Tomorrow is good: Is Germany lagging behind or clearly steering ahead?

By using a few clichés about Germany, I tried to explain in my very first column for IO that Germany could do so much better if it took a look in a more practical and creative way at how innovations are taken advantage of and at government intervention. This view has been bolstered by my own experiences and the countless moaning Germans around me. There is an enormous need for more momentum. And above all, for speedier government action where social innovation is concerned. The Dutch could certainly lend a helping hand with that.

My next column should have been about how the Dutch sometimes rush into things, act too often like merchants and can perhaps learn something from German solidity and desire for structure. It is very illuminating to work with Germans when it has to do with guaranteeing quality through structure and process. Then that’s it, as far as comparisons are concerned. Or so I thought.

But this was soon followed by a splendid response from Christiane Manow-Le Ruyet to my intentionally provocative stance in my introductory column. She now thinks I’m a bit of a know-it-all. I would like to respond to that in a somewhat provocative way yet again.

Classic German defense

Actually there are many things we agree on and Christiane is very good at describing what can be improved in Germany. In my first column, I touched on a number of things that I think Christiane generally acknowledges as well. But she also tends to go on the defensive. Which kind of confirms what I often see happening in Germany.

Let me start by saying that, as a resident of the German capital and a regular traveler in Germany, I am very familiar with the classic German defense.

  1. What can be done in your country in the Netherlands (or Denmark or Sweden) is out of the question here. We are so huge, we have states as big as the Netherlands – and mega-suburbs. That’s why it works differently (as in slower etc).
  2. Yet it’s not going badly at all, because we are basically an export success story export thanks to the quality of our products.

However, I am convinced that the first of these points is not true. Germany can really move faster and the government needs to be more agile and is quite capable of learning from other countries. I understand the second point and it rings true. But it does not detract from the first point. Society is not benefiting enough from the innovations that go overseas if Germany itself is still just now starting to slowly digitize. All in part due to an unwieldy government.

Hipsters in Kreuzberg

Christiane also mentions the Dutch D66 leader who recently presented Berlin as a shining example for the Netherlands. I have to admit that I didn’t know what I was seeing when I read that sentiment. (I actually burst out laughing). Previously, liberals always looked to NYC – and all of a sudden it’s now Berlin? The Berlin that I think I know quite well, that I love. But would not consider a shining example for a successful model.

I know plenty of Dutch people who base their image of the German capital on their perceptions of Mitte and Prenzlauerberg. However, you would expect that a liberal leader of a Dutch governing party would do a bit more research. A bunch of start-ups and a few hipsters in Mitte and Kreuzberg don’t necessarily turn Berlin into an innovative and open city. Berlin is much more than just the hip “core.” It is paradoxical and oftentimes very conservative. Munich is much more of a D66 city (- but that comparison should be made in another column ; ).

Go Germany!

For the record, I do feel positive about Germany. In the face of an impending crisis and with a budget surplus, a lot can be done. Moreover, Germany will really start shifting over the next few years. This will benefit innovation, even in cities and general society. At long last we are seeing some signs of change. For example, where electromobility is concerned.

The latest news this week is that Germany has turned a corner and is now fully committed to electromobility. After years of holding back, a master plan for electromobility is on its way. And 3.3 billion euros will be invested between now and 2023 (also some investment in hydrogen). There is talk of one million charging stations. 10 million electric cars should be driving on German streets by 2030. Volkswagen is going fully electric. They’ve started producing the ID.3, an affordable e-car for the masses. BMW is installing 4100 stations, although mainly for its own employees. Doesn’t this so-called German inertia eventually steer the country in a direction that ultimately leads to a competitive edge?

Risk of deferral

In the coming years, considerable investments will also be made in bicycles: transport minister Scheuer has promised an extra €900 million. Numerous cities are planning upgrades to their urban infrastructure. Yet the risk of deferral is always looming in Germany. Or as Raoul Schmidt-Lamontain, a governmental policy-maker from Dresden, recently said: “In the meantime, money has been made available for trams and cycle lanes from new subsidy programs. But if, for example, I want to convert an intersection into a bicycle-friendly one or extend a bridge for pedestrians, then I also have to invest in the roads at the same time. So, I always need money from several subsidy sources all at once. If one stimulus program fails, investments in the other areas can’t be carried out either. And that money will stay put.”

So, no jumping for joy quite yet. Let’s see the results first!

Incidentally, Christiane is right and we were in agreement on this too – collaboration is worthwhile as (international) solutions can be found together … but sometimes by looking in the mirror as well.

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Floris Beemster, 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.


Editorial: Dear Floris Beemster (and other perpetual know-it-alls)


Whoever talks about Germany is at times quick to criticize. The country is lacking innovation. We are lagging behind in terms of digitization, 5G expansion, comprehensive WLAN coverage and so on and so forth. We are also taking our time to set up a charging infrastructure for electric cars. Other countries, such as the Netherlands, are much faster, more innovative, getting on with it, a country with an ocean full of charging stations. And in general, everything is much better there. Germany, on the other hand, is a country with just under 83 million inhabitants which is often portrayed as the unbudging giant of Europe.

The trouble with numbers

And yes, it’s true. The Dutch are fast. They are rapidly paving the way for charging stations all over the country. Almost 44,000 of them have already been built. That’s more than enough to equip the 17 million or so inhabitants with e-cars. Consequently, every Dutchie could own at least two electric cars. Sounds good, doesn’t it? The trend is clearly moving towards having a second car …

However, if you look at how electricity is generated in the Netherlands, you will soon start to wonder. Only 7.4 percent of the electricity generated in our neighboring country comes from renewable resources. Coupled with electromobility, the image of this innovative country soon begins to falter. Yes to electromobility – but at what cost? In Germany, on the other hand, the proportion of electricity generated from renewable resources is 46.7 percent. Not bad for a country that has been described as lacking innovation

Mobile in the city

Speaking of electromobility. Even though e-scooters are currently available in Germany too – we weren’t the first. But at least we did it – they still can’t be found anywhere in the Netherlands. That means you either have to walk or ride your bike. But when it comes to shared mobility services, both countries feel like they are in the same league. You can rent anything that is fun and handy, from an e-car to an e-bike. All the other conventional four- and two-wheeled vehicles are also available for hire in the cities. Great. But has this reduced the volume of traffic in both countries yet?

