where the Netherlands give a dazzling show showing how Dutch municipalities and companies are at the forefront in smart and green mobility and in making cities resilient to climate change. Whether it concerns KPN’s 5G field lab on the Automotive Campus, the technology with which engineering firm Sweco will be able to give priority to electric cars at traffic lights and thus make them more economical, Dutch municipalities and entrepreneurs are in no way inferior to other countries in terms of innovation.
Smart Cities are hot. This week a large delegation of Dutch civil servants and entrepreneurs is in Barcelona for the world’s largest congress on this subject. Today there were 466 participants from 24 countries at the International Smart City Business Forum which was organized by The Netherlands and by the Scandinavian countries.
In a recent podcast made by Innovation Origins for Dutch Design Week, director Rob Adams of the Eindhoven-based Six Fingers agency said that he despised the term ‘Smart Cities.’ “Because when we talk about Smart Cities, it’s just all about technology,” Adams said. “And people don’t feel happier as a result of lots of technology. It’s really a matter of solving real problems in people’s lives.”
Ecosystems, not ego-systems
While Adams was absent, there was reason enough to listen more critically to the statements made by the speakers at the business forum. For instance, to Frans Vermast, Ambassador of Amsterdam Smart Cities and a world authority in this field. “Cities are ecosystems and not ego-systems” is one of his slogans. In his presentation at the congress he discussed a variety of successful and less successful experiments with ‘smart technology’.
Vermast is not afraid of sharing failures either. “This is the only way we will be able to share lessons learned and prevent other cities from making the same mistakes.”
Zeynep Sarilar, chairperson at Itea, the Eindhoven-based European innovation program for the software industry, is similarly down-to-earth. “We need innovative solutions that are driven by real problems. That is something you will only find out if you talk to people.” Sarilar advocates more cooperation between scientists and companies that develop technologies of this kind. She talks about global solutions which provide a better future for our children.
No Big Tech
Today’s speakers are certainly not the representatives from Big Tech. Instead, they work for municipalities, universities or more idealistic companies that are committed to sustainable development. There is a panel discussion on the question of who should be the owner of your data. This is topical, as cities are storing more and more data. Cooperation between The Netherlands and Scandinavian countries, as well as between The Netherlands and the US, is also high on the agenda.
“The important thing is that we all should try to find solutions for the future,” says Magnus Agerström, managing director of Cleantech Scandinavia, one of the organizers. “And there’s no point in all of us trying to find out everything. One country may be good at one thing and another may be good at something else. If we work together more closely, we will be able to accomplish global innovations.”
Smart Cities are where targets are brought together
Merei Wagenaar, deputy director of international entrepreneurship at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says things with a more business-like tone. “Our goal is to help Dutch companies do business abroad. We see it as a challenge that companies actually achieve the United Nations’ sustainable development targets. Many of these targets are brought together in Smart Cities. That’s why we think we should be here with lots of Dutch companies. That way, we can discuss what solutions are needed which will help municipalities achieve their targets. Not just in the Netherlands, but all over the world.”
The Dutch ambassador to Spain, Jan Versteeg, sums it up succinctly in a closing statement. “Over the next 30 years, more than 2.5 billion city dwellers will be added worldwide. So the world will look a bit more like The Netherlands. However, there will also be more problems like air pollution. What we need are innovative solutions in order to deal with these challenges.”
Not just with state funding
Would Rob Adams from Six Fingers have been satisfied with the presentations? In contrast to what he was concerned about, it was not solely about technology. Above all, it was about solving real problems for real people. Yet in the real world, problems also need to be financed. And this is unlikely to be possible with state funding alone. Data companies are also seeing their market grow due to the many interesting smart city projects that will emerge over the coming years.
That’s why deputy mayor Cathalijne Dortmans promised that Brainport Smart City District (the smartest district in the Netherlands, which is being built within her municipal borders) will be given a solid ethical committee. “And we expect and hope that this will keep us up to speed. It should only be the citizens themselves who decide what happens to their data.”
Every working day we select a European start-up of the day and each week we choose a weekly winner. At the beginning of the new month, readers can decide who will be awarded the Start-up of the Month. In recent months, the winners have come from all over Europe. In June from Italy, in July from Spain, in August from England and in September …. (drum roll) – we have a German winner!
The team behind e-bot7 wants to help steer customer telephone services into the future by utilizing artificial intelligence to improve the speed and quality of customer service. As a result, queues of 45 minutes and frustrating repeat calls should in future be a thing of the past.
The demand for good customer service is greater than ever and this technology makes it much cheaper and more efficient than it has been in the past. And that’s how you’ll save on both personnel and office costs. Due to this innovative concept, most of the votes from our Innovation Origins readers for the monthly winner went to this Munich-based start-up.
All Start-ups of the Month are automatically in the running for the first Innovation Origins Start-up of the Year award to be presented next year.
The world’s largest start-up campus is located at a former train station in the heart of Paris. With a thousand budding entrepreneurs on 34,000 m2 of floor space, France is putting itself on the map as one of the most innovative countries in the world. A prestigious project where everything revolves around entrepreneurship. IO catches up with entrepreneur Yama from the Netherlands.
The first thing you notice when entering the ‘Share Zone’ at Station F, is the gigantic Play Doh sculpture by Jeff Koons. It took Koons twenty years to perfect this pile of brightly colored lumps of clay into an icon of contemporary visual art. Start-ups underneath the former railway platform roof can only dream of that kind of long-term venture.
Like those such as Yama Saraj from Eindhoven, who at 33 years of age claims to be a veteran when it comes to start-ups. Last year he swapped the Dutch city of light for a French city in order to take his exercise and coaching app ‘Sensai’ to the next level on the campus. He has been given one year to do this with a scholarship from the Fighters Program, which is aimed at entrepreneurs with an ‘underprivileged background’.
Yama came to the Netherlands as a refugee from Afghanistan at the age of eleven. A visit to his war-torn country in 2011 turned out to be an eye-opener for the former business administration student. ”I want to bring technology to my homeland. Call it social activism, but IT provides me with the means to do something.” The plan is to eventually launch his app in Afghanistan and be able to do something for people with PTSD this way. However, money must first be raised for any further development. And that can be done in Paris.
Station F offers two distinct formulas for start-ups. The Founders program focuses on establishing start-ups ‘with major ambitions’. You have the opportunity to rent a workplace in the concrete station hall which is 310 metres long – the same length as the Eiffel Tower on its side – for 195 euros per month. For that price, you get 24/7 access to a magnificent building with lounge sofas and pool tables in every corner, meeting rooms, a ‘create zone’, an indoor sports field and an industrial-looking Italian restaurant full of Persian carpets. However, what this is essentially about is that you learn from real entrepreneurs and not from professors,” Yama says.
In order to ensure that knowledge is shared efficiently, start-ups are divided into ‘guilds’, a social structure based on the gaming industry’s perspective which rewards collaboration. A guild consists of an average of ten start-ups from various backgrounds. This results in interesting cross-pollinations between, for example, food, fashion, blockchain, e-commerce and cybersecurity,” Yama explains.
