Interview: Electric buses are booming in Poland

Most people wouldn’t have guessed it, but there is no other European country where electric buses for public transport are as popular as they are in Poland. An important reason for this is that Poland is itself a large manufacturer of electric buses. It is estimated that about a third of all electric buses in Europe are manufactured in Poland.

Primus inter pares is bus and tramway manufacturer Solaris. Which is heading for a market share of about 20% on the European continent this year. Volvo, Scania, MAN and Rafako E-Bus also make electric buses in Poland.

Innovation Origins had an interview with the head of e-mobility development at Solaris, Mateusz Figaszewski:

Solaris is one of the biggest European electric bus producers. How many of these buses are going to the local Polish market?

The number of electric vehicles that Solaris delivers to Polish customers changes from year to year. Altogether, our company has delivered over 360 battery vehicles to customers in 18 European countries, including 119 in Poland.

Furthermore we have over 500 orders for our electric Urbino buses, of which 194 will be delivered to local Polish customers in 2019 and 2020.

Which Polish cities are using your E-buses and how many electric buses are there in Poland?

The cities in Poland where our battery vehicles can be found are: Inowrocław, Jaworzno, Kraków, Ostrołęka, Warszawa, Ostrów Wielkopolski, Września, Chodzież, Katowice, Sosnowiec, Stalowa Wola, Ciechanów, Rzeszów, Ostróda, Bełchatów, Łomianki. Other cities with vehicles on order are: Kutno, Miechów, Poznań, Radom, Tychy and Włocławek.

The E-bus market in Poland is comprised of 155 vehicles at the moment, 119 of them have been manufactured by Solaris. Another 254 units are on order, 194 of which are from Solaris.

Mateusz Figaszewski

What can we expect in the next few years where electrification of public transport is concerned?

The aim of the European Commission is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 by at least 60% before now and 2050. One of the ways to achieve this is to transform and electrify the European transportation sector, including urban public transport.

In line with that target, 50 European cities have already signed the “Clean Bus Deployment Initiative” – a declaration of intent on promoting large-scale deployment of clean, alternatively fueled buses. Many of these European cities have opted for electric buses.

The European electric bus fleet has already increased nearly 15-fold over the past 5 years. Still, we are convinced that we will see a further increase in the volume of orders. According to estimations from the ZeEUS program from UITP, 22% of all new bus registrations in 2020 will be electric and this number will continue to rise up to 45% by 2030.

The rest of the bus fleet will be at least partially electric driven or based for instance on hydrogen.

How important are European subsidies for the transition to environmentally friendly buses?

European and local subsidies from European Member States are crucial for maintaining the speed of market growth. Without them, many customers could face difficulties in securing budgets for the procurement of zero-emission vehicles. This is especially important nowadays as the technology is still relatively new. Therefore that makes it more expensive in the deployment phase than is the case for combustion vehicles.

Once we manage to achieve a scale-effect with higher order volumes, the prices for individual customers will also start to be more and more affordable.

Having said that, it should be pointed out that as a supplier we also see a growing interest in electric vehicles from private transport operators who are not subject to government subsidies. Running on electricity is cheaper than diesel.

What is Solaris’s market share in the European electric bus market?

The market share for Solaris in 2018 was 17%. This put our company in 2nd place in Europe with the United Kingdom included. However, if we take just the European mainland into account, last year we ended up as the market leader.

As 2019 is still underway, we are unable to give an exact number. We did however secure over 20% of orders placed for electric buses this year in Europe.

One problem in Poland is that electric buses need power and this power still largely comes from (dirty) coal. When do you think this will change?

First of all this is a question that should be addressed to policy makers. But as far we can see, all of the political parties in Poland, including the leading party, are aware of the need for decarbonization of different branches of industry, including the energy sector.

The pace at which this will be introduced is, however, very hard to estimate. As the country’s leading manufacturer of an ecological means of public transport, we strongly support any activities geared towards the transition to reusable sources of energy and making our energy sector more efficient and sustainable.

Tomorrow is Good: The Professor and the Politician

The professor and the politician sat at the table of a lunchroom in The Hague with cups of fresh mint tea. The politician had invited the professor to talk about the transparency of algorithms. He wanted to set strict rules for the use of algorithms by the government, with emphasis on the word “strict,” he added.

The politician said, “I want a watchdog who will check all the government algorithms,” words which he clearly found unsavory. The professor noticed that the politician had a preference for the words “rules” and “watchdog”, and for the expression “with an emphasis on…”.

The usefulness of a watchdog

By the time they had finished their first cup of tea, they had found that there are roughly two types of algorithms: simple and complex. Simple algorithms, they thought, translate rules into a kind of decision tree. On a napkin the politician drew blocks and lines to represent this and as an example she cited the application for a rent allowance. She noted that there are already thousands of simple algorithms in use by the government.

The professor suggested that such algorithms could be made transparent relatively easily, but that this transparency would actually bring you back to the regulations on which the algorithm is based. Sipping his tea, he added: “So you could rightfully ask what the use of an algorithm watchdog would be in this case.”

At this point, the conversation stopped for a moment, but then they decided they agreed on this after all.

“B-uu-uu-t,” said the politician, looking ominous again, “then there are the complex algorithms. Neural networks and all that.'”

The professor looked thoughtfully out the window since that seemed like the right thing to do, then replied that neural networks are as transparent as the human brain. If you could make neural networks transparent, you wouldn’t be able to derive anything from them.

The politician nodded slowly. She knew that, too.

Training the network

You can train such a network, you can test the outcome and you can also make it work better, but transparency, or the use of an algorithm watchdog, wouldn’t add any value here either, the professor concluded.

Once again, the conversation came to a standstill.

The politician had spoken and the professor couldn’t disagree with her. “That’s precisely why I want a ban on the use of far-reaching algorithms by the government,” added the politician, “emphasis on the word ban.”

“The effect would then be counterproductive,” the professor said, “by prohibiting the use of algorithms by the government, you create undesirable American conditions in which commercial parties develop ever-smarter algorithms, become more powerful as a result, and in which the democratically elected government becomes marginalized.

The professor felt that the last part of his sentence had turned out to be softer than he would have liked. He considered repeating it, but instead asked “Why do you always use the word ‘watchdog’?”

“Because a watchdog conveys decisiveness,” the politician replied. “We want to make the public feel safe with the government, and a watchdog is a good representation of that.”

Curious bees

The professor was starting to feel miserable. The government as a strict watchdog? The image reminded him of countries like China. Or America.

“I don’t like that metaphor,” he said, “it has such an indiscriminate character. It’s powerful, but also a bit stupid and simplistic.

“Then why don’t you come up with a better analogy!” the politician challenged him cheerfully.

The professor was reminded of an article he had recently read and replied: “I think the image of a bee population would fit better.” It was a somewhat frivolous answer, but in a bee colony, curious bees are sent out to look for opportunities that are of value to the entire colony.

The politician laughed a lame laugh.

“Nice image, professor, but an algorithm bee wouldn’t work in the political arena!”

The professor suspected that the politician had a good point there.

They had one final cup of tea together and then once again went their separate ways.

bout this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

Poland is slowly saying goodbye to its reputation as the dirty man of Europe

This is the first part of a series about the measures that Poland is taking against environmental pollution and global warming. Tomorrow, part two will be devoted to the transition to electric buses in public transport.

The sight of the Belchatów brown coal power station is both forbidding and impressive. A huge hole several tens of meters deep and kilometers wide stretches out in front of the power station. The plant spits out thick clouds of smoke day and night. Everything in the hole is dead. Except for the gigantic trucks that are constantly driving back and forth between the quarry and the power station. The area around Belchatów is regularly shrouded in mist and the smell around the power station intensifies in winter thanks to the numerous households in the area that are still kept warm with old-fashioned multi-burners.

It should come as no surprise that the power station in Belchatów was regularly criticized at the climate summit in Katowice last year. Belchatów is the world’s largest brown coal power station. And it is the greatest, single emitter of carbon dioxide in the EU, with more than 38 million tonnes of CO2 per year. It is also one of the reasons why Poland is often called the dirty man of Europe.

The fact that Poland depends on coal and brown coal for almost 80% of its electricity is a thorn in the side of Brussels. Even worse, it is felt that Warsaw is also not prepared to abandon its dependence on coal. The furthest Poland has been willing to go so far, is to reduce its dependence on coal by roughly 50% by 2040. The government deems anything more than that to be too expensive. Poland therefore has declined to sign the EU protocol on the supply of CO2-neutral energy by 2050. Just as the Czech Republic, Estonia and Hungary are also refusing.

The Netherlands emits more CO2 than Poland

This intractable attitude towards Brussels could give the impression that nothing at all is happening in Poland with regard to improving the environment. But that is not true. In a series devoted to environmental and climate measures, Innovation Origins will show that Poland is even ahead of the rest of Europe in some respects.

Read also: Coal Curtain replaces the Iron Curtain

For a start, the figures reveal that we, as The Netherlands, ought to be cautious in our criticism. Because of its high energy consumption per capita, The Netherlands emits more CO2 than Poland does. In 2017, Poland accounted for 319 million tonnes and the Netherlands for 175 million tonnes. In per capita terms, that amounted to 8.4 tonnes of CO2 per Polish person and more than 10 tonnes for one Dutch person. So the situation in Poland is not that dire after all.