Payment methods in Germany

How many payment options do we actually need? Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, i.e. payment by app, debit and credit card or cash. There are also many online payment methods: Paypal, by invoice, in advance, installments and so on. You would think that this choice would be enough for everyone in Germany. Critics will say: “Yes, but in certain restaurants only cash is accepted.” Sure, that’s so true. But that rings just as true the other way in innovative Sweden nowadays. For instance, in some restaurants, cash is no longer accepted. That might also annoy some people.

Cumbersome government

Anyone talking to medium-sized companies in Germany will soon find that they are far from happy about the lack of expansion with respect to infrastructure. Many companies are progressing far too slowly. That is an irrefutable fact. Yes, they perhaps waited too long (for whatever reason). For that matter, the situation is the same in the automotive industry. Development was neglected – other nations have reacted much more quickly. Now the industry is facing a hectic state of affairs at an operational level. Better late than never. But Germany is already experiencing a gloomier economic climate. Has the whiff of innovation already slipped away?

Agile start-up branch

Absolutely not. In Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Leipzig and many other cities, bustling start-ups show where it’s at. It’s not for nothing that Rob Jetten (leader of the liberal D66 political faction currently part of the Netherlands government), looks to the German capital for inspiration and is hoping for a “Berlin on the Rhine” in the future.

The think tanks not only provide sustainable, high-tech solutions for tomorrow’s world. In fact, they are determined to successfully navigate their way through the German regulatory jungle. Other, younger entrepreneurs are much more likely to be discouraged and give up. Start-up awards in Germany are booming, take investor events or related TV formats, for example. And the trend is on the rise. The start-up industry proves that there is no lack of ideas nor is there a lack of their implementation in Germany.

And what about mid-sized businesses?

Critics might now claim: the start-up scene accounts for only a small proportion of the concentration of businesses in Germany. But even small and medium-sized businesses are not sleeping. Many companies are on the lookout for new ideas, are focusing on digitization and are coming up with promising solutions. It is not for nothing that Germany has been the world’s leading exporter for years. Obviously, there are many interested parties around the world who value German know-how and products. How else would it be possible for Germany to have generated, according to the Ifo Institute, the world’s largest energy surplus for the third time in a row at the start of this year.

There is a lot to do

Nevertheless, there is still a lot to do in Germany. But not just here in Germany. Good and bad points can be found in every European country. The key words are exchange, sharing know-how and co-working – not a know-it-all attitude. Being world champions together, as you would hope to be, dear Floris, is all about finding solutions together and not just constantly slinging comparisons back and forth.

With innovative greetings,



Help! German forests are dying!

Anyone who has entered the keywords “Bäume” and “sterben” (trees & dying) on the internet over the past few days will undoubtedly have been shocked to the core. Gluttonous beetles, fungi, caterpillars, forest fires, storms and drought have had a disastrous effect on the German forest and tree population.

Minister of Agriculture Julia Klöckner sees that large parts of German forests are under threat from climate change.

Last Wednesday, the German Minister for Agriculture, Julia Klöckner, was prompted by this deforestation to announce an emergency fund of €800 million, which is why she said at the national ‘Waldgipfel‘ (Forest Summit Conference) in Berlin: ‘Our forests are not doing well’. To the contrary, there are whole areas of forest that are dying.”


According to Klöckner, 180,000 hectares of forest are currently under threat, but it is not only the forests that are endangered, as we learnt at another tree conference in Berlin. The situation in cities is at least as critical.

Tree expert Manfred Forstreuter from the Vrije Universiteit Berlin spoke of “a catastrophe” at the Berliner Baumforum. According to him, Berlin lost on balance some 2,500 trees last year and after two very warm years, many trees are in a bad state.

His biggest concern is for the older trees that are 40+ years old. Of the 431,000 street trees (not counting parks and forests), 43% fall into this category. Due to two extremely dry and therefore warm years, the trees suffer from ‘heat stress’. “And too much stress is deadly,” says Forstreuter. “It was warmer here this year than in Tuscany!”

Manfred Forstreuter from FU Berlin

According to Forstreuter, this stress can be seen in the relatively large amount of fruits, nuts and seeds that trees are bearing this year. Fruit growers will be aware of this phenomenon. It is nature’s response to an approaching disaster. “When disaster approaches, trees tend to give their all for their offspring one last time. Then they die.” Another omen are the dry crowns on the trees. But it is not known exactly how many trees are on the brink of dying. “The problem in Berlin is that each district has its own criteria. Moreover, there is no central register for the tree population.”

Fortsreuter does not have any ready-made solutions, but at any rate he does not agree with one of the other speakers at the Baumforum, Martin Schreiner of the Pflanzenschutzamt Berlin. His message is that it is a better idea to let sick old trees die and to focus energy on young, healthy plants instead.

Drought is not the only problem facing German forests. For some time now, the long-horned beetle has been causing enormous damage in Bavaria. Photo Pixabay

According to Schreiner, it would be wiser to use the little money available to the city for new plantings instead. In his view, humankind must learn to live with climate change. “The city has changed enormously in the last 100 years. This not only applies to temperature, but also to the amount of traffic and the types of buildings. This calls for a different approach to environmental management.” He is, for instance, in favor of planting more heat-resistant tree species, a direction that Minister Klöckner is also thinking about for the forests.

Forstreuter believes that it is not that simple to use the term ‘old trees’. Of course, really sick trees have to be chopped down, but for the rest of the trees, which have only been weakened by a few dry years, the municipality must make a serious effort. One way would be to carry out mandatory tree impact assessments as part of construction projects, like the building of houses and new roads and sidewalks.

Incidentally, the most dramatic story at the Baumforum didn’t come from Berlin, but from Magdeburg. There is a murderer all the way from Asia who has decimated 10,000 trees in the past five years. This is the Asian long-horned beetle which, according to forester Jens Geffert from Saxony-Anhalt, has no natural enemies. It is an animal that presumably traveled in wooden pallets from China. To fight this beetle (and its larvae), Geffert has teamed up with about 20 people. “It’s a tough, expensive battle and we don’t know if we’re going to win it yet.”

Floris Beemster (APPM): Conquering the German market with a dash of Dutch creativity

Innovation Origins will be joined by a new columnist this weekend: Floris Beemster (43) is an expert in the field of urban innovation and Germany. Beemster is working together with colleague Sophie Vaessen for the Dutch consultancy firm APPM in Berlin towards “a more beautiful Germany”.