He and thirteen others are participating in the Fighters program, which offers exactly the same services as the Founders Program, but for which he doesn’t have to pay anything. It focuses on ‘killer entrepreneurs’ who have not been given equal opportunities, such as immigrants or refugees. Founder of Station F is French billionaire Xavier Niel, who came from a poverty-stricken environment himself,” says Yama. “I am also a street fighter. This mentality can come in handy, because as an entrepreneur you get a lot thrown at you.”
In his opinion, this is the kind of mindset that is hard to find in ‘the village’ of Eindhoven. If you have ambitions, you’ll get asked ‘what’s wrong with you?’ They tend to look at what’s already there, not at what you could create. Established companies like ASML and Philips literally just get in the way. The ecosystem is built around all of those major players. Sometimes it seems as if nothing else exists outside of these companies. In Paris, I can see that the world is way bigger than that.”
The fact that Station F, with partners such as Google, Amazon and Facebook, is also thinking big, was already clear when President Emmanuel Macron opened the complex two years ago. The programs explicitly target young entrepreneurs from all over the world, the working language is English and even the French bureaucracy is circumvented so that the lives of the start-ups are made easier. Needless to say, a touch of joie de vivre is indispensable. Most people start here between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., and in between all the work there is a lot of chilling out and good food,” laughs Yama.
Not a refugee anymore
He commutes daily with his e-scooter between the campus and Flatmates, a housing complex 10 minutes away which is a part of Station F. He rents a room there for 400 euros a month, a pittance in Paris. For the first time in his life, Yama no longer feels like a refugee – he feels as if he is an expat and a knowledge worker. Here in France I am a typical Dutchman. I am direct, punctual and sometimes even a bit blunt. When I am at home I deliberately don’t present myself in this way. Because everyone always ends up asking me where I actually come from.”
Good news in a week when air quality is not that doing that well due to the forest fires in the Amazon. Within five years, Dutch public transport companies expect to have 75 percent of their buses running on electricity. This was the best read story on Innovation Origins this past week.
The great thing is that bus companies are not waiting around for the time when they can only buy zero emission buses, because they are already doing this. The downside is that the existing electricity grid does not seem to be able to cope with so much pressure. Indeed, earlier this month, the grid manager warned energy network company Alliander against a full-blown power cut if no speedy efforts are made to expand the existing electricity network.
Five-fold increase in electricity demand
Alliander spokesperson Jelle Wils acknowledges the seriousness of the situation: “In the coming years, we expect to see a five-fold increase in the amount of energy required in Amsterdam. This is because a number of new measures are converging, e.g. more data centers will have to be built because of the the growing need for mobile data. These internet hubs consume the same amount of energy as a town of 30,000 inhabitants. Besides that, cities want to keep cars with combustion engines out, which means that 70,000 charging stations will have to be added to Amsterdam’s network. Furthermore, politicians want to see homes divert away from natural gas, and that means more cooking will be done using electricity.”
It would be preferable if the energy required could be generated sustainably, for example from solar parks. But the existing electricity grids care not able to process the electricity they generate. Wils: “One of the reasons for this is the lack of power cables in the ground. We have a high level of reliability when it comes to delivering electricity in the Netherlands because there are always two cables available. The second cable is only used in case of emergencies. The moment we also start using these spare cables, it’s a smart solution with a major impact. We are already doing this in the Haarlemmermeer as an emergency measure, but this will also happen throughout the country in the near future.”
In any case, the Haarlemmermeer is a complex area owing to the presence of the power-hungry Schiphol airport. Wils: “The net there is now completely full and we have been looking for several years for a new distribution station. It will require the equivalent of 12 football fields and that kind of space is not easily found. Everyone wants mobile internet and electricity for cooking, but nobody wants that kind of thing in their backyard.”
It’s clear: the Dutch power supply will remain a hot issue for some years to come. The subject will be on the Lower House’s agenda following the parliamentary recess in the Lower House on the 4th of September. The Minister of Economic Affairs will then outline his plans.
June is drawing to a close, so it is time for the first monthly overview of the ‘Best read’ series. Surprisingly, the most read topic was not mobility, but gender. The stories about TU Eindhoven’s measure to hire only women for six months from 1 July attracted most readers both nationally and internationally. That women stand their ground in the field of innovation was evident this week at the presentation of our own Gerard and Anton Awards, which fortunately featured many ladies on stage. And this is important, because international research has long since shown that gender equality leads to better innovations!
Back to this week, where the unveiling of Lightyear One was a long-awaited highlight for innovative Netherlands. How cool would it be if the former winner of our own awards turns out to be the new Tesla in a year’s time, and our columnist and Lightyear PR manager Tessie will soon appear in this list? Like we said: Women rule!
Slightly overshadowed by last week’s female power, on the Automotive Campus in Helmond, Dens’ little brothers reached the second place in the best-read list. While everyone was talking about diesel versus electric, Max Aerts and his team developed engines and generators on…. formic acid. You have read about how that works on Innovation Origins over the past few years, because Aerts is another of our former winners.
However, our columnist and Smart Mobility director at TU Eindhoven Carlo van de Weijer is not interested in acidity. When asked, he appears to be a convinced supporter of the most important power source in our galaxy. “All cars will be powered by the sun. Maybe directly, lightyear style, or through solar cells on the roof that charge the car, or possibly through fuel made from the sun (it is possible to make petrol or natural gas or kerosene out of sunlight, CO2 and H2O). But that’s not hydrogen, I’m pretty sure.”
“What kind of city do we want to be?” urban developer Eva de Klerk opens her keynote speech on Thursday evening during the Munich evening of the urban festival We make the city in Amsterdam. According to her, city dwellers all over the world are increasingly dissatisfied with mass tourism and other money-driven developments in which the construction of each square meter of space stifles any creativity. Above all, she wants to make it clear that cities do not have to be powerless in the face of such developments. “The answer is resident participation and localisme.”
Using a bottom-up approach, De Klerk gained fame by developing the NDSM shipyard in Amsterdam North into one of the largest, longest-standing and best-known breeding grounds for artists in the world. Not on her own, but together with the users. 250 city residents now work in about 85 studios: a mix of artists, designers, creatives and craftspeople. The project was such a success, that De Klerk’s expertise is now being called upon all over the world. “Nowadays I’m working for Volkswagen in Tokyo, in Seoul and at the old Berlin Tempelhof airport. I notice how everywhere there is a shift towards resident participation.” In her lecture, De Klerk shows that resident participation, contrary to what the concept might suggest, is not a vague and disorganized process. “The collective is setting the course, although the process must be well documented. Transparency is very important, also in the field of finance, because you want to avoid there being too much outside influence.”
Not a fashion fad
She warns that participation projects should not just be another fashion fad. “City councils still seem to see these as experiments. To that I say: they are a real alternative to market forces. If you want to see it as an experiment, see it as a permanent experiment. Cities need community spaces where residents are able to organize themselves.” In an appeal to the well-represented city councils of Amsterdam and the host city of Munich, De Klerk calls for the inclusion of more participation by residents. “It seems improbable, but it’s not inconceivable.