When multi-burners are used during winter, nitrogen oxide emissions rise in Polish villages and towns, particularly in the south. Photo Maurits Kuypers

Also, the right-wing populist government PiS party seems to be realizing that doing nothing about climate policy is no longer an option either. For example, the government recently announced that with Michal Kurtyka, a special minister for climate issues has been appointed. While the conservative pro-coal minister Krzysztof Tchorzewski has since vanished from the cabinet.

And last week, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in Parliament: “Conventional energy sources will remain important for our energy system for a long time to come, but the situation is changing. There was a time when we couldn’t afford to invest in renewable energy sources. But now we can’t afford not to invest in them.”

Societal change

But the most important thing is that Polish society is changing. Nature and environmental policies are becoming increasingly important. The most noticeable change over the last few years was the increase in the number of protests against the extremely high levels of fine particles (smog) during winter months.

Last year, the European Environment Agency (EEA) estimated that 44,000 people in Poland die prematurely from poor air quality every year. Living in Warsaw for a year would be equivalent to smoking 1000 cigarettes. No wonder that the purchase of air masks was one of the biggest sales successes last year.

The response to this criticism is still a little slow at government level. The scheme to replace old multi-burners in houses with new ones is going rather sluggishly. Even though on paper as much as €25 billion has been made available for it.

Smog cities take steps towards banning multi-burners

The situation is different in municipalities and towns. In Krakow (long known as smog city number 1) multi-burners that emit too many fine particles and nitrogen oxide were banned this year. Other cities are also taking steps in this direction. Most experts therefore expect that the problem with the old polluting multi-burners – by far the most important cause of fine particles – should be solved in the not too distant future.

Another reason for optimism about air quality is the rapid deployment of electric buses. According to Solaris Bus & Coach (a local manufacturer of buses and trams from Bolechowo, a suburb in Poznan), there are already 16 cities with battery-operated buses. This is a win-win situation for Poland, as most of the E-buses come from their home country. In addition to Solaris, electric buses are also being manufactured in Poland by Volvo, Scania, MAN and Rafako E-Bus.

The Solaris factory, Photo Maurits Kuypers

Companies for a cleaner environment

Companies aren’t just standing still either. Press agency Reuters reported this month that 20 major companies have signed up to the EU targets for CO2 neutrality by 2050. In defiance of the Warsaw government. Among them are the PKN Orlen refinery and PKO Bank Polski, both state-owned. The Polish subsidiary of the ING Bank has also signed. As have subsidiaries of the French company Orange (telecom) and the German company Innogy (chemistry).

“Of course, we will not achieve the goal of climate neutrality overnight. However, it is important that we take immediate action,” says the Charter of the 20 companies. Deputy Director of ING Bank Śląski Joanna Erdman told Reuters that signing this document is a very natural step for the bank. ING was also one of the first lenders who refused to continue financing new coal projects.

Erdman: “At the moment, the discussion in Poland revolves around whether we ought to endorse the CO2 targets. When it should actually be about how we want to achieve that.”

As I said, this message from companies is slowly but surely beginning to resonate with the government in Warsaw. For instance, after parliamentary elections in October, the energy plan for 2040 has been partially amended in favor of the environment. For one thing, according to the old plans, all onshore windmills were supposed to disappear. That’s because they were considered too unsightly. Now the aim is to keep capacity at about the same level.

Onshore windmills are not very popular in Poland. Photo Expresselblag/Pixabay

Gigawatts on the rise

Warsaw wants to make a decisive leap forward as far as solar energy is concerned. This year, the 1 gigawatt threshold will be exceeded for the first time. A further 15 gigawatts will be needed over the coming 20 years. The VAT on solar panels has been reduced. And an incentive fund of € 235 million has been set up for private individuals as well.

The government foresees slightly slower development when it comes to offshore wind energy. Poland prefers to wait until this technology becomes cheaper before investing heavily in it. Expectations are that this will happen after 2025.

Lastly, Prime Minister Morawiecki sees an important role for “clean” nuclear energy as an alternative to coal. Poland is one of the few countries in Eastern Europe that does not yet have a nuclear power station. That will nevertheless have to change by 2033. Warsaw states that nuclear reactors are an important alternative to coal-fired power stations. This is because they are ‘adaptable’. Which basically means that they can be cranked up at night when the wind isn’t blowing. Or in winter when there is hardly any sun. That will ensure that there is never a shortage of electricity.

Independence from Russia

There is something that plays a role in the background to all these plans for 2040. And that’s the desire to become independent of energy from arch enemy Russia as soon as possible. Alongside nuclear energy, the import of liquid natural gas (LNG) serves as an alternative to Russian coal and gas.

The electricity plan for 2020 and 2040 currently looks like this:

The electricity plan for 2020 and 204020202040
Brown coal8,6 gigawatt3,4 gigawatt
Coal15,6 gigawatt7,6 gigawatt
Gas and cogeneration2,4 gigawatt12,4 gigawatt
Onshore windmills9,5 gigawatt9,8 gigawatt
Offshore windmills08 gigawatt
Solar panels1,3 gigawatt16 gigawatt
Nuclear energy04 gigawatt

 

Start-up of the Day: Spaceflow digitizes a platform for tenants and landlords

Czech start-up Spaceflow is introducing technology to one of the most old-fashioned sectors – that of residential and office property rentals. “Our aim is to help digitize life in buildings for their occupants by providing easy access to all services, shared resources and the communication flow in the surrounding areas,” says Lukas Balik, company co-founder and CEO.  Spaceflow was set up 3 years ago by a former economy student and two experts from the real estate sector. “They knew that change was just around the corner. Together we saw that we could make a difference with a technological platform for tenants,” says Lukas. It seems that they were right. Today the start-up operates in 12 countries, including the US, UK, Denmark, Germany, and Japan. Recently it raised €1.6 million in funding.

What exactly is Spaceflow?

Lukas Balik: We are a property technology company. Spaceflow is an app that connects buildings with their tenants. It enables communication between a tenant and building owners or managers as well as with other tenants. The app can help you to book common spaces such as meeting rooms, parking spots or amenities such as a barbecue, or report maintenance issues to the building managers. It can facilitate connections to services in the area, for example dry cleaning, food delivery. Also, it is a hub for further smart building integrations such as smart access.

Are these things really such a problem for tenants that they need a special app to book a parking space or report a leaking faucet?

Firstly, if you, as a landlord, want to attract and keep tenants, you must react to current trends when tenants increasingly want top-notch services and a range of amenities. As a landlord, you can offer them various services, like fitness, wellness, food delivery and so on. Technology can help you to do that. More importantly, landlords can get new streams of revenue this way. Through the app, property managers can streamline payments for services and keep an eye on margins.

What is about the innovation that makes you different from your competitors?

The app has a number of components and modules. For example, we connect our platform with other smart building solutions. To give an example, we can connect it with digital lockers, a parking system or an access system so you don’t need to use physical cards to open the door. Instead, you do that with your phone. Also, we have an in-house team of community managers. This is crucial, because sometimes landlords don’t have the capabilities or the time to deal with new technologies. So, our community managers can help them to bring the project on board and acquire the right content and services for the users. They also help to evaluate what works well, get the right data from the platform and curate the best possible experiences for the tenants.

What was the best moment in the company’s history?

Recently. That relates to our latest investment round with solid partners who helped us scale our platform for the new markets. Another big thing for us is that we have just launched our first project with Allianz. Who, apart from being a major insurance company, is also one of the biggest real estate owners globally. The company has more than 60 billion assets under management. Our first project for Allianz is in their flagship building The Icon in Vienna.

And what was the most difficult moment?

I think it was when the company just started out, when every mistake that you make can hit you quite hard. When we started the first pilot, we chose an external IT company instead of building our own IT team. Yet an external agency is always a step too far. We had to figure out how to put our own IT team together. If you want to build something for the long term and for a global market, you have to be close to your developers in order to be able to design the best features and the best product.

What are your plans for coming year?

Obviously the most important thing is to have as many happy clients and users across the market as possible. For that, we’re strengthening our business development teams in several locations. Our focus in this round is on penetrating the European market and we also want to have our first large projects in the US. I’d love to see a lot of progress within a year. We might potentially be able find partners in the US in the next investment round.

What do you want to do in 5 years?

Our ultimate goal is that Spaceflow will become the standard for every commercial and residential building.

Are you interested in start-ups? Read all articles from our series here.

Read moreStart-up of the Day: Spaceflow digitizes a platform for tenants and landlords

EU wants €20 billion extra for the Horizon innovation fund, but will it happen?

The European Union is entering a new phase with the inauguration of the new European Commission, which was approved by the European Parliament yesterday after a long series of personal interviews. The new President, Ursula von der Leyen, has set a clear course for her commissioners. This is primarily aimed at making Europe climate-neutral. The other major pillar of its intended policy is to increase the competitiveness of the European Union.

President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission has set out a strict policy framework.

The key question, of course, is how she and her fellow commissioners want to achieve these objectives. In the main, that means: research into better production methods and innovating the existing ones. Consequently, funding is needed for this.

Dire necessity

Innovation and its investment is a dire necessity, according to the new European governance. In the first place, because the European Union must be completely CO2-neutral by 2050. This means that we will have to live, drive, fly and produce in a CO2 neutral way. So that’s quite a challenge. Secondly, because competing superpowers such as the US (2.8%), South Korea (4.2%) and Japan (3.3%) invest a much higher percentage of their GDP in innovation than the EU does. (2.1% while the target is set at a minimum of 3%). These countries subsequently also score better when it comes to innovating their businesses. Because of this, the EU is lagging behind them, so says Bulgarian Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, She is in charge of the innovation budget for the upcoming period.