In Germany, APPM acts as an independent expert on smart and sustainable mobility for public and private clients. For instance, improving the accessibility of cities, organizing shared mobility and recharging infrastructure for electric transport. Once a month, Floris will report on his experiences for Innovation Origins.

Is Germany going to be a new experience for you?

No, I’ve een familiar with Berlin and Germany for some time now. The first time I settled here was in 2001 when I studied philosophy of religion. Then I went back to the Netherlands and initially organized international relations for a political party and then went on to focus on urban development for the Amsterdam city council.

This led me to delve more deeply into housing market themes and mobility. Among other things, I advised Amsterdam’s city councilors on how we could get more done at government level. It was about issues such as: How do we keep the city livable for us and our children? And what kind of creative, new concepts are we able to use for this?

During that whole time, I was in Germany on average twice a year for longer periods and often in Berlin. That was until six years ago when I was able to get back to working there for the city of Amsterdam through an exchange project with the city of Berlin. There was a great deal of interest there in the ways in which we approach particular issues in the Netherlands.

What kind of things?

That was quite varied. Two clichés stood out: mobility and making the city bicycle-friendly. But it was more wide-ranging than that. If you want to put a general label on it, it was about various insights on the interpretation of urban and public space.

To cite one example: In the Netherlands we are quite pragmatic when it comes to the use of public parks. If there is a festival where money is to be made, then Dutch councils have no problem at all with temporarily closing that park to the general public and only allowing paying public in. The situation is different in Germany. The reigning principle there is that a park should always be open to everyone and everything. Perhaps we in the Netherlands think too commercially too often, whereas in Germany they could do with doing that a bit more.

Another theme that often came up for discussion was housing. For example, a few years ago in the Netherlands there was a great deal of interest in the German Genossenschaften concept (although less so now). Which is a form of cooperative living that we don’t have or are barely familiar with in the Netherlands. Whereas there was a great deal of interest in our social housing development in Germany, which they do not have to such a major extent.

In fact, the theme of the participation of stakeholders came up again in all of the projects. The Germans think that we are better at dealing with this facet.

How did you end up at APPM?

After having worked for a year and a half ’embedded’ with the city of Berlin and a year and a half as an ‘Amsterdam squatter’ at the embassy in Berlin, I became self-employed and continued to organize the exchange of know-how for a number of regions and the Dutch creative industry in Germany. That had a lot to do with cities like Berlin and Munich. Together we organized a number of missions to South Germany for Dutch regions and vice versa for German regions to the Netherlands, particularly in the areas of mobility and creative industries.

All in all, that was a great success. The ties between the Bavarian parties, Munich and the Utrecht and Amsterdam regions have been strengthened through various projects, including two festivals. I regularly came across APPM in these projects. They wanted to become active in Germany and venture into that huge neighboring country. I saw what a very appealing and ambitious company APPM is and immediately sensed what they needed. On top of that, I already wanted to work more concretely on spatial challenges in Germany. One thing led to another and next week we will open our new office in the Euref ‘future campus’ in Berlin.

What kind of projects will you be working on?

First of all, we will focus on something we are good at in the Netherlands, namely developing urban concepts for e-mobility and cycling in cooperation with German partners. And especially cross-over mobility concepts. For example, we are now in the middle of our first two tenders for two cities, and hopefully I will be able to tell you more about this in my columns in the next few months. And of course I hope that a lot of other things will come our way. There are many opportunities in Germany and we would like to take them on board with a dash of Dutch creativity.

Read moreFloris Beemster (APPM): Conquering the German market with a dash of Dutch creativity

A public investment fund would work wonders for Germany

Germany must bid farewell to the holy grail of “being in the black” and invest more in areas such as infrastructure, renewable energies, housing and innovation. That is the advice to the Merkel government from economist Claus Michelsen of the Berlin-based German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). He advocates a public investment fund with an annual capital expenditure of 30 billion euros or 1% of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Michelsen does not have much hope that such a fund will be set up. There is currently a lack of urgency for this in Berlin, even though the economy is heading full steam ahead into recession. The conservative industrial employer’s federation BDI is therefore also in favour of letting go of the “in the black” stipulation – the legal obligation that Germany has imposed on itself which means that it should never spend more than it earns. Deviations from this are only permitted in exceptional circumstances.

The FDI now believes that the time has come. “As important as balancing the budget may be in times of economic prosperity, now is the time to change fiscal policy,” says BDI leader Joachim Lang.

Public investment frequently pays twice as many dividends

The DIW has long been regarded as an advocate for higher government spending. Michelsen has calculated that in the current economic situation, every additional euro in the German infrastructure pays twice as many dividends and that would impact everyone. In the DIW model, every extra euro spent by the federal government generates additional business investment of 1.1 euros over a period of five years. For €50 billion, that amounts to €55 billion. And with 100 billion euros it would be 110 billion euros.

Macro economist Claus Michelsen from DIW Berlin. Photo: BDI

It is what is known as a “multiplier effect” in the economy.

The Dogma of the Balanced Budget

Van Michelsen’s fund might have to be much larger than the 50 billion euros currently circulating in the federal government in the event that Germany actually does go into recession.

“Even if we do not end up in a real recession with several consecutive quarters of negative economic growth, the time is ripe for a change in economic policy. We believe that the Berlin government should make good use of its financial leeway and set an agenda for modernizing Germany. This would not only improve growth prospects, but business confidence as well.”

Michelsen advocates that public investment be increased not for one or two years, but for the next ten to fifteen years. Their target is one percent of the GDP, which is equivalent to 30 billion euros per year.

The only problem is that the constitution will have to be amended. We believe that this dogmatic thinking about balancing the budget needs to be thrown overboard. Politicians must seek broad support so that long-term plans will not be tampered with every time there is a new government”.

This is the third part of a series about a potential recession in Germany and the consequences for innovation and R&D spending.

Part 1 appeared on Tuesday 20 August

Part 2 on Friday 23 August




Interview: “German industry is already in the middle of a crisis”

“A ray of hope for German industry”, the German business newspaper Handelsblatt wrote last Tuesday when the German office for statistics announced that more orders had been placed than had been lost as of June 0.1%. However, this is by no means sufficient reason for celebration, says Professor Timo Wollmershäuser of the Munich-based Ifo economic institute in an interview with Innovation Origins. The fact is that German industry is in an abominable state, with turnover and the number of orders in its portfolio already in decline since last year.