The second keynote speaker of the evening is Christoph Hilger, an architect from Munich. He talks about how difficult it is to make everyone happy when it comes to urban development. As an example, he names three Hans’s, hypothetical models of the Bavarian capital’s residents. The first Hans is a typical Bavarian in traditional costume, who goes to Oktoberfest and loves the traditional architecture. The second Hans loves modern architecture, and is married to a man. The third Hans has converted to Islam and is a member of a motorcycle club together with his friends. Hilger’s message is: “Munich must be open-minded. A city for everyone is possible, but the city must make it possible.”
Aside from urban development, the evening is also about trying to make the city more sustainable. The host city of Munich has brought with it a selection of companies that have been asked to give a pitch. A good example of this is the start-up Greenstyle, which brings sustainable fashion designers together under one roof. Like Amsterdam, Munich has to contend with a congested city center and stricter European air quality standards. And just as in the Netherlands, the proliferation of parcel service providers in smelly diesel vans is of major concern to Germany. Peter Blösl, Munich’s manager of UPS (the largest and longest-running delivery service in the world), explained how his company is trying to deal with these problems. Germany may be known as a nation of carsy, yet Munich, Blösl states: “Is the bicycle capital of Germany. Just like in Amsterdam, we are talking about making the city center car-free, but for the time being this seems a bit of a radical solution. I’d rather talk about a car-reduced city.”
According to Blösl, everyone in Germany agrees on the need to speed up development. UPS is doing its bit with a bicycle courier service which has 24 full-time cyclists, making it currently the largest UPS location to do so in the world. “This gets rid of more than 500 stops per day. In addition to reducing environmental pollution, it also creates a more positive image. They refer to package missiles in Munich when they talk about UPS. Of course, for the outside world, Germany remains the Land of BMW and Audi, while Amsterdam is still the City of Bicycles. Tomorrow I am off to our offices in Amsterdam and Utrecht to explain how to set it up.”
‘We make the city’ urban festival lasts until Sunday. See here for the whole program and here for the input from Munich.
The reservation of land by the municipality of Eindhoven and the project developer for the spectacular Dutch Mountains architecture project attracted the most visitors to Innovation Origins this week. That the 155-metre-high ‘high-tech calling card’ does not have just fans was well known. Nevertheless, disapproval on social media has been limited this time around. “Probably for the higher market segment again, not a tree in sight by the way… I can take it or leave it”, writes a loyal reader on Facebook.
Perhaps the artist’s impression does not show everything, as this time the architects of the new Brainport Eindhoven and Brabant calling card have certainly taken into account a “green approach, smart mobility solutions and a good connection with the city center”.
With the 155-metre high towers, also known as “Internationale Knoop XL”, the city of Eindhoven wants to make the image of technology, design and knowledge more visible.
It remains to be seen whether the smart mobility solutions mentioned above also include the very popular electric scooters which are already being used in other countries. In an equally well-read column, Carlo van de Weijer describes that people by nature “are not so economical with things that don’t belong to them: the average life span of the first generation of electric scooters turned out to be around 30 days, and even now the scooters barely last more than 3 months. This means that the total CO2 emissions per kilometer from such a scooter are more than those of an electric car. Whereas that form of transport often replaces walking, cycling or public transport.”
Our Munich editor Christiane Manow-Le Ruyet describes in a commentary that the sometimes life-threatening behaviour of kamikaze pilots on sh*tty scooters in Paris even triggered a PR campaign by Lime, the major supplier of rental scooters.
Sometimes, only sometimes, we think we should turn Innovation Origins into a website about mobility. Everything, well, almost everything about this theme is devoured by you. Our most read story of the past year was written by scientist Auke Hoekstra and was about the discussion whether electric driving is really cleaner than the combustion engine. And last week’s favourite story was about the upcoming launch of the Lightyear One and its German sister Sion.
We soon leave that thought behind when we realise what wonderful innovations we would have to leave behind. For example, in the field of health care or the innovation climate in the Netherlands and (far) abroad. Because our mission, exactly one year after our start as an international platform, remains the same: to give a face and a voice to the people and organisations working on solutions to the major social problems of today and tomorrow. Based on their performance, we tell the stories that may offer some confidence in our future. The “sneak preview of the future” that we offer every day not only shows that there is still a lot to change in our world and our western lifestyle, but also that there are countless people and organizations that actually take up this challenge. And if, for example from the visitor figures and the concrete reactions we get to our publications, we notice that our stories are a source of inspiration for large groups of readers, this makes us proud and happy at the same time. That’s what we do it for!
Story of Innovation
Of course we still write a lot about the region of Noord-Brabant, where our roots lie and where a lot of Dutch high-tech comes from. But just like many of those wonderful companies from our home region, our ambition extends further, much further. In addition to our head office in Eindhoven, we now also have a team of reporters in Munich and individual employees in places such as Tilburg, Utrecht, Groningen, Enschede, Hamburg, Berlin, Warsaw and Vienna. But that is far from enough, we are well aware of that. In order to be able to continue to tell the story of innovation to its full extent, even more feelers are needed.
In the coming year, Innovation Origins, which reaches more than 50,000 unique readers each month, will continue to look for the best in the field of innovation. With even more attention to the people behind the company in a daily series about start-ups. And with a strong focus on the themes that we find important: high-tech, AI, food supply, care, energy, industry, sustainability and last but not least….. mobility.
No country in the world has more high-tech start-ups per capita than Israel. In the week of the Eurovision Song Contest, Innovation Origins dedicates a short series to the Startup Nation. Today: 5 reasons why Israel is such a successful innovation country.
Innovation Attaché Racheli Kreisberg of the Dutch Embassy in Tel Aviv has been working since 2016 to strengthen cooperation in the field of innovation between the two countries. Since December of this year, the Israeli-Dutch Innovation Centre has been in existence with the aim of initiating and promoting cooperation in the field of research and development between the two countries. Kreisberg gives five reasons why the Israeli economy is so innovative.
In which areas are you most successful?
Kreisberg: “We concentrate on fast-growing technologies, so-called key emerging technologies. Photonics, robotics, semiconductors and chemistry are the most important. But we work as broadly as possible. This year, for example, a scouting mission for banks and insurance companies will be carried out for the fourth time. There is also a lot to learn from each other in the areas of cyber security and artificial intelligence. We had the greatest success in the province of Noord-Brabant, where many such companies operate.”
Why is Israel so interesting for the Netherlands?
“To put it simply, Dutch companies are interested in innovation and there are many innovations in Israel. This is in the DNA of the country, where the Jews returned to a desert in the second half of the 19th century. They had to start immediately with innovation in water and agriculture and make something out of nothing. Israel is a land of immigrants from all over the world who have all started a new life. Moreover, Israel is small, so companies need to focus directly on the international market. Third, the Jewish faith has a strong focus on study. It is a faith in which everything can be questioned, and everything is studied. The large number of Jewish Nobel Prize winners over the years has, of course, not come out of nowhere.”
A fourth reason why Israel does so well in innovation has to do with the army, says Kreisberg. “Of course, the military industry is also highly developed and has numerous civilian spin-offs. But conscription also has an impact: It gives young people a high degree of responsibility. That creates entrepreneurship.”