As her predecessor Carlos Moedas had already announced last year, Gabriel wants to increase the budget of the research and innovation fund Horizon Europe from almost €100 billion to €120 billion. This amount is to be spread over the 2021 to 2027 budget period. This money should go towards basic research in universities as well as innovation by large companies, start-ups and SMEs.

Not a piece of cake

Which is a noble ambition that no member state should actually be opposed to. You’d think that it was a piece of cake. But it’s not. Life is complicated within the offices of the European institutions. They have to constantly do business with the governments of the 28 – and, if there is a Brexit, 27 – member states. Then those governments have to deal with their constituents in the cities and rural areas of their country. And the constituencies (especially those in the poorer EU regions) may threaten the innovation plans of this new European Commission.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, wants more money for the Horizon Fund

The major battle is being waged via discussions by the heads of state or governments concerning the European Union’s long-term budget. This is something which they will have to hammer out in 2020. Von der Leyen wants more money from the member states to be able to implement her ambitious policy program. But the member states do not want to pay the EU a higher percentage of their GNP, says spokesman Roy Kenkel of The Permanent Representation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (PV) in Brussels. (As an example, the European Commission wants The Netherlands to contribute 1.11% of their GNP).

“The Netherlands is in favor of a larger innovation budget. We think that’s an excellent idea! But we also believe that this money could come from the resources that the European Commission has at its disposal if we were to continue to contribute the same percentage as we do now. Our GNP is on the rise, so our contribution will in any event deliver more money to the EU with the current, unchanged percentage of our GNP.”

Not mentioned in the budget

It makes more sense for the EU to restructure its budget and adapt it to the demands of our time, says Kenkel. That is what Von der Leyen also said in her speech yesterday. In Von der Leyen’s opinion, the MFF (otherwise known as the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework) should not be seen as a simple calculation of expenditure, but rather as a policy instrument that will modernize the European Union’s budget.

That might be the case, except up until now the problem has been that you cannot discern this in the document that the European Commission sent to the member states last May and which the member states are currently negotiating. It does not say, for example, that the Horizon Innovation Fund should be increased by €20 billion. Whereas the new European Commission does want to use this extra money to tie into specific industrial policy. Something that is new for the European Union, as the French EU Commissioner for the Internal Market and Industry, Thierry Breton, said to the European Parliament during his hearing last month.

European Commissioner Thierry Breton wants to tie industrial policy to innovation paid for with Horizon money.

Other expenditure areas

One way in which the extra €20 billion could still be included in the budget is for the European Commission to submit a separate additional proposal to the member states. That’s what Kenkel from the PV in Brussels says. Nevertheless, he thinks that this isn’t very likely as this is a cumbersome process and the negotiations are already underway. He believes that it would be more logical to discuss the matter during ongoing negotiations.

Then there is also the question of how important the member states regard the growth of the innovation fund compared to that of other expenditure. Such as for the common agricultural policy and the cohesion fund. Funding for the development of poor regions must be paid from this. The European Commission actually wants to cut 5% off both of these expenditure areas. And that is definitely something that the countries that benefit most from these funds do not want to happen.

Read also: Aviation industry to European Commission: ‘money is needed to develop zero-emission aircraft’

€88 billion on offer

The signs are not very favorable in this respect, says Guillaume Gillet, He is the director of InnoEnergy in Brussels, an investment company that invests money from private investors and the Horizon Fund in promising, innovative start-ups in the energy field. “It is said that the Finnish chairmanship wants to reduce the budget for Horizon to €88 billion. It will only be possible to raise it to €120 billion if the European Parliament fights very hard for that.”

The question is how bad would that be? After all, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans has already announced that part of the funds for cohesion and agriculture can be used for innovation in the agricultural sector and for the development of rural areas. The intention is that these funds will thereby contribute to making Europe environmentally sustainable.

Read also: European Commissioner Timmermans wants CO2 tax at the EU’s outer border

The difference with financing innovation via these funds, however, is that the funds are distributed by the governments of the member states. Who in turn allocate these to their national constituencies. It now remains to be seen as to what extent this will benefit both European cooperation and European coordination in terms of industrial policy.

Not enough money for scale-ups

According to investor Gillet, the European Commission is also investing directly via Horizon in innovative start-ups who would otherwise be unable to raise money as their profitability is uncertain. That’s going well for now. Although a larger Horizon Fund would make this support more robust, Gillet states. So far, the problem has been that there is not enough money to invest in the further growth of start-ups. This makes it difficult for them to become fully-fledged companies that are able to grow and flourish in Europe. It is precisely these scale-ups that provide employment as well as develop knowledge and bring prosperity. “American and Asian investors are investing money in them. That’s because of their more aggressive culture when it comes to high-risk capital investment. Consequently, Europe is losing a number of successful start-ups.”

Read also: ‘Europe must invest in a hub for collaborative robots in SMEs’

Whereas these are in fact what you would prefer to hold on to. Which is also what Von der Leyen said in her speech yesterday. Whether she will be successful in this respect over the coming period will become clear when the new MFF is mapped out next year.

Start-up of the day: Energy Floors is making smart parking spaces in Rotterdam

Over the coming year, Rotterdam’s Energy Floors wants to sell smart surfaces for public outdoor spaces that generate data, measuring how many cars, pedestrians and cyclists are passing by. These can be used to regulate traffic flows and lighting, for instance. These Smart Energy Floors also generate energy via the solar cells that are integrated in them. At the moment, the Rotterdam municipality is on the lookout for a suitable location for the application of this kind of energy surface in a city parking lot, says Michel Smit, CEO of Energy Floors. A trial of this is planned for 2020 in cooperation with the Engie energy company.

What motivated you to set up Energy Floors and what problem has this resolved?

“Our first idea was to create a Sustainable Dance Floor on which people can dance to generate energy, something that you can actually see because the tiles light up. (By converting the vertical movement of the dancer on the floor into rotational movement through a mechanism underneath the flexible floor tiles so as to generate energy, ed.) That idea originally came from two companies: Enviu and Döll. In 2017, they brought me in as a hands-on expert from the club scene. I had been running a large nightclub in Rotterdam for four years, called Off-Corso. They wanted to bring sustainability to the attention of young people and thought that the Sustainable Dance Floor could help with that.

Unlike today, it was difficult to get young people interested in sustainable energy at that time. It had a bit of a stuffy image. We initially tried out that first version of that dance floor at the Rotterdam pop stage Watt (which went bankrupt in 2010, ed.) – that made it the first sustainable club in the world. We started building our business around that first Sustainable Dance Floor.”

What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

“That we had customers for the Sustainable Dance Floor before we had the actual product. At first, we only had a drawing of the floor, an artist’s impression. We worked out the concept and technology with TU Delft and TU/e in Eindhoven. And together with Daan Roosegaarde, we were able to further develop the interaction between the public and the technology. This is where our Sustainable Dance Floor is unique: the interaction between people and sustainably-generated energy. When they dance harder, they generate more energy.

This is what we want to offer people when it comes to our business proposition. That they themselves have an influence on improving the sustainability of energy. We want commitment. This is what we are specifically focusing on. The second obstacle was how we could go about expanding the scale for things that this product can be used for. So that it has a real impact. That’s why we wanted a surface that was suitable for large permanent fixtures in outdoor areas. We had to drop our initial unique selling point – as in ‘human energy’ – for this type of surface. Instead, we came up with our Smart Energy Floor. We use solar energy rather than kinetic energy. Otherwise, the project would be impossible to complete. The system has to be cost-effective, robust and resistant to wear and tear.”

What has been the biggest breakthrough so far?

“That we sold 25 of those Smart Energy Floors to schools last year. Three of them in Germany and the rest in The Netherlands. As a company, we have three business propositions: the Dancer for clubs and discotheques, for example, the Gamer for schoolyards and the Walker for large outdoor facilities. The first Walker in the Netherlands is located near Croeselaan in Utrecht on a crossing opposite Rabobank’s head office. Rabo has partly financed this floor. There is also one in the palace garden of the President of Malta. He found us via Google. It is a public garden with a Gamer and a Walker. A Gamer costs 13,000 euros including the installation. While a Walker is available from 25,000 euros.

The fact that we appeal to people all over the world doesn’t surprise us at all. Our first signed contract was with the producer of Absolute Vodka. He wanted to make a road show around New York with our dance floor in 2009. So, that’s what we did. We get two to three requests a day. Our challenge is to be able to deal with these properly. Because we want to keep on innovating too. As an example, you could also use the Smart Energy Floor on motorways if you developed the software for that.”

 What can we expect from Energy Floors over the coming year?

“We want to start selling more Walkers. This is a new market for us that has a lot of potential. Smart city projects that you can use it in are much larger projects than what we have done so far. You could equip bike paths with our technology so that you can turn them into walkways. We are going to do a smart parking trial next year together with Engie and the municipality of Rotterdam. We will be installing  a Walker for that reason. The energy generated by the solar cells in the surface goes to the electricity grid and can subsequently be used to charge cars. Currently, we’re looking around for a suitable location.

We are also planning to enter the German market. This fits in well with our product and company. There is plenty of capital there and focus on sustainability. And the German way of doing business isn’t that different from the Dutch way of doing business.”

What is your ultimate goal?