Wollmershäuser: “Many people wonder whether Germany is in recession, but if you only look at the industry, we are already in the middle of it.”

According to Wollmershäuser, this is a small catastrophe for Germany’s innovative capability, because industry is at the heart of the economy, much more so than in other countries. International comparisons also show this. In 2018, for example, more than 23% of Germany’s gross national product (GNP) was generated by industry, while in the Netherlands and Great Britain it was only around 18%.

Professor Timo Wollmershäuser of the Ifo Institute in Munich

Bottom of the till not yet in sight

In the end, less turnover in the industry means less money for new machines, intelligent robots and other modernization such as electric cars and automated factories. “We have had one stroke of luck, and that is that companies have been thrifty in recent years and therefore have relatively deep pockets. So the loss of sales can be compensated for a while by temporary measures such as a reduction in working hours. Yet the longer the recession lasts, the greater the need for cuts in all costs. This also means that the R&D budget will undoubtedly suffer as a result.

According to Wollmershäuser, this is already evident in the downturn in investments. “There are no specific figures on which types of investments are in decline as yet. But it is certain that investments will drop. We assume that, for the time being, these are mainly postponed investments to replace, for example, old machines. Nevertheless, there will come a time when actual R&D expenditure will be involved too, and that is obviously bad for our innovative capabilities.

Will the German car industry still have enough money left to develop the car of the future?

Government spending versus lowering taxes

It is therefore high time that the government did something to boost investment and the economy in the view of Wollmershäuser. There are basically two possibilities for this. In one case, the government itself spends more on, for example, roads, building redevelopment, etc., and in so doing tries to boost the economic engine. And in the second case, by lowering taxes, the government will instead leave it up to the business community to invest more.

Wollmerhäuser clearly prefers the latter. According to him, this is the most efficient and effective way to get the industry out of the doldrums and raise the level of investment. And it could easily be done, because Germany currently has a relatively high tax burden on corporate profits at around 30%, compared to a mere 25% in France, for instance.

Berlin is slow on the uptake

Some of the plans have already been laid out on the table. The annoying thing is that Berlin requires an endless amount of time to put them into practice. A good example is the abolition of the so-called solidarity tax, a surcharge that every citizen and company must pay on top of ordinary taxes and which last year brought in €18.9 billion for the state.

The German Government wants to abolish this additional tax – which was once invented to help the new federal states of East Germany – by 2021. But why wait so long? Next year is also an option, Wollmershäuser states.

Wollmershäuser considers it a bad move because it is at the expense of investment in small and medium-sized enterprises. “Unfortunately, this affects a lot of small-scale entrepreneurs, even though it is precisely these entrepreneurs who would be helped in their investment decisions if the soli-tax were to be abolished.”


Fewer taxes or preferably more money for modernizing rundown roads and buildings?

More investment in infrastructure? Don’t do it

Many analysts are advising Berlin to spend more on infrastructure. However, Wollmershäuser does not agree. He concurs with the criticism that maintenance of German infrastructure is definitely overdue, but what many people forget to mention is that the government budget for this has already been drastically increased over the past few years. Subsequently, a lot of work is already being done in order to resolve the construction backlog.

Secondly, additional infrastructure investments would come at the wrong time. “The construction sector is one of the few German sectors that is still operating at full capacity. That is why they really do not need any extra work from the government and will only take it on at very high prices.”

In conclusion, infrastructural investments cannot be raised overnight. Building decisions take time to be made, worked out and implemented. “As an anti-recession measure, it is therefore pointless to raise infrastructure investments,” says Wollmershäuser. He does, however, argue in favor of setting infrastructure expenditure at a reasonable level for a longer period of time. This will prevent a repeat of the 2008-2010 situation when the construction industry collapsed as a result of the credit crisis.


This is the second part of a series concerning a potential recession in Germany and the consequences this will have for innovation and R&D expenditure.

Max Planck & co happy with R&D incentives from the German Government

I’m sure it hasn’t eluded many people in the last few weeks. Germany is in danger of ending up in recession, and the government in Berlin is not doing enough to prevent it. According to the critics, there is too much fixation on reducing the government’s debt, while in the meantime infrastructure is collapsing, government buildings are rotting away and the speed of the Internet is still very slow.

Berlin must take out its wallet and be quick about it too. Otherwise, Germany will become the ailing figure in Europe once again.

Savings mania

The criticism is partly justified. You can dispute the deep-seated need to not spend more than what comes in. We have done that in the Netherlands as well, and the argument that we shouldn’t live off the backs of future generations, well, there is something to that too.

But it is incredibly frustrating that plans to improve the infrastructure are in place, but they are not being implemented yet because of too many complex regulations, bureaucracy and consultation procedures.

Nevertheless, it is wrong to have the impression that Berlin is doing absolutely nothing in order to keep Germany modern and innovative. This is evident, for example, in the opinion of the so-called ‘non-university research institutes’. These are Max Planck, Fraunhofer, Helmholtz and Leibniz: four institutions, each with their own specializations, which are invaluable to Germany as a knowledge economy. Although, in a broader sense, also for global climate policy, biodiversity and disease prevention.

The non-university research institutes are spread all over Germany.

120 billion euro subsidy

The non-university institutions do not have to deal with the education sector and are able to focus entirely on basic and applied research. They are therefore a useful complement to the regular universities. They are a frequent springboard for start-ups and businesses also benefit from their expertise. Moreover, they don’t have to worry about recessions, because the funding is secured by a new ‘Forschung und Entwicklung’ ( PFI, Research and Development) pact which the government drew up a couple of weeks ago.

“As far as we are concerned, the government has sent a strong signal with this pact,” says a spokesman for the Helmoltz Association in a reaction. “The new PFI will ensure that we get 3% more per year over the coming ten years.”

The Max-Plack Society also says it is extremely satisfied. “We will be able to plan our future without any concerns with this pact.” The PFI Pact is not new. The first pact was approved by Angela Merkel’s initial cabinet in 2005. According to the institutes, what is different about this pact is its duration. Previous PFI agreements always ran for four years. Now it is ten years, and it is not dealing in peanuts.

Approximately 120 billion euros in subsidies will flow from Berlin and the federal states to Max Planck & co up until 2030. This is a source of money that many foreign universities will be jealous of and it is completely independent of the economic situation. It is long-term planning at its best.


This is the first part of a series about a potential recession in Germany and the consequences this will have for innovation and R&D expenditure.