The fifth reason is the strong attachment to wealthy Jews from the Diaspora (mainly from the USA) who have a good heart for Israel. According to a report published two years ago, they invest an average of 2 billion euros a year in the Israeli economy. Kreisberg: “Together with a good ecosystem, in which the government invests a lot of money, this makes Israel a very good climate for innovation”
What can the Netherlands learn from Israel?
“Above all, dare to do something and dare to fail. Of course, companies all over the world are failing, but especially in Israel you often hear: I have learned most of my mistakes.”
And vice versa?
“Because of its limited size, Israel is a start-up, but not a scale-up nation. Large Dutch companies can integrate and benefit from Israeli technology. Bringing an Israeli start-up to the Netherlands can be a good way to grow further.”
To what extent does the Palestinian question influence cooperation in the field of innovation?
“We follow Dutch policy and therefore do not do business with Israeli companies outside the Green Line. This is something that is very carefully examined in all cooperations”.
No country in the world has more high-tech start-ups per capita than Israel. In the week of the Eurovision Song Contest, Innovation Origins pays attention to this startup nation in a short series. Today: what can the Netherlands learn from Israel?
Peter Ester, sociologist and economist and Member of the Senate for the Christian Union, a Dutch political party, previously published two books about Silicon Valley. He is now working on a book about the start-up climate of Israel. According to him, it’s unlike any other. “Because of the small domestic market and the ongoing boycott by the Arab neighbours, internationalization is in the DNA of the Israeli entrepreneur.” That, in combination with a culture that is full of ‘gotspe’ (Yiddish for guts), is the reason for the country to have all the right circumstances to help start-ups scale up.
“I think that the Netherlands can learn a whole lot from the Israeli ecosystem, where talent, incubators and facilitators are tremendously stimulated by the government. That is also what happens in the Netherlands, but in my opinion, the government doesn’t do enough bold things. The Netherlands is suffering from a culture of mediocrity: start-ups, that’s just another thing we’re involved in. Whereas if you want to be successful as a start-up nation, you really have to go for it.”
Besides the stimulating role of the government, there’s also something in the Israeli mentality, according to Ester. “Because of the history of the country’s development, of immigrants in a hostile environment, which is involved in a permanent struggle for survival, Israel itself is actually a start-up. At the end of the last century, more than a million Russian Jews, including many technicians, researchers and engineers, immigrated. Their arrival has certainly had an impact on the technological progress.”
In addition, Ester believes, the culture is characterized by perseverance, risk management, cooperation and leadership, which many Israelis have acquired in the army. “Values that are indispensable for entrepreneurship. Moreover, there is a culture of ‘being allowed to fail’. When you go bankrupt in the Netherlands, you only just get away with it without being tarred and feathered. In Israel it’s almost the other way around: especially successful entrepreneurs confidently talk about how many times they have gone bankrupt.”
Ester even believes that start-ups can be a key to the solution of the conflict with the Palestinians. “We can conclude that violence has not solved anything. That’s a dead end. But we haven’t tried to do business together. Imagine the push it could give if Israeli and Palestinians would have a couple of successful companies. I believe that could work. Last year, I ran into a few Palestinian girls from Gaza when I was in Stanford, on the West Coast of the United States. They also realized that violence doesn’t solve anything, and they were working on start-ups. If that succeeds, you could give the history a whole new perspective. Maybe the youngest generation can contribute to the solution of this conflict in the 21st century.”
No country in the world has more high-tech start-ups per capita than Israel. In the week of the Eurovision Song Contest, Innovation Origins pays attention to this startup nation in a short series. Today: speed dating in Tel Aviv.
Elektrical scooters – here one of Lime – determine the streetscape in Tel Aviv.
Outside on the street, millennials pass by on electrical scooters. Above a slightly dilapidated shop is – inconspicuously – a cyber security company. The CEO shows his office with two turntables and apologizes for the possibility of some loud music being heard in the interview room from time to time. Welcome to start-up-city Tel Aviv!
Officially, the Israeli coastal city lies on the Asian part of the Mediterranean Sea. But judging by the liveliness, the restaurants and the trendy young population, you’d rather think that it was a city on the west coast of the United States. Have a vegan cappuccino on Rothschild Boulevard, or a roasted cauliflower in the Miznon culi snack bar on King George Street. Then continue to the temporary Dana International Museum on Gay beach, as after all, this weekend is the Eurovision Song Contest. A motley mixture of orthodox and liberal Jews, Arabs and internationals, fills the streets. But beware, also on the sidewalk, for those scooters, because they go pretty damn fast.
With 438,000 inhabitants, Tel Aviv is the second biggest city of Israel, but with 2,500 tech start-ups, it is the start-up capital of the world. The economical impact is huge. After the US and China, the puny Israel has the largest number of companies listed on the Nasdaq in the world. The bestseller Start Up Nation, the story of Israel’s economic miracle, published ten years ago, has lost none of its power.
The astonishing number of start-ups is reason enough to offer real tours on this subject. In cooperation with the Israeli-Dutch Chamber of Commerce, Innovation Origins is allowed to speed date with five companies on the cutting edge of high-tech, cyber security, e-commerce and financial services.
Supersmart responds to the trend of self-scanning in supermarkets. Although shopping without a cashier is undeniably on the rise, there are still shops and customers who are in doubt. Shops, because theft or ‘forgetting to pay’ results in an average loss of turnover of 4 percent.
Mana Yellin, vice president sales, talks about the technique ‘Scan & Go’ that can recognize whether the customer has forgotten anything within 5 seconds, by means of a combination of technologies. “Customers don’t like it when they’re picked out for an inspection. They know it’s not a random check. Some people leave their baskets. That way, profiling becomes an issue in the supermarket. Such an anti-theft system at Amazon supermarkets costs no less than 1 million dollars, and is equipped with dozens of cameras, which results in numerous privacy issues. Our system – which uses artificial intelligence in combination with cameras and a scale – is a lot cheaper and much more user-friendly. Scan & Go costs 2 cashiers per year, has a payback period of less than 18 months and will generate a lot of money afterwards. We already have a number of large customers in Europe.” The founder of Supersmart has worked in the cyber department of the Israeli army, not uncommon for start-ups. The companies don’t use army technology, but because the founders were in the army, they did come into contact with advanced technology. This is one of the reasons why the Israeli climate is so good for start-ups.
The Scan & Go system by Supersmart in an Israeli supermarket.
According to Yellin, another reason is that it’s okay to fail. “The founder of this company had already started eight companies before this one. Here, you don’t get punished if you fail. If the first start-up didn’t work out, the question is: what’s your next idea?”
“Formjacking is the biggest cyber risk of 2019″, says Avital Grushcovsky, co-founder and vice-president of the cyber security start-up Source Defence. The warning comes from Symantec, the world leader in cyber security. And indeed, anyone who scans specialized websites will see that formjacking in 2019 is the way for cybercriminals to get rich quickly. In short, formjacking is the way in which criminals steal credit card data from forms in webshops in order to be able to siphon off the money. The way Source Defence found out about the problem was when he himself wrote software for a bank’s website and once inside, he figured: this is actually just a hack. “With that insight and the solution we came up with, our start-up was born. That was three years ago, when nobody was aware of this problem yet. Meanwhile, large companies like Delta Airlines, Ticketmaster and Kmart have been infected and companies are coming to us to ask if we can help them.”