“Ultimately, we want our Smart Energy Floors to be used in all the world’ s major cities and have their data connected to each other. You can learn a lot from each other’s experiences. You could monitor and influence the behaviour of the users of our surfaces on city roads. For example, in order to regulate busy situations at certain locations. You can apply the technology in a smart way. If there are very few people driving or walking on the road, you could turn the lights off in the evening.”

Women for Women connects talent to Brainport region

“So much untapped talent that it drives you nuts,” says Ed Heerschap, LivingIn program coordinator at the Expat Center in Eindhoven. He and Kavitha Varathan, co-founder of the Expat Spouses Initiative, set up the Women for Women program. Heerschap: “The Brainport region is attracting new talent by making it more attractive for more highly educated expatriate women”. The closing event will take place on Thursday at the TU/e Blue Hall.

A number of influential women who have an exemplary role in the company where they work are participating in the program. Role models for inclusion, Heerschap explains. “They are early adopters,” adds Varathan. “Women who are already committed to more cultural diversity or to more women in the workplace.”

Women for Women links these ambassadors to the internationals who left a good job in their own country for the career of their partner. But that’s not the most important thing, adds Heerschap. The ambassadors are ambassadors of Eindhoven as well. “They not only help the international community in this way, but they also show what inclusion means to the city.”

High potentials

Like Susan ten Haaf, lawyer and partner at HVG Law. “I am a buddy within our organization and a career watcher for female high potentials.” She also set up a network for women entrepreneurs, which meets four times a year. Her goal is for more women to remain active in the business world in the Eindhoven region. “I signed up for the program because I find it very bizarre that talented people especially with a high level of education will at some point vanish. Or stay hidden between four walls.”

Ten Haaf considers it important that she was able to do something for a talent, but that she also meets other women who are working on the same issues as she is. “That inspires me all over again.”

It is Varathans’ and Heerschap’s dream that any international talent will be able to join the business world, that it is considered “normal”. “It is rather strange that a spouse doesn’t have a seat at the table when it comes to discussing a possible future abroad,” Heerschap continues. “We want all internationals to feel welcome and participate in our ecosystem. It really is a huge loss if we let all that talent go to waste.”

Kavitha Varathan, CEO of Expat Spouses Initiative

Varathan knows from personal experience what it is like to build a new life here. In 2008 she left India for her husband’s career, as he was offered a job at Philips Research. She went with him, and quit her job as an architect. She found a job in the legal profession here in The Netherlands. Yet she also noticed that other spouses weren’t able to manage that. With this in mind, she started the Expat Spouses Initiative in 2014. A platform for highly educated internationals that can help them find a job.

The Community

The community, as Varathan calls it, counts about 1800 members after five years. Of these, 97 percent are highly educated and about 11 percent have a PhD, “all motivated and ambitious women.”

During this third edition of Women for Women there will be a total of four meetings where all the talents and ambassadors get to meet each other. This Thursday is the fourth and final meeting where everyone is welcome. Not only to meet the talents, but also to hear the ambassadors’ stories. Varathan: “Two Philips ambassadors reveal how they achieve more inclusion and diversity at Philips. Stories that make you take action too. We want everyone to leave with the idea that they themselves can do something for more inclusion. Right now.”

You can register for the closing event via this link.

IoT and 5G offer the manufacturing industry a way to upgrade services

The Internet of Things, where everything around us is being digitized, offers opportunities. Already you can turn on the thermostat remotely or see who’s at your door at any time – even if you’re far from home. Plants in greenhouses are automatically watered when they need it. Anchors with sensors hold our dikes together and warn if the water tension and pressure changes. No longer does the dike reeve have to visit all the dikes. Much more is possible thanks to the future 5G network and everything will become connected to everything.

Els van de Kar, associate professor of Business Service Innovation at Fontys University of Applied Sciences Venlo, and Etienne Scholl, Domain Sales Manager at Ericsson, explain in a microlecture what the Internet of Things (IoT) and the 5G network can do for e.g. the manufacturing industry. This is where the manufacturing industry is going to make a difference. Not because of the products, but because of the service that they will be able to provide, says Van de Kar.

Smart Servitization

“That’s what you call a difficult word: servitization.” The Business Service Innovation research group is exploring how new technologies such as IoT, Big Data and 5G can provide a competitive advantage so that manufacturing companies can remain profitable. Fontys is not alone in this: The Netherlands has set itself the goal of having the most flexible and best digitally connected production network in Europe by 2021. This can be read in the Implementation Agenda 2018-2021, drawn up by the Smart Industry platform, FME, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, the Dutch Chamber of Commerce, the Koninklijke Metaalunie and TNO.

Smart Servitization © Fontys Hogescholen

Together with LIOF, Vodafone, Ericsson, Zuyd University of Applied Sciences and Regitel, the lectorate forms a project group that is examining how far Limburg’s small and medium-sized enterprises and the manufacturing industry have come in terms of IoT. Van de Kar: “In other words, what about their level of IoT maturity? That’s a slow process in Limburg.” Students came by for an interview after companies had responded to a digital survey. While a company had responded digitally that it was well on its way when it came to IoT, it became clear from the interviews that most companies are only in the early stages of their implementation of IoT. “These trajectories take time and I assume that this will take a few steps at a time.”

“Consumers are already wireless, but factories have only just started”, Scholl continues. “The industry still uses a lot of machines that are connected by cable, regardless of how wireless technologies make factories more flexible. This is also down to the fact that this technology is completely new. It is unclear how it is going to progress. You have to run production in industry, and if your factory is shut down as a result of a malfunction, it will just cost you money. It is important that the technology is stable. They know that cables are stable.”

Speed vs latency

Aside from stability, speed is also important. “If we look at 4G, that’s not fast enough for all industries. 5G will be 20 times faster.” 5G also has an advantage for robotics. As there is always a delay in data that you send via the network, Scholl explains. “We call that ‘latency’. The delay is twenty-five to thirty milliseconds with 4G, whereas 5G reduces it to one millisecond. Which is necessary for self-driving cars, for one thing.”

The level of accuracy of 5G is greater. Scholl: “This is good when it comes to aircraft maintenance, for instance. Lots of tools are needed for that. With a single push of a button, the system checks whether all the material and tools that have been used are back in the right place. It’s terrible to think that a screwdriver might have gotten stuck in one of the engines.”

Many companies are already using wifi on the path to 5G, says Scholl. “Wifi works when there are only a few users. Compare it to a space where more and more people are coming. You start talking louder and louder and at some point you have to talk so loudly that you can no longer hear each other.” Scholl cites an example from the Rotterdam port where automated cranes load and unload container ships from China. “That went well using wifi until boats passed by that also had wifi networks, then the system kept dropping out.”

Data

Plenty of options and advantages, yet the story behind the data is rooted in all these smart applications, Van de Kar goes on to say. Who owns the data, where is the data, what to do with all that data? When Van de Kar asks who would like to be connected to the rest of the world through their bicycle, house and car, one German student responds: “Not me! They’ ll be able to see into my brain in a second. And I enjoy taking care of my car and bike myself.”

There are more reservations. Afterwards, a Dutch fourth-year commercial economics student admits that he is skeptical. “I see it as a great gift, at least that’s also how companies present IoT and 5G. But there is no way back, I think. It seems as if companies will be able to offer cheaper services because of digitization, but I don’t see that happening quite yet. And you are missing out on the social aspect, I’m afraid that it will make society even more individualistic.”

Andreas Zosholl, a German international business student who is currently completing his studies at Groba, sees mostly opportunities. ” This introduction was very interesting for me personally. Not so much for my graduation thesis. With that, I’m mainly concerned with sensors and internet connections for the machines. 5G is still a step too far for Groba.”

Bendable glass that is harder than steel

It’s a godsend for anyone who has a habit of putting their smartphone in the back pocket of their pants. Because plenty of glass screens break that way. It is possible, however, to manufacture glass that is bendable and even stronger than steel. You just have to use slightly different ingredients during the production process. A bendable glass that can bend at room temperature has been developed by an international research team.

“Conventional glass is brittle and easily shatters under pressure. We discovered a way to manufacture glass that exhibits ductile behavior. In other words, our glass is tougher than conventional glass.” says Dr. Erkka Frankberg, Marie Curie Fellow at the Finnish University of Tampere. He was in charge of the research team. Instead of using the customary silicon oxide, the research team used aluminium oxide. As a consequence, this new kind of glass acquired metallic properties. “Silicon oxide was already know to be brittle. We were looking for oxides that could behave differently. There were some studies on glassy aluminum oxide suggesting more plasticity compared to glassy silicon oxide and we took the chance to study it,” says the scientist.

The team first had to overcome a certain obstacle in order to actually be able to make a glass-like substance with aluminum oxide. They used an advanced laser technique for that. “It is exceedingly difficult to convert aluminum oxide into a glassy substance. The traditional glass manufacturing processes cannot be applied to aluminum oxide because it easily transforms into the crystalline form. The solution is to cool the material down extremely fast from a high temperature to prevent crystallization.”

© Erkka Frankberg

Surprising degree of plasticity

As a result of this process, an amorphous structure of aluminum and oxygen atoms was created, which formed a new, metallic glass. It turned out to be bendable and elastic during various tests, even at point load. “The extent of plasticity was still a surprise to us,” Frankberg admits.

The researchers made thin sheets out of their glass for these mechanical stress tests. Because even though it has metallic properties owing to the use of aluminium oxide, it is still glass. “We stretched and compressed samples of our material. By carrying out combined compression and shear tests, we were able to demonstrate that the material is also capable of adjusting to a shear force,” Frankberg explains.