Start-Up of the Month: Hands-free wheelchair mobility

Nobody sits in a wheelchair for fun, so if you’re not able to cover distances using your own limbs, that’s quite a challenge. It is even more annoying when you also need both arms in order to move a wheelchair forward. Of course, extra mobility is indispensable, although it would be nice if you were able to use your hands for something else.

Each month, IO and its readers choose a Start-Up of the Month winner. Our winner for the month of July comes from Germany. Wheelchairs that can be operated with the eyes are already covered by health insurance there and have been developed in cooperation with the people who know the most about daily wheelchair use: the users themselves. All the more reason to put them in the spotlight one more time!


An independent life for everyone

Marketing manager Markus Englmeier of Munevo is very happy about the award. “We would like to thank everyone who voted for us. This award is extra motivation for us and extra confirmation that we are on the right track.”

The team has a clear vision for the future and wants to continue innovating healthcare with new services and products in the future. “We hope that our smart devices will enable us to reach even more people who have mobility issues or disabilities. By doing so, we are helping more and more people to live their everyday live independently as possible and this is probably the greatest reward for us,” says Englmeier.

This week, the initiators themselves are enjoying a well-deserved holiday. Which is also quite important!


Munevo who?

The idea has of course been widely discussed for some time now, but here it is in brief: Munevo DRIVE enables wheelchair users in Germany to operate their wheelchairs via smart glass. This means that wheelchair users are able to use their arms for other purposes.

And whereas many start-ups are still in their early stages, Munevo DRIVE has long since become a reality for our eastern neighbor’s wheelchair users. In Germany, these wheelchairs are covered by health insurance companies. What may be considered very impressive, as this is a fairly conservative sector of the market which usually needs a lot of perseverance. Meanwhile, the initiators have already received their first transactions.

Wheelchair users can no longer do without it. You only come to realize how important mobility really is once you yourself wheelchair-dependent. Google Glass may have peaked a little too early at the time of its introduction a few years ago, nonetheless this application shows that smart glasses do indeed have a future ….

Formula Student Germany – Talent Exchange for the Automotive Industry

How do you build a racing car? How do you manage a team? What does it take to build and sell a car? What is the best way to do business? How does marketing work? For some time already, one could play at being the principal member of a racing team or tune up their dream race car themselves on the Playstation and X-Box. But that’s all just a game. Since 2006, the Formula Student Germany (FSG) takes place every year at Hockenheimring, and ambitious students from all over the world can show what they can do in the real world. This year from August 5th to 11th it is all about who has done the best job within the various categories.

This international design competition is organized by the Formula Student Germany e.V. under the patronage of  Verein Deutscher Ingenieure (VDI – The Association of German Engineers). The rules are based on those of the US-American Formula SAE which was founded in 1981. The goal of the competition is to design and build a Formula racing car as a team. The competition is supposed to complement academic education. In addition to pure racing car construction, the focus is on presentation techniques and working economically, i.e. manufacturing costs and the drawing up of a cost and business plan. In addition, various categories such as Acceleration, Efficiency, Endurance, Skid Pads or Autocross are evaluated on the track. In the end, the winner is not the team with the fastest car, but the team with the best overall race performance, design, and financial and sales planning.

© Formula Student Germany

Not a game

The Formula Student is not a game, as Joe Martin one of the former participants and R&D Project Coordinator at ZF in Friedrichshafen points out. “A proper Formula Student team is a small business in its own right,” Martin writes in his blog on LinkedIn. “The team must govern themselves, find funding and manage their budgets, recruit talent, design and produce an entire vehicle, manage sponsors and suppliers and develop a long-term plan. Of course, teams execute this to different degrees of professionalism (after all, it is a competition), but the perennial favorites were “run much like small companies,” Martin stresses.

Being a part of a team requires students to learn and master all these aspects; neglecting certain areas could have long-term effects beyond the few seasons that the students are actually on the team. “Imagine all of your staff working on a 2-4 year contract and having to complement their skills and knowledge in such a short cycle of time. The team that does this well, they have some truly innovative vehicles and have been leading the league table for more than a few seasons.”

Formula Student Germany has taught him more about engineering, teamwork, project management and cars than he could ever have learned during his studies, Martin explains. It also offers “an excellent format for companies to find exactly the kind of young talents they need.”

More room for design than in the industry

Until 2009, the students built only cars with combustion engines. Meanwhile, the competition is divided into the “Formula Student Combustion” (FSC), the “Formula Student Electric” (FSE), and the “Formula Student Driverless” (FSD). In the FSE, teams must construct a purely electrically powered vehicle. The students are free to do as they like regarding direct or alternating current. And as far as the figures for engines are concerned, the maximum voltage is limited to just 600 V DC while the maximum power is limited to 80 kW.

“The competition is constantly adapting and evolving in order to meet the newest challenges in the automotive industry,” writes Joe Martin. “From purely combustion vehicles to electric, and most recently to fully autonomous race cars. Teams have more space for design than they are likely to find in any other racing series or even in industry.”

At the same time, nevertheless, they will have to deliver a complete vehicle and perform well in all categories. They should not only focus on developing the coolest, lightest brake system ever and neglect all the other areas. They would lose out on all of that performance gain in those other areas. “Beyond challenging their technical skills and engineering prowess, the competition demands that they learn how to manage themselves in a way which leads towards their overarching goal,” says Martin. ” To achieve this, the best teams have to have a better grasp of systems engineering than several other projects in automotive engineering.”

© Formula Student Germany

In 2019, Joe Martin will no longer be a participant but will be one of the judges in the field of design whose task is “to evaluate the quality of the engineering work behind the car and where possible give some advice,” he writes. “Secondly, to learn from the students, who often have knowledge or concepts in which they have a much deeper grasp than some judges do. But we are also there to look for future talent. And could anyone imagine a better place? Over 1,000 motivated young people, who choose to use their free time during their studies to learn about how to design, build and race their own car.” This background is invaluable to employers, he says. “I truly believe they get up to speed in their new roles faster than most and bring a set of skills which is well beyond what we normally would hope for from someone who has just completed their degree.” ZF currently has more than 150 Formula Student Alumni within the company.