According to Grushcovsky, it’s no coincidence that this idea was born in Israel. “Israelis are used to thinking outside the box. You always try to come up with a creative solution for your problem. That is the core of every start-up: pivot or die. No country in the world suffers from cyber attacks as much as Israel does. The last published hack on Israel changed the pages of quite a few municipalities into Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine. A computer is the ideal weapon in the hands of every angry 15-year-old.”
STARTUP NATION ACADEME
The idea sounds both simple and genius: copying the Israeli start-up ecosystem to companies anywhere in the world. Startup Nation AcadeMe promises that and is now looking for customers that have the ‘gotspe’ (guts) to pick up the gauntlet. Eti Vidavsky was running five companies all over the world, before starting AcadeMe one and a half years ago. “We make white label digital accelerators for small and large companies under their own name. Suppose that Coca Cola Amsterdam want to build their own accelerator, they do not have the expertise. Our platform has no geographical limits. We’re working with global mentors and with investors from all over the world. In Israel, the first steps have already been taken with local colleges where pupils had to establish their own start-up as part of the examination program.”
Example of a Superup app
Maybe Superup isn’t even such a special start-up, just a builder of super-fast e-commerce apps, until you look at the location. Ashdod is a mere 38 kilometres and therefore within the range of the rockets from Gaza. But all Adam Ittah, Superup’s Chief Strategy Officer, talks about are apps and what you can do for them. “The webshops are currently only designed for desktops, and not for cell phones, which doesn’t exactly improve the user experience.” For Kruidvat, among others, Superup built a super fast app, in which the purchase of products is combined with commercials about the same products.” Although he doesn’t want to give exact figures, Ittah says that the app has increased online sales by double digits. Superup raised 15 million dollars from an American investor at the end of last year and now employs 65 people. A dream come true for the Ittah brothers, who are from Ashdod, and also wanted to start a successful start-up outside Tel Aviv.
Yair Levy, CEO of Salaryo
“Fluctuating incomes are the problem of my generation,” says Yair Levy about the idea behind his start-up Salaryo. “In the United States, of the 71 million millenials, 35 million are now without permanent employment. Banks are not responding sufficiently to this. A loan requires a stable income, which is why it is usually more difficult for this generation to acquire property than the previous generations. With Salaryo, we are responding to this. Primarily by offering loans on favorable terms for the deposit that has to be paid at a co-working space. But in the future we want to offer more services. We need to look for alternatives that will enable this generation to take the next step. The idea that this generation only spends money on trendy things, such as café latte and avocado salad, instead of saving for a house or pension, is wrong. After all, saving with zero percent interest does not yield anything. This generation is not so much about owning things as it is about having access to services and experiences: renting, sharing, leasing, that’s where the value lies.”
According to Levy, the start-up ecosystem in Israel is now reaching its limits. “Venture capital is looking for larger companies, for smaller start-ups it is increasingly difficult to collect money. Because of our small home market, we are often forced to go abroad. But many start-ups lack the skills to achieve scale. I spend half my time in New York, but if I really want to conquer America, I have to call on locals because they know the market much better.”
Eyal Moshe, CEO of Hub Security
At first sight a dilapidated shop in the centre of Tel Aviv appears to be the headquarters of Hub Security, a cyber security company that specializes in blockchain. Founder, amateur DJ and director Eyal Moshe makes no secret of the fact that as a soldier he was part of Unit 8200, the part of the Israeli army that deals with eavesdropping anywhere in the world.
Hub security openly uses the backgrounds of its employees as a marketing tool and promises on its website ‘to renew blockchain financial technology with military solutions’. Moshe: “Blockchain makes the transfer of money much easier, but the risks are correspondingly high. Last year alone, 1.5 billion dollars was stolen. Digital money definitely holds the future, but security is a big issue, to which we can give an answer.”
A flashy office building is clearly not part of that. At Hub Security, as in many places in the trendy, but in many places unpolished Tel Aviv, a tangle of power and communication cables are coming from the ceiling. A name sign on the door is also missing. “We would like to keep it a bit low profile. How we help our customers is part of our magic. Let me put it this way: we combine unique hardware with unique software. Our link with the Israeli army is a good sales argument.”
With the increasing popularity of electric cars, the number of batteries needed for this purpose is also increasing. This poses new challenges not only to the industry, but also to storage and recycling companies. On the second Battery Day, which was held at Automotive Campus Helmond (the Netherlands) this week, experts discussed burning issues related to the theme: how to store, transport and – in the event of a calamity – extinguish batteries. But also: how to reduce dependency on China when it comes to battery production. Innovation Origins spoke to organiser Jan Wouters, who is manager Green mobility of AutomotiveNL, the cluster organization of the Dutch automotive industry.
You called batteries a sensitive issue. Can you explain?
“The sensitivity is twofold: batteries and thus electric driving are a threat to traditional car manufacturers who base their business model on combustion engines. Knowledge equals capital and a manufacturer who is knowledgeable about internal combustion engines is not eager to throw that away. If the transition continues, a whole load of machines will become worthless, and there is a risk that money will be lost. The theme is also sensitive because the development direction is reasonably clear but the speed is not. We have seen that various innovative players that recently expressed their willingness to make major investments, such as Bosch, have become reluctant because they find it difficult to predict the situation over a number of years. The solid state battery is inherently safe, but investments in it are lagging behind. The parties involved do not want the huge factory that they have to build for this to become obsolete again the next day. This is why they’re suggesting to take it easy. Another sensitivity lies in the area of extracting the scarce natural resources needed to make lithium-ion batteries. Do we have enough cobalt and lithium to meet the demand, or are we going to make batteries without cobalt?”
In addition, as Amnesty International recently stated, there are concerns about the way in which the materials are mined.
“The fact that 4 to 5 year-old children have to dig for cobalt in Congolese mines is scandalous, of course. Fortunately, the car industry is trying to do something about this, for example by using blockchain to find out where their products originate from and who has been involved in them. That way, in the long run, these countries can be forced to organise their business properly. On the one hand, the concerns are entirely justified, but on the other hand, new technologies should not yet be held accountable for them. These could never be compared with technologies that have been in the lead for 100 years, and for which the production process has been optimised. From a marketing point of view, too, it is important for companies to work on sustainability. Even if they do not directly profit from it. After all, those who are sustainable are seen as innovative on the labour market and have an advantage when it comes to competing for the best students and employees. In that sense, sustainability is a must.”
How will the demand for batteries develop in the coming years?
“The most exciting question at the moment is: will the battery car indeed become much cheaper? If this happens, which is what experts predict will be around 2025, many people will want to make the switch. If the market then grows enormously, there will be a large pressure on the supply of those materials. If production is to be doubled, it will take four years. The problem is not so much stocks but rather production capacity.”
Why is Battery Day important for Automotive Campus Helmond?