The silicon oxide glass is relatively easy to break because the atoms in the glass are unable to move under pressure. If you bend glass too much or try to stretch it, it breaks. In this new type of glass, atoms are able to move. That means that it takes longer for the breakpoint to be reached.

You can find more articles about glass here

Is this glass really unbreakable, or is there also a point when it shatters to pieces? “Well, yes and no,” Frankberg says. “In a brittle material, stress will steadily build up until it fractures. If the atoms, however, begin to move before the fracture stress is reached, the stress will no longer increase but levels off to a yield stress, creating a continuous phenomenon.” This means that at that yield stress level, the atoms would have sufficient mechanical energy for them to be able to move. They no longer need any additional energy and therefore the stress levels can’t be increased, but instead settle into a relatively constant state of stress.

© Jonne Renvall & Erkka Frankberg

New applications for glass

Up until now, applications for glass have been limited on account of its fragility. Yet this research could be instrumental in finding new applications. “You might be able to smash your phone on the floor without breaking the screen. Our current smartphone screens are basically regular window glass with enhanced elasticity and strength. But they are still ultimately made out of glass that exhibits no plastic behavior,” Frankberg emphasizes.

The new glass is also harder than steel. The fact that glass is also much lighter than steel means that Frankberg sees all kinds of potential for applications. Of course, as safety glass in vehicles. But probably in the aerospace industry as well, or for building machines. “In the future yes, if we are able to produce sufficiently flaw-free glass in adequate quantities. It is difficult to predict all possible applications as glass was not known before to behave in this manner.”

She refutes the objection that the new glass may be damaging to health because of its use of alumina. “To the best of my best knowledge, there are no results indicating carcinogenicity of aluminum oxide. Aluminum oxide is a compound of aluminum and oxygen with very different properties to metallic aluminum. Aluminium oxide is present everywhere in the earth’s crust and all around us from household ceramics to materials used in construction.”

Manufacture of glass without defects is a prerequisite when it comes to pliability. Irregularities such as cracks, bubbles or dirt can lead to breakages. This is the next challenge for the scientists. Frankenberg: “Both aluminum and oxygen are abundant on Earth, but we require an unconventional manufacturing process to achieve the desired properties. The produced glass also needs to be sufficiently pure and flawless which presents a further challenge.”

© Erkka Frankberg

Mass production will still take decades

It most likely will still take decades before any production takes place on an industrial scale, he says, because research needs time. “Typical to new materials technology, the scaling of manufacturing takes a long time. It will most likely take 2-3 decades, but of course, can be hastened if breakthroughs are made in the manufacturing technology. But if a material is really useful for humanity, it will eventually end up being used for thousands of years – like glass,” he adds.

The research project was funded via grants from Finland, France, Italy, and the European Union as part of the Horizon 2020 research program. Research is still at an early stage though. The results of this initial study were published in the renowned Science Magazine.

‘A Tesla for people who like to play Rambo’

Each week we take a look with EV specialist and Innovation Origins columnist Auke Hoekstra at what caught his eye on topical issues or what he runs into when it concerns the preservation of our planet.

Nobody will have missed it: The presentation of the Tesla Cybertruck. The opinions are divided – from unbelievably ugly to brilliant and everything in between.Though Tesla is getting a lot of pre-orders. Elon Musk posted the latest update on Twitter: more than two hundred thousand orders.

Auke learned a lot about Tesla’ latest model on Twitter. He is advocating a ban on these kinds of ‘juggernauts’ in the city.

Read the thread

What bothers you so much about the new design?

“Have you seen how huge it is? Maybe this is more suitable as a lunar vehicle. Or for people who are expecting to be attacked. But no one really needs such a huge vehicle, do they? It’s also about the signal that you are sending as a driver. It looks extremely aggressive. Like: ‘We’re just going to shove you off the road for now.’ This is everything you do not want to have in a city. It’s as if a driver feel superior to the rest of the traffic. Surely that can’t be the intention.”

“On the other hand, I do understand the thrill, I’m still a small boy who loves fun toys too. A Maserati is also super cool. When it comes to its looks, I can imagine that people find it futuristic and a pretty good thing. It is definitely something different for once. These reactions do make me think, yet I’m still overwhelmed by the feeling that it is a war truck.”

“So long as there are no proper rules to keep these antisocial tanks out of the city, I’m just glad that there are electric alternatives.” Auke Hoekstra.

How would you rather see it?

“It’s mainly about the signal you’re sending and that’s just wrong. To what extent can you still call it a sustainable car? It takes up a tremendous amount of space, has a lot of material around the wheels and is not at all aerodynamic. Tesla uses a stainless steel construction which is super heavy. On Wikipedia it says – for what it’s worth – that this model weighs about 3,000 kg. This causes the tires to wear out faster and it also means that there has to be a massive battery in there …”

Suddenly on the other side of the phone connection there are sounds of mumbling and tapping on a keyboard. Auke is busy with the math. “… They say that you should be able to drive at least 800 kilometers on a fully charged battery. I take that with a pinch of salt, they base that on the most favorable conditions. But let’s assume for the sake of convenience that it’s true, then my guess would be that it has to contain at least a 200 kWh battery, maybe even bigger.”

“”Even if you were to drive around using completely green electricity, you’d still need a substantial supply of raw materials in order to produce such a huge battery. That’s not a justifiable approach.”

Already the response on Twitter was that you shouldn’t complain so much: this car isn’t meant for compact Dutch cities at all, does that make you change your mind?

“I definitely don’t deny that they drive in much larger cars in the US, for example, where that trend has been going on for much longer. Oil is cheap and there are certain tax advantages to larger cars. But you are also seeing more and more of those SUV’s here. These cars have one major feature: driver safety. You are shielded and yet you don’t get any sense of the vulnerability of pedestrians and cyclists.”

“It bothers me that the design of these forts on wheels does not take those vulnerabilities into account. Quite a lot of research is being done on outboard airbags, or bumpers that have extra give. But that’s not nearly enough. Much more attention needs to be paid to safety on the outside.”

Can Tesla change any of this?

Auke starts laughing, a video can be heard in the background:

“The claim that the glass is unbreakable, turns out to be a bit off the mark.”

But according to him, the car manufacturer is keeping up with current trends by making these kinds of claims. As in an indestructible all-terrain vehicle. “They hit the side of it with a giant sledgehammer in order to prove that the model doesn’t give way. You can imagine what happens to a person when he is hit by a car that doesn’t budge an inch. That is not going to end well. This criticism is not only directed at Tesla, but at all manufacturers.”

“Consumers also have a responsibility here. When you buy such a thing, you are actually telling the rest of your surroundings: you’re out of luck, I’m driving here. What are these huge cars doing in the city anyway? Studies show that these types of vehicles are more dangerous. Maybe we should also give people who want to play at being Rambo in the city a higher level of liability.”

Lastly, can you find anything positive in this new model?

“Evidently this is what it takes to get people out of their fossilized pickup trucks. So long as there are no proper rules to keep these antisocial tanks out of the city, I’m just glad that there are electric alternatives.”

Two ex-Lightyear employees present budget solar car for city use

Munich already had its own budget solar car, so today a Dutch version will be added especially designed for the city: the Squad (solar quad). The idea came from two former Lightyear employees who wanted to design an affordable solar car for a large group of consumers.

Two passengers can sit next to each other in this 45 km/h solar car and there is enough space for luggage in the boot. The Squad combines the practical convenience of a scooter with the comfort and stability of a city car. Sheet metal and doors have been omitted in order to make the car as light and cheap as possible. The Squad costs almost €6,000.

More about solar cars can be found here.

The solar car can automatically charge up to 9,000 kilometers per year using its own sunroof. This is all it takes for users to drive 30 kilometers or about an hour emission-free every day, according to Squad Mobility’s CEO Robert Hoevers. “Most vehicles in this segment don’t drive much more than 6,000 kilometers each year. But if users need extra range, it can be recharged directly from a regular power outlet. Fully charged, you could drive up to 100 kilometers. Consumers can also opt to order additional battery packs for more range.”

Old cities need new solutions

In Hoevers’ opinion, emissions and congestion are the biggest problems associated with urban mobility. “Our old cities are not equipped for cars. In the Netherlands, we are seeing a trend towards further urbanization, with 90% of city dwellers living in suburbs and surrounding areas. All of these people like to go to the city regularly. For work, school, going out or shopping. This is not feasible in the end. Public transport and cycling are excellent solutions, yet they’re not a good alternative for everyone. For instance when it rains or if you live far from a bus stop or station.”

Parked cars take about 10 square meters of space, he says, while a Squad only needs 2 square meters. ” You can park five Squads on the same spot as one car, crosswise on a parking lot. You don’t have to take open doors into account when parking, that saves space.”

Hoevers works together with Chris Klok and is responsible for the design of the solar car. Together they have more than 40 years of experience in mobility. From scooters to motorcycles, the FIA Formula E, solar cars and even flying cars. “We’ve spent a lot of time on the design of the Squad. The compact dimensions were a major challenge. We wanted to move away from the ‘archetypal car’ in which people move through the city in a small closed-off cage. The objective was to create a more social, interactive experience whereby passengers are involved in the social setting of their urban environment while experiencing comfort and protection from the elements. A complete roll cage with seatbelts and the stability of 4 wheels provide maximum safety for all passengers. Helmets aren’t necessary.”