Nine disciplines

The Formula Student competition is divided into a total of nine categories, three static and six dynamic. The students have to submit an eight-page technical description of their car at the start of the event. FSD teams must additionally provide a maximum five-page description of the autonomous system. The jury evaluates the layout, technical design, construction, and implementation of the production of the vehicle on this basis. The teams then have to explain the technical details of their constructions and the reasons for their chosen design to the judges. The evaluation is based on the quality of the technical solution in question and the reasons behind it.

The second static category is a cost analysis, which the teams must prepare themselves, including the calculative size of the vehicle, its components, and the requisite manufacturing steps. In addition, the students are questioned once more about the expenditure report of their prototype. Next, the teams must present their business plan for the prototype to a fictitious company which is represented by judges. The participants must demonstrate why their design best meets the requirements of their target group and how it can successfully be marketed.

The dynamic categories start with the evaluation of the acceleration of the vehicle from a standing start across a 75 meter track. In addition to traction, it is the right engine design that matters in terms of greater power or the highest possible torque. During the Skid Pad event, the cars have to drive two 8-figured laps on a course marked with pylons without knocking them over. The lap time for the second lap gives a comparative value for the maximum possible lateral acceleration of the vehicle.

Highlight Endurance Race

In the autocross event, the FSC and FSE vehicles go on a one-kilometer stretch with straights, curves, and chicanes. The FSD vehicles go a distance of 500 meters. The faster the lap time is, the better the driving dynamics are, and the handling, acceleration and braking ability of the car. The rankings of the autocross event determine the starting positions for the subsequent endurance competition.

In this endurance competition (FSC and FSE only), the cars have to prove their reliability over 22 kilometers. This competition is also about acceleration, speed, handling, dynamics, and fuel consumption. The so-called Track Drive is the endurance competition for FSD cars, which have to prove their durability under lengthier conditions over ten laps.

During these endurance competitions, fuel and energy consumption are also recorded, however, not in absolute terms but relative to speed. This is to prevent teams from driving particularly slowly in order to score as highly as possible in the efficiency category. At the end of the competition, the team with the highest score out of the possible total score of 1,000 points wins.

Besides Formula SAE and Formula Student Germany, Formula Student also exists in Australia, Japan, Brazil, Great Britain, Italy, and Austria.

Which regions have the future in Germany?

At Innovation Origins you are used to receiving the latest news about all kinds of technological innovations, discoveries and successful startups, especially in Europe. Macroeconomic forecasts tend to play a less important role.

Nevertheless, economic conditions in a country, region or city are of course important for the future. Cities with leading universities and many wealthy large companies have better opportunities than cities that do not. Countries with low debts have more opportunity to invest in R&D than countries with high debts. And regions with good infrastructure and plenty of highly educated young people always offer an advantage to investors.

These kinds of preconditions are of immense importance especially in times when the economy is at a crossroads. Germany is in a position to comment on this more than any other country. For example, during the 2009 credit crisis, few other countries fell into as deep a recession as the Germans did. The economy shrank by 5.6% in 2009, whereas the Netherlands lost 3.9% of its GDP. All regions shared this malaise.

Economic miracle

But a year later, the sentiment had quickly reversed. There was even talk of a new economic miracle. The crisis was forgotten almost as soon as it arrived, particularly in regions with strong economic structures such as Bavaria and Baden Württemberg.

Once again we seem to be at a (negative) turning-point. Look at Basf, Daimler and Lufthansa, for example, who recently issued hefty profit warnings. Ford, Opel, Thyssen-Krupp, Siemens and Deutsche Bank are preparing their staff for mass redundancies. And the entire automotive and machinery industry is suffering from declining sales in China. It is not for nothing that economists are talking more often about a new recession.

Yet for the optimists among us, this is also a perfect time to grab a map and see where the best opportunities will lie when the economy picks up again. Where are the innovative companies? Where are the universities? Where is the money? Where are the qualified people?

Atlas of Germany

Each year, the German Ministry of the Interior draws up a ‘Deutschlandatlas’ (Atlas of Germany), which identifies the structurally strongest and weakest regions on the basis of numerous criteria. For many years, the picture has for the main part been the same. Southern Germany is strong, especially around the cities of Stuttgart and Munich. The East is weak, with a few small exceptions around cities like Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig. And in the West, there are major differences within a relatively short distance of each other with. On the one hand, thriving cities such as Düsseldorf and Cologne, and on the other, cities which have been almost written-off, like Essen and Duisburg. That image is reflected in the atlas.

For instance, consider this map on the unemployment rate:

Or the regional contribution to the national income per capita:

Or the ageing demographic per region:

Click here for a complete overview of all 56 maps (in German)

The disadvantage of the German atlas, which was published this week anew, is that it does not give an overall representation. It is comprised of a lot of individual maps. Another atlas published last weekend provides a little more reassurance in this respect. This is the Zukunftsatlas by Prognos.

Prognos relies on slightly fewer indicators (29 ), all of which are important for the future sustainability of 401 ‘Landkreise’ (municipalities) and ‘Kreisfreie Städte’ (larger cities). The atlas is produced every three years.

The future atlas from Prognos

Click here for the 2019 interactive Zukunftsatlas from Prognos (in German)

One of the most striking features of the 2019 atlas of the future is that the disparities between the rich South and poor East still exist, but are narrowing. The same applies to the disparities between large cities and rural areas.

“In previous editions of the atlas the maximum difference between the number one (now Munich) and the last number (now Stendhal) was 32 points. This year it’s down to 29 points,” said CEO Christian Böllhof in a presentation to the German newspaper Handelsblatt..


Böllhof refers to “trickle-down effects”. The best example is Teltow-Fläming, a region just south of Berlin, which climbed 115 places to the 170th position between 2016 and 2019. Berlin is thereby demonstrating more and more its potential as an economic center with a wider impact on the surrounding areas. A role that it also had at the beginning of the last century, when Berlin and the Ruhr region were the economic mainstays in Germany.

Where does Prognos see the most dynamism?

Nevertheless, according to the map, there are still many things that could be done better in Berlin. With its 93rd place, the capital city still has to let other cities pass it by, like Munich (1), Ingolstadt (3), Darmstadt (4), Stuttgart (5), Wolfsburg (9) and Frankfurt (10), which are all way ahead. The capital is lagging miles behind, especially in terms of prosperity for its residents. At the same time, for the last 15 years Berlin has been the fourth largest climber in the Prognos ranking. Leipzig is actually the highest climber since 2004.