Pieter Rahusen, Acquirer and new business developer at Automotive Campus: “As a campus, we are in the middle of a social development with regard to the sustainability of mobility. On the one hand, we see that a cluster organisation such as AutomotiveNL generates knowledge and a network. On the other hand, we also see that more and more parties involved in battery management are establishing themselves on the campus. This change is also taking place in the educational sector. If you walk into the Fontys Summa College, you will still see a gearbox and a combustion engine. But this curriculum is changing rapidly and within ten or twenty years these students will be working on electric motors. Developments in the battery and its use are so rapid that it is important for education to be able to respond quickly to them. That is why it is so important that education here on the Campus is directly in touch with the latest developments. That’s what we call the triple helix idea that makes our brainport region so strong. That’s what I like about the campus ecosystem.”
Poland considers the objections of the Netherlands to the export of unemployment benefits, which allows employees to benefit from a Dutch unemployment benefit in their own country for up to 6 months, to be outdated. “The exchange of employees is in the interest of both countries”, says Minister Jadwiga Emilewicz of Entrepreneurship and Technology, who visited the Netherlands last week. “All countries within the European Union benefit from the common market. I can hardly imagine the Netherlands without Polish workers. I think that some construction sites would simply have to be shut down.”
Don’t you find it unfair that they take their benefits to Poland to enjoy a long holiday there?
“When I speak to my colleagues from Western Europe, I always say: imagine all Polish workers going back to Poland. They are more than welcome. Do you think that your workers would fill their places and would like to do their work? I very much doubt that. Ageing societies, such as the Dutch one, must be very careful when talking about the labour market. Polish employees in the Netherlands are also changing. Ten years ago it may have been very simple work, but now Polish IT programmers are among the best in the world.”
44-year-old Emilewicz is a woman on a mission. Being a minister in a right-wing conservative government, she shows the world the modern image of Poland. A Poland that has been able to achieve economic growth for more than 26 years, with around 5 percent in the past two years. For the Polish-Dutch Business Forum that was held in The Hague last week, the minister brought with her a selection of modern Polish companies that are eager to invest in the Netherlands. “The time when Poland could compete with cheap labour is definitely over. For that we have to go 600 kilometres further East, to Ukraine or Belarus.”
In the Netherlands Poland is still perceived as an underdeveloped country, where companies compete with cheap labour. How much of this is true? What are the signs of Poland moving towards a knowledge-based economy?
The free market economy has been present in Poland for 30 years. In 1989, we started from a very low ceiling. Development processes take time. We are increasing our prosperity at one of the highest rates in the world. FTSE Russell promoted Poland to the group of the 25 most advanced global economies. We are increasingly competing on quality and innovation rather than labour costs. Our production and export of high-tech goods is growing. Research and development expenditures are increasing. Digital services based on human capital of the highest quality – Polish IT specialists – are increasingly important. Investors come to Poland because of the quality of Polish engineers, which is evident from all international rankings. With regard to the most important programming languages, Java and Python, Polish IT professionals even rank first and second. Foreign investments mainly concern advanced technologies. As a result, wages also grow, which creates a “virtuous circle”. Employees expect higher wages, but they are increasingly understanding the need to take care of modern skills and knowledge for themselves and their children.
“The perception is that we are still at the beginning of our transition as we were in the early 1990s. We are very proud of having the lowest unemployment rate since 1995 but that also means that we have to pay more in order to get the highly qualified people into employment. We are also trying to make the Polish economy even more innovative. This is a difficult process, because we are traditionally a very industrial country.”
The Minister lists a number of sectors in which Poland is at the forefront. “We are very proud of the Polish banking system. It is among the most developed in Europe and in the world. You can pay anywhere in Poland with a card or app, or smartphone. The Polish population of 38 million inhabitants uses more non-cash systems than any other country in the old Europe, which is why we are boosting the market. This is generally overlooked.”
Together with ten Central and Eastern European countries, Poland is seen as a ‘digital challenger’ because of its digital potential. Emilewicz: “The total number of IT engineers in Central Europe is higher than in the entire United States. We have the potential and invest a lot. In 2016, 6.2 percent of our GDP came from digital economy. The forecast in 2025 could potentially triple this.
To what extent do you, as Minister of Technology, mind that the government has a conservative signature? How does this relate to the 24-hour economy for example?
“This week we had a cabinet meeting about the introduction of the compulsory free Sunday, starting next year. What we are discovering is that in the run-up to the introduction, the digital domain has grown strongly. The grocery store may be closed on Sundays, but the e-grocery store is open. For many SMEs, however, this digital transition is not easy, and that is why we, the government, are doing everything we can to help them with it. But for this government, digitalisation starts much earlier: that is why we have introduced programming lessons at primary school.”
If Europe is to continue competing with China and the United States, we need more collaboration, according to Emilewicz. “If we don’t make progress on Artificial Intelligence partnerships, IBM Watson and Microsoft will stay ahead of us and we have to accept that we will have to buy AI solutions in the future.”
When the first Polish unicorn will be born (a privately held company with a valuation of over $1bn). What sector would you expect it to come from?
Two innovative Polish companies have exceeded the value of one billion dollars. It’s Allegro and CD Projekt. We have created good conditions for the development of start-ups in Poland, we have our own innovation ecosystem, which is constantly supplemented by new elements. It takes time for such a classic unicorn with an external investor to appear. I think we’re closer than we were. To achieve the status of a unicorn, you must create a unique product or service on a global scale, a technology or a breakthrough solution. Now the fastest growing companies are working on solutions based on data analytics and artificial intelligence, cybersecurity or biotechnology, and Polish start-ups are leaders when it comes to big data, analytics, the Internet of Things. In these industries I would look for a Polish candidate for a classic unicorn.
Europe is losing the innovation leadership position to the US and China. What policies could be introduced to reverse the trend? How should European companies respond to the challenge of more innovative American and Asian companies?
It should be the EU’s strategic objective to establish competition with China and the US, but not through imitation and reconstruction of solutions. The EU development path should be a kind of “third way” between these powers. Therefore, innovation, competitiveness, free trade, mobility, cross-border data exchange should be priorities. If European countries are unable to make bold moves towards an ambitious industrial strategy, a well-functioning Single Market without protectionist barriers, a real Digital Single Market as well as the diversification of energy sources, they will face long-term stagnation. In terms of the wider economy, the greatest potential for collaboration lies in the development of European value chains.
Łódź-Chengdu railway connection has become a new symbol of Polish geoeconomics and is being called a new silk road. How much of it is just buzzword? Does the relative proximity to China have true potential for Polish businesses and innovations?
Poland is interested in the potential of the Chinese market. The opening of Polish Foreign Trade Offices in Shanghai and Chengdu is to help our entrepreneurs learn about a different business culture as well as the conditions of doing business in China. Poland has the ambition to become a hub for EU-China trade. Our plans go beyond the terminal in Łódź, encompassing a number of multimodal transport chains. We are expanding Polish ports, restoring the potential of inland waterways, the Polish railway makes the biggest investments in its history. Poland is actively involved in the preparation of conclusions for the upcoming EU-China summit, which is going to be devoted to a large extent to trade, investment and industrial collaboration. We also work with China in the 16+1 formula – the only permanent forum for dialogue with China with the participation of EU institutions.