From A to B quickly, easily, safely

The Squad solar car has also been designed with shared services platforms in mind. Hoevers: “Users of these platforms want to get safely from A to B quickly and easily. Cities are looking for solutions with a minimal use of limited space and the lowest emissions. Automatic charging on solar energy is of course ideal for a shared services platform. The portable, interchangeable batteries minimize the ‘downtime’ that the Squad experiences when charging. In addition, its ruggedness, sturdiness and low maintenance levels are key demands in this market.” Subscription and lease options will be offered from 2020 onward. The aim is to keep the lease price below 100 euros per month.

At the same time, the company is also launching a variant with extra space in the boot and is thinking about releasing an 80km/h version in the future.

Start-up of the Day: only f**king perfect vegetables are good enough for the best restaurants

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.

 

How harmful is microrubber to humans?

Microplastics is literally on everyone’s lips. Every person eats, drinks and breathes up to five grams of microplastics per week – and therefore basically eats a credit card. There’s not just a lot of microplastic in the air and in our drinking water. There is also another polymer that’s in everyday use: microrubber.

Drivers are familiar with this problem. Tires wear out and you have to buy a new set, for better or for worse. After all, depending on how you drive, a tire lasts about 40,000 kilometers until it has to be replaced. But where does all the rubber that originally made up the tire’s tread disappear to? It’s pretty obvious once you hit the brakes if you’re going fast. The black tracks on the asphalt are unmissable. Yet even without applying the brakes hard or taking off like a rally driver at the traffic lights, tires inevitably wear out and rubber is scattered all over the place.

Cars and trucks main source of microrubber

Researchers revolving around Bernd Nowack from the “Technology and Society” department of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) in St. Gallen have calculated that between 1988 and 2018 around 200,000 tonnes of micro-rubber had accumulated in the Swiss environment alone. Among other things, they examined the import and export data on tires in Switzerland. They then linked this to a model simulating how rubber behaves on the road and in wastewater. They also analyzed the wear and tear of surfaces such as artificial turf.

The results showed that car and truck tires are the main source of microrubber. Especially given that the removal of artificial green areas such as artificial turf played only a minor role, accounting for just 3 % as Nowacj states. The remaining 97 % was the result of tire abrasion. Roughly 3 % sticks to the right and left side of the road within the first five meters. Another 5 % in the nearby residual soil and almost 20 % in water bodies. Only a small part is distributed into the air which is constantly being stirred up.

© unsplash/Hannes Egler

Microrubber vs microplastics

The adverse effects of microrubber on humans are evidently less severe than those of microplastics. Christoph Hüglin from Empa’s Air Pollution / Environmental Technology department estimates that the impact is only minor. According to Hüglin, a study carried out in 2009 shows that the proportion of tire abrasion in inhaled fine particles is also in the low single-digit percentage range at traffic sites.

You can find articles on microplastics here.

Nevertheless, microplastics and microrubber cannot be lumped together. “These are different particles that can hardly be compared with each other,” says Nowack. Even if microrubber does not seem to pose any danger to humans, it should not be ignored. As the amount of released microrubber exceeds that of released microplastics many times over. The scientists have calculated that only 7% of the polymer-based microparticles released into the environment are made up of plastic. Whereas the remaining 93% are made up of microrubber. “The amount of microrubber in the environment is huge and therefore highly relevant,” Nowack underlines.

Hazardous heavy metals?

While Bernd Nowack stresses that there is no health risk from microrubber, there are other well known sources that do see a danger in the tiny rubber particles. In recent years in the USA, thousands of children’s playgrounds and sports fields have been equipped with rubber surfaces made of recycled tires. Not only parents but legislators as well are concerned about the health effects on children. Car tires are not just made of rubber, but contain a lot of materials that are believed to cause cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Chemicals such as sulphur and zinc oxide are used along with various metals such as lead and cadmium, as well as harmful plasticizers and fire retardants.

A group of Indian scientists conducted a study as early as 2014 with the aim of assessing the potential risk presented by rubber particles in the air. They performed a lung function test on 60 male employees at a rubber factory and a control group. The groups were divided according to the duration they were exposed to the microrubber particles. As in, 1-3 years, 4-7 years and 8-11 years. Group 1 was a control group.

After evaluation of all lung functions of the participants, group 2, 3 and 4 showed a significant decrease in lung function compared to the control group. The worst values compared to the control group were found in the subjects in group 4. They had been exposed to the microrubber for the longest period of time. These results would indicate that lung function was affected by microrubber particles and the severity of the effect depended on the length of exposure, the researchers wrote.

Start-up of the week: a Dutch solution for a Dutch problem

”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

EP Tender: a powerbank on wheels

It’s a strange sight, but the battery trailer from the French start-up EP Tender is definitely a very serious plan. You can regard the vehicle as a kind of extra battery for electric cars. This increases the range of the electric car by a maximum of 150 kilometers. Useful for holidays abroad where there are less charging stations than in The Netherlands. For the start-up it is to be hoped that battery nanotechnology is not set to overtake this wee trailer in the next decade.

Credimi – Fast financing for start-ups

Often an ambitious innovative business model needs money. Money that those involved don’t always have in their own pockets. Of course, you could go to a bank to finance your project, yet that frequently takes up an incredible amount of time. What makes Italian Credimi different from other lenders is that they are very fast. An applicant knows within 48 hours whether or not they will receive the loan. And this can be very welcome if you need to act quickly in a volatile market.

Skinive – Pocket-sized dermatologist

Almost everyone has discovered something on their skin that they were a little concerned about. A birthmark you didn’t know existed. Or a type of rash, an innocent spot. Or perhaps it would be a good idea to see your family doctor after all? By using the app from the Belarus start-up Skinive, you can find out directly by pointing your phone’s camera at your skin and taking a few pictures. The app then matches the images with data from a database that contains a multitude of nightmares for hypochondriacs.

The project initially began with the aim of discovering the first stages of skin cancer.However, the founders soon figured out that their smart app also worked for many other conditions. And because the app works on any smartphone, skin research is more accessible than ever. Skinive just offers advice on dermatological conditions, but unfortunately it doesn’t help against hypochondria.

Hydrogenious – All hail hydrogen

That hydrogen has the potential to be used as a fuel has been known for some time now. And how nice it would be if this would also be possible to roll it out en masse. Hydrogen is not a greenhouse gas. It produces about three times more energy than the same amount of petrol and there is more than enough of it on earth. So much for the advantages. Hydrogen is quite flammable at room temperature. Something that is obviously not very practical when you want to travel by car. In addition, the gas has the lowest density of the entire periodic table of elements, which makes it extremely difficult to work with. The gas evaporates just like that.

The German team behind Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies wants to address and overcome these two disadvantages with an innovative bit of chemistry. The ambitious start-up devised a process whereby hydrogen can be stored without any risk of explosion. And that’s not all. They have also discovered a way in which the gas can be transported to the end user with a tanker or a pipeline. How great would it be if we no longer needed to reduce the use of environmentally hazardous fuels, but simply had a clean alternative that we could burn which never runs out?

Fieldfactors – Avoid wet feet with green fields

Climate change is likely to have serious consequences for the Netherlands. Due to the fact that half of the country is actually below sea level, the risk of flooding is constantly looming over our tiny hinterland. And this is not the sole threat. Heavy rainfall will be more frequent as a result of a warmer kind of climate. Excess rainwater has to go somewhere if you don’t want the streets to be flooded. This is especially a problem in built-up areas. It can be very difficult to get rid of water when everything is packed in tight. However, the Dutch wouldn’t be Dutch if they didn’t have an innovative solution for this. One of these is Bluebloqs, a system from the start-up Fieldfactors, whereby 95% of rainwater can be stored underground in a basin.

This storage technology not only keeps our feet dry, it also looks pretty green. The system is visible at street level in the form of a plant bed. This naturally enhances the appeal of the street scenes. A win-win situation. An underground system is currently being installed in Rotterdam and is also dealing with a third sore point. Climate change does not limit itself to heavier rainfall, but also to longer periods of drought. Thanks to the compact storage basin, rainwater can be stored for months and reused at any time.

The biggest job these ex-students from Delft University have done so far was to install a storm water drain near the Kasteel football stadium, the home of Sparta. The football field is being watered in a sustainable manner through this basin. The square in front of the station has become a lot greener. And the local residents are no longer inconvenienced by flooding.

That the Dutch are internationally known as experts in the field of water management has once again been by Fieldfactors. The initiators show that innovation does not necessarily have to involve high-tech gadgets. One can also look towards nature too. In fact, everyone benefits from this system at a time when a well thought-out irrigation policy is more important than ever. This is enough reason for us to reward Fieldfactors this week with the title of Start-up of the Week!

Best read: Professor says – ‘Don’t panic about the rise in sea levels’

Soaking wet feet through flooded streets. We are increasingly faced with heavy rains or periods of drought as a result of climate change. The municipality of Eindhoven is taking all kinds of measures to mitigate flooding. Last week’s best-read article featured a measurement tool developed by the municipality to figure out how much water building constructors need to divert from new buildings in order to reduce the risk of flooding. The municipality of Eindhoven is also addressing problem areas with new water storage systems aimed at reducing the disruption caused by heavy downpours.