Unfortunately for the Netherlands, most of the top locations are far away from our border, with a few exceptions such as Düsseldorf, which landed at number 12, Hamburg, at number 21, Münster (25) and Cologne (26). The municipality of Aurich which is on the border close to Groningen, is one of the least future-proof regions of Germany as number 340. This is mainly due to its ageing population and weak employment market.

E-Scooters: On the pitfalls of the Sharing Society

E-Roller Kampagne von Lime in Frankreich

Sharing is a good thing. You don’t need your own car, your own scooter or, as will soon be the case throughout Germany, your own electric scooter. Just register for the respective app, unlock the vehicle and off you go. Nothing stands in the way of a casual cruise through the city. In many European cities, scooters are already very commonplace.

E-scooters bug a lot of people

What sounds so simple, however, causes many people to shake their heads in annoyance. Like the people of Paris for example. E-scooters have been a part of the traffic here for quite some time. The people of Paris, for example. E-scooters have been a part of the traffic here for quite some time. The practical, collapsible scooters are fast and highly maneuverable. For some e-scooter riders in the French capitol, this means that there is no problem passing trucks, cars, motorcycles and other road users in the middle of rush hour traffic – and there is one here virtually 24/7. Perhaps competing against them would be a better way to put it.


Anyone who has recently been to Paris will have noticed that e-scooter riders in the city of love are either completely bonkers or else practically tired of living. A lot of rides on electric scooters are like suicide missions. Whether it’s competing against trucks on a triple-lane road.  Or quickly whizzing across the crowded pavement in front of the Eiffel Tower. Not a problem for electric scooter riders. A huge nuisance for other road users. Not to mention the risk of an accident. Sounds a lot like kamikaze – and it is.

That’s not just the opinion of the annoyed Parisians. Even the e-scooter rental service Lime have its doubts. The American company offers micro-mobility solutions for people living in and around cities. In Paris as well.

Sharing Nightmare

No question, sharing is a good thing. But what Lime is currently experiencing may not have been anticipated by their crisis communication manager. In Paris, one in ten people are already using a rental e-scooter. Every fourth person plans to use an e-scooter sharing service. Wouldn’t that be a good reason for Lime to celebrate? Not at all.

Lime didn’t do the math when it came to people. And as soon as they drive a rental scooter, they usually act recklessly and selfishly. Not a trace of responsible conduct. Not to mention a respectful attitude towards other road users.

It’s not mine, so who cares?

The rude, selfish behaviour of e-scooter riders must now be brought out into the open by Lime. That has already grabbed plenty of negative headlines for the US company. Anne Hidalgo, the mayoress of Paris, has already announced that she intends to drastically curtail the number of e-scooters and the rough handling of them.

Who could have foreseen such bad behavior? Or is that what it is? As it is no real secret that people are usually more careful with their own things than with borrowed ones. No wonder, because a rider first has to shell out considerably more money for one’s own scooter than for a rental scooter. It’s no big deal if something breaks down or if behaviour in traffic is not exemplary. It’s not your own e-scooter. By the way, this is not just a French phenomenon. In Sweden, the electric scooter trip has cost a 27-year-old his life.

Costly campaign

Lime now wants to counter the negative image of the agile electric scooters with an expensive media campaign in the French metropolises. Additionally, riders should be encouraged to treat each other respectfully. With bright green campaign letters, the company wants to bring e-scooter riders to their senses. Will this have any effect?

Perhaps Lime would do well to increase its crisis management staff. Just in case the campaign turns out to be a flop.

And Germany?

In Germany, we are already eagerly awaiting the official road approval of the handy E-Flitzer. It should finally happen by the middle of the month. Needless to say, there are no other means of transport that we could otherwise use. Not just e-scooter rental companies are champing at the bit. Even potential users can hardly wait to climb onto e-scooters.

And when that time comes? Are we going to witness the same phenomenon as in French cities? No consideration, no respect for other road users? In the meantime, it is no longer the right of the strongest which applies on the roads, but rather the right of the quickest. I don’t care how. The main priority is to get from A to B as fast as possible. Cyclists are already demonstrating how to do this. Not even red lights, traffic jams or pedestrians can stop them.

Desire and reality

Now e-scooter riders are on their way. How wonderful it would be if they could show how consideration and respect work in road traffic. Just slow down when the road is not clear. Don’t even squeeze by anywhere in a hurry. Handle rental vehicles with care. Well, that would be terrific – without any more rules and massive controls. Without social protests and restrictions.

This is difficult to imagine, however, in cities such as Munich. Here there are already enough difficulties with self-opinionated motorists and cyclists. Oh, yeah, don’t forget pedestrians. But as you know, hope dies last. Because sharing is actually a good thing.

More about Sharing:

Tomorrow is good: From ownership to access – and back again


Hydrogen trains as a sustainable alternative to diesel: in Hessen, this is more feasible than the construction of catenary systems


Cities all over the world are cautiously trying to keep the oldest diesel vehicles out. Germany is one of them. In cities like Stuttgart and Hamburg, there are already complete driving bans for older diesel cars in certain zones. Other cities such as Cologne, Frankfurt, Berlin and Essen are about to start with it. In Essen, the ban even applies to a motorway. The German railways, on the other hand, are still dependent on diesel locomotives to transport their trains from A to B. Germany still has the largest market for diesel trains in Europe. In view of the increase in diesel prices in the medium and long term and in order to achieve climate targets, a review is beginning to take place.

One solution to this problem is electrically powered locomotives, but this is difficult because about 40% of the German rail network is without overhead lines and electrification of the lines is expensive: about one million euros per kilometre. In addition, a significant proportion of the European rail network connected to it is not electrified. Batteries are excluded as a solution; after all, in order to achieve the required power and range, the batteries would have to be disproportionately large and could only have a very limited lifespan due to repeated and fast charging.

© Alstom

The French company Alstom has therefore developed a new emission-free and quiet regional train, the Coradia iLint. This train is powered by hydrogen fuel cells that emit only water into the environment. In addition, the new train’s noise level is far below that of conventional trains. The company initially developed the Coradia iLint especially for the German market and in 2014 signed a letter of intent with the Länder of Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Hessen and Baden-Württemberg. In 2015, a further agreement was concluded with the Calw region for the development of a fuel cell train.

Higher safety

Hydrogen technology has been researched for decades and has already proven itself in numerous applications. According to the German Association for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells (DWV), high-pressure containers containing hydrogen are even safer than petrol tanks in comparable hazardous situations. And if produced in a green, CO2-neutral way, it is completely environment-friendly.