There are rumours about the possibility of Polexit. Recently you called Polexit “a myth”. How do you think this move would affect the Polish position in the EU?
I stand by my word. Polexit is a myth that is aimed at weakening Poland’s position. We see the benefits of EU membership – functioning within the internal market and the use of the four freedoms. 87% of Poles appreciate the benefits of EU membership. We are a full member of the EU and we fulfil all obligations related to membership in this organisation. We actively participate in EU work, including on key issues. This includes building the advantage of the European economy on the global market in relation to our third partners, which we have already discussed.
How do you think the extensive cross-country social policy in the EU might affect the global competitiveness of Europeans in the long run? Would you consider it an advantage or a burden?
In Poland’s opinion, the social aspect of Europe should be based on openness and respect for the diversity of national social models. We support social convergence, but it must progress gradually, keep up with economic convergence. Unification of social standards at a high level will be artificial, unadjusted to the level of affluence of economies, and will reduce their competitiveness.
The Dutch also see Polish politics as very conservative, while the government is known for its traditional values. Does it affect the investment climate as the tech sector is rather progressive and liberal?
The new technologies sector is free-market oriented, focused on results. It needs fair and transparent market rules. We respond to these needs with a number of pro-business changes in law and facilitation of conducting innovation activities. Also engineers, financiers and scientists voted in favour of our government, who saw the advantages in the vision we propose – the combination of economic transparency with a new ethical quality in public life.
You said that there’s a great potential in cooperation between Polish and German companies in the fields of automation, AI, or robotics. What barriers withhold such partnerships at the moment?
Our economic relations are in very good condition. However, a global race is going on. In order not to be left behind, our economies must enter a higher level of development, and our collaboration should be based on foundations that meet the challenges of the future. On a redefinition of the partnership principles. On the understanding that the biggest added value in the face of global competition are joint, innovative projects, and the main obstacle to collaboration are no longer customs or borders, but different protectionist barriers manifested in excessive regulation.
One hundred years ago, the Bauhaus architectural movement began in Germany. Until the Nazis came to power (and afterwards), the entrepreneurial and innovative architectural style should have a major impact on architects all around the world.
An important factor in the success of Bauhaus was the participation of Dutch artists, as for example De Stijl or Theo van Doesburg, who gave courses in the years 1921 and 1922 and sharply criticized the, at that time, esoteric, floating Bauhaus. Under his influence, the Bauhaus motto changed from “art and craft – a new unity” to “art and technology, a new unity”.
The fact that a TINY[BAU]HAUS was designed by the Dutch architecture office DUS, on the occasion of the hundred-year anniversary, therefore fits into the tradition. The 8 square-meter TINY[BAU]Haus was loaded onto a flat-bed trailer on Friday in Amsterdam and will today be inaugurated at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris.
The raw material for the design, which was created with a 3D-printer from the Amsterdam company Aectual, is flaxseed, which makes the design completely recyclable. The architect Hans Vermeulen is proud to be able to build on the tradition of the German founders with his miniature Bauhaus design. “The Bauhaus was famous for the use of modern technology. We have done this once again, with the help of 3D-printing technology”. In this object, visitors can experience Bauhaus in Germany with all of their senses. On display are all locations of the Bauhaus – Weimar, Dessau und Berlin – as well as the study of Walter Gropius, reconstructed by VR-technology. This space is a cooperative project of the Bauhaus University Weimar and the German National Tourist Board (DZT), which designed the TINY[BAU]HAUS. “The 3D-printing of recyclable plastic uses innovative technologies and materials. This promotes the idea of sustainability. At the TINY[BAU]HAUS, we are presenting the cultural-historic offers around the Bauhaus in an extraordinary atmosphere”, says Michaela Klare, head of the DZT Netherlands, in Amsterdam.
Last month, the design started a tour through Europe in Amsterdam, to celebrate the 100thanniversary of the Bauhaus. The cities visited include Paris, Rotterdam, Barcelona, Marseille, Vienna, Prague, Budapest and Copenhagen. On the DZT website, you will also find architectural blogs and videos about the “making of” the TINY[BAU]HAUS 3D-print.
The agency DUS was founded in 2004 and specialized in digital production processes and 3D-printing in the construction industry a few years ago. With the interactive lighting design of the Kapellbrücke in Lucerne, a temporary building for the Dutch Presidency of the European Union, and as initiators of the 3D canal house in Amsterdam, the architects attracted international attention.
“Combustion engines can become slightly more efficient, but no more than 30 percent,” says Auke Hoekstra, researcher at Eindhoven University of Technology and specialist in electric driving.
Hoekstra is responding to the interview we have previously held with Daan de Cloe, managing director of TNO Automotive in Helmond. Astonishingly, de Cloe, the head of the research institute, encourages further development of the combustion engine, which would still be around for the next 30 years to make the energy transition possible. De Cloe literally says: “We will not succeed to electrifying everything in a short period of time. The industry has proven not to be ready for that yet. To work on our climate objectives, we must continue to also develop the current track we’re on. And that is the one of the combustion engine.”
IMPROVED INCANDESCENT LAMP
According to Hoekstra, further development of the combustion engine is absurd. “That’s like marketing an improved incandescent lamp.” He explains: “Sometimes, biofuel is presented as an option with fewer emissions. However, this allegedly ‘good fuel’ is very limited and if you want more than a few percent of traffic to run on biofuel, then unfortunately, you end up with solutions that are worse for the environment than oil. So, let me be clear: while using fuel engines, we are not going to be able to reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 90%, which is essential for the climate agreement. One could state that the climate agreement is flights of fancy and they are not participating in it, but I believe one should be honest about it.”
Hoekstra believes that electric traction is the best alternative. “If you look at its lifespan and take the greening of the electricity grid and the manufacture of batteries into account, this already accounts for, at least, 60% less CO2 emissions. In comparison, this results in twice as much decrease as the combustion engine would achieve in 2050. Also, using this green electricity, you can easily achieve the 90 percent emission reduction. I think combustion engines are just a dead end that we have to get rid of as quickly as possible.”
DESPERATE TIMES NEED DESPERATE MEASURES
“Evidently it can be stated that the industry is not ready, but I believe we should give it a push in the right direction. We are losing the battle against China, who has dared to set out a clear policy. My motto would be: ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’ so let’s stop putting paper over the cracks and choose the technology with a clear future: electric traction.”
“The price of the battery and its weight was always problematic. However, nowadays, cars with a huge range are hardly any heavier and they will become even lighter because of the weight saving through the powertrain. Then the price. If the battery price drops below 200 euros per kWh, with my calculations, the fuel engine will no longer be able to compete. For trucks, this limit has reached even earlier. So, the grant eligibility phase we are currently in is coming to an end. All the more reason to stop perfecting the exceeded fuel engine.”
“However, I would like to emphasise that if you combine electric traction with fuel cells, it can also run on synthetic fuels, such as hydrogen. The efficiency then, is still much higher than with a combustion engine. I expect that this will probably only breakthrough in niche applications, however, when I discuss electric this does not only include battery electric.”