Great, all these measures, but they won’t help you if The Netherlands floods. There is the idea among some sea-level experts that unstable ice sheets cause the sea level to rise faster than is presently thought to be the case. But according to Bas Jonk, professor of hydraulic engineering at Delft University of Technology, at the moment we will be able to technically cope with a rise in sea level of 1 to 2 meters. “It is expected that the water will rise by 20 to 30 centimeters by 2050. This is not a problem right now. We could raise dikes and replace storm surge barriers as the water rises.”

According to the professor, the Netherlands has things pretty much under control when it comes to flood protection: “Many flood barriers have been designed with an increase of 1 meter in mind. Every year, the government invests around 1 billion euros in flood protection. Which is something we can maintain and that’s a good thing. Compare it with other countries – there are plenty of areas in the United States that are not yet well-protected so they still have a long way to go. Thought is being given to constructing dikes or taking other measures over there now.”

Not acting is not an option

He gets that the Dutch are worried. However, there is no need for panic. “60 % of The Netherlands is low-lying and vulnerable to flooding. This can have many consequences. So yes, that concern is justified. But you should put it in perspective. Between now and 2050, the sea level will rise by a maximum of 30 centimeters, only after that will it rise faster. The threshold of 2.5 to 5 meters will probably not be reached until the 22nd century. This means that we still have ample time to see what can be done technically. Nor would it be a bad idea at all to raise that budget by 2050 from 1 billion to 2, maybe even 3 billion euros a year.”

The Maeslandkering storm surge barrier near Rotterdam is designed to close about twice a year. If the sea level rises above 1 meter, this barrier would then have to close every day. This is far from ideal because ships will no longer be able to sail freely. And the Oosterscheldekering storm surge barrier will also have to close every week if the sea level rises that much. This in turn will have negative repercussions on the wildlife environs.

Dams, dikes and drainage

“That’s why it’s good to think about alternatives now. Start by figuring out and planning what is needed to replace these barriers. What happens to the area if you build a permanent dam? Perhaps a new flood barrier would be a better idea. This involves a lot of work and the implications are considerable. These are expensive projects that have an impact on the environment and the economy. Planning and all the procedures surrounding these projects take up a lot of time. This is where the biggest challenge lies for the time being,” Jonkman explains.

In Jonkman’s opinion, we are more likely to be affected by other climate factors, such as heavy rainfall and temperature hikes accompanied by drought. “Recently a report was published by Deltares (a Dutch research institute) on this and their conclusion is that rising sea levels have not accelerated. Even though we are already suffering from drier summers. e.g. rivers are becoming less navigable as a result of low levels. Drought is endangering constructions built on piles and dikes. And in cities there is heat stress to contend with. In some places, drainage of water after heavy rainfall is also a problem.”

Advancing innovation, also outside of The Netherlands

Not only the Netherlands suffers from heat stress, drought or heavy rains. This is why various partners from fifteen different countries within the European Union are working on local solutions to climate-related problems. Brigaid helps entrepreneurs and inventors to flesh out their ideas. Bas Jonkman is also busy with this on behalf of TU Delft. “Often you see that innovations are difficult to get off the ground. Not much is put into practice. We want to support innovators in advancing their innovations through this project,” the professor explains.

The EU project runs until April 2020 and so far, Jonkman has already seen solutions from twenty different European countries. From a smart green roof in Antwerp that retains water during heavy rainfall and releases it during drought, to solutions for water basins in Spain where the water evaporates at high temperatures. “In Romania there is a test facility where you can test a smarter alternative to sandbags. And you are able to simulate all kinds of situations with temporary flood barriers here in Delft.”

“Furthermore, project participants receive advice with regard to the technical side and help with building a business case. Another objective is to boost education and research. Students who are doing an internship or are in the process of graduating are able to participate in various projects. You bring each other further this way.”

Tomorrow is Good: The Benefits of Mistakes and Failures lie in Learning

The topic of a “culture of error” or a “culture that allows mistakes to be made” is fashionable and has recently been discussed in many companies and conferences. This discussion ranges from the enthusiasm and the desire for a quick introduction of so-called FuckUp Events in companies to the complete rejection of any tolerance for errors. The proponents want to celebrate mistakes as a learning opportunity while the critics describe mistakes as a cost factor that reduces profits and must therefore be bad per se. Both of these views fall short of the mark.

I have already written in previous articles why I love FuckUp Nights. This is because they enable us to learn: both the people concerned, who must have reported on such an experience and reflected on it, and the listeners, because they can learn through observation and the experiences of others. Talking about mistakes, errors or failed projects is an important part of a learning culture. Do they really need to be celebrated, as critics like to argue? No, they don’t. It is not at all about celebrating mistakes, as is sometimes done in Silicon Valley. What is the point of celebrating a failure and highlighting how grandiose it was? That would mean that we actually want to fail and make mistakes. I don’t think anyone likes to fail voluntarily. And certainly not healthy, happy, competent or successful people, as some authors like to express it.

It simply hurts

If failure is the ultimate non-achievement of personal goals, then it’s going to hurt because it is also about identity and downfall. This holds true whether it’s a project, an unachieved important goal, the end of a relationship or insolvency. Some go so far as to link the experience of failure to identity-creating motives and goals, in which case failure is simply painful. When we talk about a real culture of mistakes or learning, this has nothing to do with celebrating mistakes, but rather with the processing of emotional pain on a personal level. These negative emotions can also have a negative influence on the loyalty of an employee to their company.

For companies, the question arises as to how they can nevertheless benefit from the costs of an error or failure. The benefit of mistakes and failure lies in the learning effect. An error culture and a learning culture are mutually dependent, so to speak. Without mistakes there is no learning and there is no learning without mistakes. But learning is also an investment in the future in which the same mistake will hopefully not be made again. And then an open attitude towards mistakes and failures suddenly has a completely different meaning – namely investing in the experience and competence of employees.

Unwanted results are perfectly normal

Of course, not every mistake or failure is the same. If a mistake is predictable and avoidable, there is no reason other than negligence or stupidity for it to happen. The causes should have been known and thus avoided. If a mistake is neither predictable nor avoidable, that’s a different story. This is the case, for example, in complex and unsafe situations or when, as with innovations, new processes and products are involved. These must first be tested and checked in order to find out what the actual properties and results would be. This is different if a mistake is neither predictable nor avoidable, as is the case, for example, in complex and unsafe situations. Or when, as with innovations, new processes and products are involved. These must first be tested and checked in order to find out what the actual properties and results would be. Unexpected and undesired results are completely normal and cannot be avoided. And yet they are valuable for gaining knowledge about how it doesn’t work and new ideas about how it could work.

When I speak of a culture of error or improved learning, I speak of a culture in which exactly these unforeseeable and unavoidable errors may happen in order to learn from them. In principle, we have two learning strategies at our disposal: Imitation or exploration. Imitating others helps us to learn from their experiences and competences. This also means that we don’t try anything new, meaning that the results are predictable and avoidable. If we want to break new ground, explore and discover something new – exploration – then we have to be prepared to engage in something unpredictable and unavoidable.

If this unpredictable and inevitable is personally important and identity-building, then no matter how normal, natural or desirable the failure is – it will be painful.

Overcoming failure

Studies show that negative feelings in connection with failed projects increase the risk of decreasing commitment and loyalty of employees to the company. According to these studies, the processing of negative emotions and coping with failure is also influenced by the employees’ perception of how the company deals with failure and the amount of time given to employees to process it.

A credible error or learning culture is mandatory for all companies that are active in an environment in which errors cannot be avoided or foreseen. This is likely to apply to any company that operates in a so-called VUCA environment – in other words, almost all companies.

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous columns.

Tomorrow is good: 5 trends in consumer behavior that have a shadowy side

Consumers are the cornerstone of any organization’s existence. As an organization, you must work on devising solutions for issues that the consumers of tomorrow may run into in order to improve the lives of these future consumers. But what are these issues? I set off on a journey into the magical land of trend analysis and came across five trends in consumer behaviour that have a shadowy side. That shadowy side is something that we should shed a little light on. And when there is a shadowy side to something, then there’s something that needs to be polished up. As in, something can actually be done to make sure that tomorrow is good.

The addicted consumer

Whoa, we humans are slaves to addiction. Although some people are more susceptible to addiction than others, almost every person is sensitive to some form of addiction. For instance, we are sensitive to an addiction to media. Media outlets like Netflix are so quick in delivering the next episode, that it’s much more difficult for the average consumer to stop their media consumption than it is to maintain their media usage. You become addicted as a result.

Our social media consumption has often been associated with addiction in recent years. It has already been scientifically mapped out which personal characteristics fuel social media addiction. How social media addiction affects your satisfaction with your life. Or what the negative impact of social media addiction is on (school) performance. I could go on and on. Consequently, there are calls for us to regulate media consumption and to protect consumers from excessive media consumption.

The lonely consumer

Although our online world is characterized by words like ‘connection’ and ‘connectedness’, in reality we are gradually becoming more and more lonely. Instead of heading into town with your girlfriends to find a new dress, you simply browse through webshops on your own. You no longer venture out on a pub crawl anymore to find an exciting new love interest. You simply swipe through Tinder profiles. Loneliness caused by the impact of social media and the digital world is starting to surface to such an extent, that it is being referred to as a loneliness epidemic. There is an increasing need to ‘reconnect’ by seeking out actual physical and offline contact with each other again.

The minimalist consumer

Then there is one more trend that goes against our evolutionary roots as hunters and gatherers. While hunting and gathering may act as an impetus for more consumerism, we are now seeing more and more signs directed towards downsizing and minimalism. We build tiny houses, we reuse furniture and we hardly own any books, music albums or films. Minimalism has become a way of life for many.