TNO, the Netherlands Organisation for applied scientific research, was founded by law in 1932 to enable business and government to apply knowledge. As an organisation regulated by public law, they are independent: not part of any government, university or company.
Until the year 2050, the internal combustion engine will remain necessary to enable energy transition. Neither the electricity grid, nor the supply chain, are prepared for a faster transition to electric mobility. This is what Daan de Cloe, director of TNO automotive in Helmond, states. According to the independent research institute, not only is it of great importance to invest research into electric mobility, but also invest into other energy sources, such as hydrogen and combustion engines.
“We will not succeed to electrifying everything in a short period of time. The industry has proven not to be ready for that yet,” says De Cloe. “To work on our climate objectives, we must continue to also develop the current track we’re on. And that is the one of the combustion engine.”
TNO, which is 25 percent government-funded and regarded as the country’s most authoritative research institute for the mobility sector, was one of the first companies at the Automotive Campus in Helmond in 2003. TNO researchers have been involved with many innovations within the automotive sector and will continue to lead the way in developing new forms of mobility in the coming years.
But that future is not just electric, says De Cloe. That is why TNO is investing in a new combustion engine that is more efficient and runs on different types of fuel: Flex Fuel. “This engine is suitable for several types of fuel, both fossil and synthetic, and is also over 50 percent more efficient, which results in several percent more energy from the same amount of fuel. This could bring enormous environmental benefits, if used in the transport sector.”
De Cloe knows that certain statements in today’s electro-loving climate are not ‘politically desirable’, however, also believes it is important to emphasise not too write off the internal combustion engine too quickly. “And not only because of the potential this 125-year-old technology still has, but also realistically taking into account the time it takes to complete the transition to hydrogen or electricity. That takes much longer than one would wish for.”
Do you believe in the here and now this discussion will have a chance?
“Well, diesel gate certainly doesn’t help. However, if you take a look at the quality of a diesel engine and drive it through the Ruhr area, cleaner air actually comes out of the exhaust than the air that goes in. So how gravely bad are diesel engines then?”
“So TNO is not a government institute, we don’t belong to a ministry. We are independent, founded by law and owned by the Dutch populace. We also publish reports that the Ministry may not be happy with at all. Our conclusion that the internal combustion engine most likely will play an important role in our mobility system until 2050 is in a public report and based upon facts. Whether politicians like it or not, this is – with the current available knowledge – the outcome.”
“That’s why we advice not to choose one technique at a time, but reconcile with the fact that these energy sources will coexist until 2050. An internal combustion engine is often associated with diesel, fossil, dirty. But what if you have an engine that can run on biogas or synthetic fuel? The sustainability factor of such an engine would be much higher than it is today. You need electricity from coal-fired power stations for electric driving. It will be cleaner if you use nuclear energy, however then you will have another waste problem.”
Identifying problems before the manufacturer sees them
After this extensive exposé, an impression of TNO could have been created that they are exclusively occupied with engines. Nothing could be further from the truth. At the Helmond Automotive Campus, TNO is involved in all developments in the field of automotive mobility. The research institute prides itself on “identifying problems even before the manufacturer sees them and works on solutions”.
De Cloe: “We anticipate what the industry will need. Our 200 researchers give lectures and attend conferences all over the world. The aim is to explore and determine what the industry is doing. This way, we can provide solutions that facilitate bringing new technology to the market faster, easier to apply and more efficiently to test.
Can you give an example?
“In the past, we worked with car manufacturers who had a car stability problem. That’s why we developed ESP: vehicle state estimation, a technique that ensures cars don’t run amok. Often, we work on behalf of customers, but sometimes customers do not even know that they are going to have a problem and that means that we are working on solutions for latent needs.
Self driving cars
At the moment we are working on solutions for self driving cars. We saw that there was a lot in development there years ago. While manufacturers focused on the question of how they got the car self-driving, we asked ourselves: how can you demonstrate that the car acts safely in any given situation? Automating a car and making it communicate to its environment has great potential for vehicle safety and traffic flow. However, you also have to be able to demonstrate that it can be robust, reliable and safe. It is far too expensive to physically test all possible traffic situations. That is why we are working on a technique that partly includes simulation, that can guarantee that these systems will be safe. It is necessary for it to be tested by an independent institute. If Daimler or BMW state that they have a good productive system, then that’s fine, but this can also come across as self promotion. Authorities will not just accept that. So you will need something that has been independently tested and based upon facts.
Why is it important for TNO to be on the Automotive Campus?
“We came here from Delft in 2003 and were one of the first automotive companies of the campus. The main reason is the attendance of the automotive industry in North Brabant. VDL, Tomtom and NXP are here, as are many suppliers and educational institutions. Because we decided to make certain investments at the time, we now have unique facilities for safety and sustainability, among other things. The entire global industry comes to Helmond to do research here.”
“TNO’s global appeal offers us the opportunity to bring Dutch business into contact with manufacturers and – in reverse – to link (PhD) students to international business projects. Also, to provide the Dutch business community with the correct knowledge gathered in such projects. Thereby, we fully comply with the assignment with which we were founded in 1932. The assignment was ‘To promote the prosperity and welfare of the Dutch people, taking into account the possibilities that technology offers for society and the interests of the Dutch business community’.”
“We always seek a balance between what we call social ambitions – nowadays called social challenges – and how we can respond to them with new technologies. How can we make improvements that are socially beneficial and at the same time help Dutch companies to strengthen their competitive position? In short, we are taking on things that stimulate innovation.”
From product innovation to system innovation
Traditionally speaking, innovation faces a number of obstacles, De Cloe explains. “It can’t be done and it shouldn’t be done. You need engineers developing a new product for the first obstacle and for the second you’ll need lawyers who make the product comply with existing legislation or who adapt this legislation. Subsequently, you have the ‘audience doesn’t want it’ obstacle where technical innovations can run aground. For example Video 2000 or the Philips CD-i. Beautiful inventions, but unfortunately, for which there was no market at the time.
“We come from an era of product innovation. How do we make the car better, safer and more economical? This is an important part of our task of course. Innovation in the automotive sector has more to it than just developing new products. We have stepped into a period in which system innovation is much more important. We have to keep in mind how to link the ICT domain to the mobility domain and the energy domain? And perhaps also to the infrastructure domain. These are large domains with wealthy players. They have to work together to accomplish system innovation. This system innovation is necessary to overcome the ‘it can’t be done and it shouldn’t be done’ obstacles. And finally, social innovation is necessary to overthrow the ‘audience doesn’t want it’ obstacle. The latter includes bringing about a change of mindset.”
“Yesterday I was at a dinner and someone said: and then I saw a traffic jam from Rotterdam to The Hague ánd from The Hague to Rotterdam. Wouldn’t it be more convenient if the people working in Rotterdam and live in The Hague would move and vice versa? Then we’d get rid of that problem…
What I’m trying to say is that at some point – if you want to solve things – you have to start thinking on a different, more social level. And that includes a society and industry with more give and take.”
At the Maastricht Health Campus, the startup EmoSys has developed a neuroscience-based portable solution for the treatment of depression. The device produces electrical impulses that stimulate the nerves involved in smiling and laughing. Our cartoonist Albert Jan Rasker knows what to do with it.