Some minimalists not only filter their own consumer pattern in excessive ways, but also do that on behalf of others. And that’s where the shadowy side comes in. We are not talking about the minimalists who simply consider minimalism more aesthetically pleasing (e.g. fans of Scandinavian design). Nor the minimalists who for practical reasons aspire to a minimalist existence (e.g. which makes it easier for them to travel). But rather about the minimalists who aspire to nonconsumerism based on moral conviction with a focus on sustainability. Although, of course, there is nothing wrong with that moral conviction.

Many people share that conviction in principle. However, one may have some reservations about those minimalists who act as activists in their approach to others where flight shame, plastic shame or meat shame are concerned. There appears to be a razor-thin line between raising awareness or instilling feelings of shame on others. We should honestly ask ourselves whether we are making our society more appealing when we step over that line. Guilt and shame can certainly change behaviors. Nevertheless, the question remains whether there are not more charming roads to the Rome in question.

The nonmaterialistic consumer

A trend associated with that of minimalism is that of nonmaterialism. Nonmaterialistic consumers consume without any tangible consequence of that consumerism. On the one hand, nonmaterialism is the result of a changing pattern of consumerism. We prefer to spend our money on experiences and adventures rather than on products. On the other hand, we are replacing some products with subscriptions. We no longer buy a CD, but a subscription to Spotify instead.

Especially this second development is beginning to take on such significant proportions that we now speak of a ‘subscription economy’. Subscription models are penetrating markets, meaning that the relationship between provider and consumer is undergoing considerable change. Not only does this relationship become more long-term and stable, but is also characterized by a higher level of dependence. The more subscriptions, the less diversification in the consumer pattern and the greater the dependence on a number of behemoth corporations. From research carried out by McKinsey, it appears that consumers are indeed buying subscriptions en masse, yet only about 11% of them are fans of the subscription model.

The consumer robot

When it comes to consumers, we mean people. It’s almost time to change that mindset. As the consumer robot is gaining ground. For example, a study by Ericsson shows that 70% of consumers think that within three years virtual assistants will be making purchasing decisions for them. Some researchers have even gone a step further and claim that in a few years’ time, 85% of shopping behaviour will take place without human interaction. It is impossible to pin an exact number on this in the future, but the trend is very clear.

Personally I find this the one of most cool trends. I am a huge fan of a society where artificial intelligence provides human intelligence with support wherever possible. Of course, there is also a shadowy side to this trend. How do we integrate ethics into the purchasing decisions of a consumer robot? And how do we ensure that consumers are happy to entrust their wallets to a robot? Together with my research group, I’m working hard on designing solutions to these questions.

Tomorrow is good for our customers if we work on the shadowy side of these developments. When we brighten up something that is shadowy, turn negatives into positives and turn anything that’s a grey area into something that shines!

 

Beyond Media: research on ‘rogue caregivers’ wins prize for open data

During the Beyond Media journalism conference last Thursday evening, the researchers involved in a study of what the Dutch term as ‘zorgcowboys’ (care cowboys, as in rogue caregivers) received the Stuiveling Open Data Award (SODA). As internet pioneer Marleen Stikker says, it is time to regain sovereignty over our data. “People think that technology is neutral.”

The award-winning project is an initiative of Pointer, Reporter Radio and Follow the Money. They used open data from the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) to uncover large-scale fraud in the healthcare system. The research led to internal investigations within several municipalities. The jury praised the methodology used by the applicants, explains jury member as well as chairman of the Netherlands Court of Audit, Arno Visser. “The data used is open. The work method is transparent and traceable and offers room for discussion and other interpretations. This is crucial for proper social debate.”

By the people, for the people

The prize (20,000 euros) is awarded each year by the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK). It is named after Saskia Stuiveling, the former president of the Netherlands Court of Audit. She was an advocate for the use of open data within government. “Public sector information belongs to the public. By the people, for the people“, as Visser states. “The whole of society benefits from open data. It leads to surprising insights and a lively public debate.”

Paranoia confirmed

According to Marleen Stikker, member of the jury and speaker at the conference, the pursuit of more open data fits in with the struggle for a more transparent society. “Even with more open data, we are still saddled with other problems, such as algorithms. We no longer feel comfortable on online platforms.” Among other things, Stikker is the founder of the research institute Waag Society and was one of the founders of the accessible internet as we know it today in the Netherlands. “Several revelations, such as those surrounding Snowden and Cambridge Analytica, have confirmed our right to be paranoid. This goes beyond privacy; it’s about regaining our sovereignty. Because do we actually understand the ways in which we are being manipulated online?”

Technology is not neutral

Stikker hopes that people will think about their online behaviour more. “It’s actually quite absurd: we find it important that our products are protected in supermarkets and pharmacies, but we don’t think about the safety issues of the apps that we install. The problem is that many people think that technology is neutral. But the ethics are part of the creative process. And that is monopolized by large companies. We need systems in place to ensure that those companies are not able to misuse our data.”

Beyond Media

The prize was awarded during Beyond Media, a conference on innovation in journalism at Tilburg’s LocHal. The event was organized by MindLabs, a joint initiative on the cutting edge of AI and people. Alderman Berend de Vries from Tilburg opened the evening. “The future is being driven by perspectives on technology, not just technology itself,” he underlined. Consequently, the overarching theme was a question of how the professional field can shift the focus more towards the public, rather than technology. It was also discussed how robot journalist PASS could take over ”chores” from journalists, for instance. Innovation Origins previously published an interview about this project with one of the people behind it. You can read that interview here.

Photo: Open State Foundation, Twitter

Slush Helsinki is filled with entrepreneurs, researchers and investors, but hardly any politicians

Suzanne de Kok Selstad is the CEO of ‘Skape‘, a Norwegian start-up consulting organisation. She lives in Stavanger and is a first-time visitor of Slush, the annual innovation and Start-up festival in Helsinki. She writes about her experiences at “the World’s LeadingStart-up Event” for Innovation Origins. This is Day 2 of the event. You can read part 1 here.

We are several people from our county Rogaland attending Slush for different reasons. Trond Medhus, Opportunity Manager for Invest In Stavanger (Greater Stavanger Region) stated that “Slush is the place to be for meeting start-ups, investors and entrepreneurs. Since we are in a global market, we need to be out there getting inspired, listen to the entrepreneurial stories from different angles”. There is indeed no doubt that this is a place that allows us to look into the future – and a perfect place for valuable networking as well. We are meeting people with the brightest ideas, talents, students, investors and on-the-go we get insights on the future technological trends. Next year, we want to bring more start-ups from the Stavanger region over to Slush and use this conference as a place to inspire young entrepreneurs and give them valuable insights and network.

“Money is flowing in the start-up venues”

Cato Meling, head of conference at ONS, the second-largest energy conference in the world, mentions that “it has been an inspiring day at Slush with engaging speakers and interesting themes”. The State of European Tech 2019, which was presented today, essentially states that money is flowing in the start-up venues and there is a need for more women in tech. This positive vibe throughout the event is contagious and incredibly inspiring, and I will for sure be back next year.

“We need more women in tech”

Day two was also exciting, with different insightful themes. Again, we had to make a choice! Like yesterday, we heard people discussing the challenges about talents. But also, about the different demands of talents themselves. Do future talents want to live in big, expensive cities? Can climate changes create new business opportunities? What can we learn from history? Several interesting questions were raised, allowing us to think for ourselves and dwell on the complexity of the future.

Since we got the opportunity to cruise around Helsinki on an e-scooter yesterday, we had to listen to Fredrik Hjelm, Co-founder & CEO of Voi Technology and Lawrence Leuschner, CEO & Co-founder of TIER Mobility. They shared insights about how their companies work together with cities to change regulations. They challenge cities to rethink their transport system. Most cities today are dominated by cars. They, however, raise the question: do we really need two lanes for cars? Berlin is, for example, moving away from extra car lanes and Paris is implementing safety actions for bikers.

Skapes Rudolf Hansen and Suzanne de Kok Selstad on their e-scooters in Helsinki

Cities can also think about changing the rules. More tenders for e-scooters in one in town? A maximum number of providers? Limit a licence for maybe two or three years? Madrid has a tender of 15-17 companies for different parts of town. And how about safety? Most accidents are between cars and scooters, we need to rethink the way they interact. It is, however, rarely the case between scooters or scooter and pedestrians.

Build a culture

Personally, I enjoyed the session about people, we know that it is all about people, especially in the startup world. How important it is to build teams, onboard new members, integrate them, build a culture. Always think of diversity: it breathes better decision-making, offers different angles. Start the process of building a company culture early and include people around you in the process. And if you lead a team yourself, dare to be vulnerable. Dare to say I don’t know and ask somebody who does.

At the end of Day 2, we saw the finals for research pitching. When I heard about these researchers, It immediately felt really good. So many bright ideas for future challenges… 95 ideas, 8 final pitches, one winner! The winner of the grand prize, the 100,000 Euro Skolar Award grant, is Thomas Hausmaninger from the National Metrology Institute of Finland.

“This positive vibe throughout the event is contagious and incredibly inspiring”

I felt privileged being at Slush where there were so many people who have this positive energy of being part of creating something. We need entrepreneurs, we need researchers, we need investors. The group maybe lacking were the politicians.

Slush 2019 is finished. Now, on my way back to Norway, I feel inspired, filled with new knowledge and blessed with a whole new network. I’ll be back!