The Coradia iLint was developed and built in Salzgitter and combines several innovative elements: clean energy conversion, flexible energy storage in batteries, intelligent management of motive power and available energy. Of course, there are also driver assistance systems and it has been specially developed for use on non-electrified routes.

The normal facilities have also been considered. The train is equipped with passenger information systems via real-time displays, offers 160 seats, space for bicycles and wheelchairs and has free Wi-Fi. The total passenger capacity is 300 persons. The maximum speed is about 140 km/h, the range in tests was about 1,000 kilometres.

The largest fuel cell train fleet in the world

© Alstom

Two hydrogen trains have been running in Lower Saxony since September 2018, and Hessen is now to place a large additional order. The fleet currently consists of 27 Cordia iLint trains operated by fahma, a subsidiary of Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund (RMV). The trains are expected to be delivered at the time of the 2022/2023 timetable change. The trains will be operated on four lines in the Taunus region that are still running on diesel trains. The Hessian Minister of Transport, Tarek Al-Wazir, showed himself euphoric about the climate-friendly innovations and assured the support for the project.

“Diesel vehicles are still on the rails of Hessen in many places today, because the catenary systems are missing. The fuel cell drive is a fast and effective alternative to electrification”, explains Al-Wazir. “In Hessen, transport is responsible for a third of greenhouse gas emissions. Steam instead of diesel soot is, therefore, an interesting approach. We will continue to actively support the project and do everything we can to ensure that the necessary adjustments to the railway infrastructure around the hydrogen filling station in Höchst are implemented quickly.”

The project costs 500 million euros. In addition to the delivery of the trains themselves, this includes the hydrogen, the maintenance of the trains and the provision of spare capacity for the next 25 years. The trains are refuelled at the Höchst Industrial Park, where a hydrogen filling station has already been in operation since 2006.

© Alstom

In addition to the order from Hessen, Alstom has also received a large order from the German Landesnahverkehrsgesellschaft Niedersachsen (LNVG), which has demanded 14 extra trains from 2021 onwards. The Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) now hopes that many more projects in Germany will follow this example.

Innovation Origins has written more often about mobility with hydrogen. Here is an overview.

“Handcrafted Goods are like a Rolls Royce Among Products”

Urban Change Lab

Urban Change Lab is a web platform that brings together artisans and creative people, who want to realize their ideas. The creator, Jochen Baumeister, is particularly interested in high-quality work, the appreciation of craftsmanship and fair payment. In an interview with Christiane Manow-Le Ruyet from InnovationOrigins, he explains how this works and why technology plays an important role.

What is Urban Change Lab About?

With us, customers can implement their creative ideas together with craftsmen. In this way, projects can be realized that they might otherwise never have tackled. So, they don’t go to the store and buy any product, but create their own, which is made according to their ideas.

Damentasche, gefertigt über Urban Change Lab
Handmade Lady Bag © Urban Change Lab

How does that Work Exactly?

If you have an idea, describe it on our portal, maybe add a photo or a sketch of how you imagine your product. Then we’ll see which craftsmen would be suitable to implement your idea. We make an enquiry and the one who has free capacity, works to a high standard of quality and is reliable wins the contract. The point is not to undercut the price. We want the craftsmen to be paid accordingly for their work. Transparency is particularly important to us here. This is why we disclose the calculation on our website, so that it is clear to all those involved, who earns how much and how the costs are made up.

Who Implements the Ideas of the Customers?

We work with craftsmen from Kenya, Ghana and Rwanda. They are experts in their fields, many still master old craftsmanship. Handicrafts are thus, so to say, like a Rolls Royce among products.

What Happens when the Order is Placed?

Customers and craftsmen can communicate with each other via our platform in order to discuss details for the implementation of the idea. To ensure that there are no language barriers, however, we have linked our platform with the DeepL translation platform. This means that the customer submits his request in German, the software translates it into English. The reverse works as well. The craftsman answers in English and the software translates to German.

Doesn’t Scatter Loss Happen, When the Software Translates Something Wrong?

Usually not, because the program can also handle not entirely perfect sentences and translate them correctly.

Jochen Baumeister von Urban Change Lab

Jochen Baumeister has founded Urban Change Lab in 2015 ©Urban Change Lab

How did you Come Up with the Idea to Develop Urban Change Lab?

I myself am often in Kenya for family reasons. I like to buy locally from craftsmen. I noticed that the products offered are similar. I wanted something individual and practical. When I asked for a sugar bowl, a craftsman offered to make it for me as a unique piece. It took three iterations until the product turned out, as I imagined it to be. When I was at home with my sugar bowl, I realized how much I appreciated it because of the history of its production. It occurred to me to implement this principle of production and the associated appreciation online. That’s how the idea for Urban Change Lab was born.

How Long Have You Been Active at the Market?

The idea was born in 2015, one year later we started. Since then we have implemented 100 projects. In addition, we also advise other companies on online services and digitization.

How Many Employees do you Currently Employ?

As a company, we have a very lean structure, we bootstrap, so we forego external capital. Our platform is designed in such a way that we have automated most of the processes. We try to find a technical answer to all questions and make the platform as easy to use as possible. This way, we don’t need a big organization. Instead, we work with partners on an independent basis on site or in Germany who act entrepreneurially and are responsible for areas such as local operations or social media. It is particularly important to us to create transparent work processes and to ensure that freedom and entrepreneurship go hand in hand, that all those involved receive fair remuneration and that they themselves build a stable company.

How does the Payment of the Ordered Products work?

As soon as an order is placed, the customer pays in advance. We manage the paid amount and pay it to the craftsman according to progress, e.g. 25% when the order is placed, so that the craftsman can buy the material and start production. In addition, he must give a time-estimate of how much resources are available to him. Because normally our trade partners work on several orders at the same time.

You spoke of Transparency. How is the Price Composed? And are the Manufactured Products very Expensive?

Let’s take the example of a cutlery tray for a drawer. Depending on the wood finish, you can expect a price of between 70 and 80 euros – for a handcrafted product made to your specifications. At Ikea you can get the cutlery tray cheaper, of course, but it is a mass-produced item that may not fit exactly into your drawer. Customers who are very price-sensitive may not find what they are looking for on our platform.  For others who value individuality, sustainability and craftsmanship, it is definitely the right choice.

How is the Price Calculated?

The price is made up of the work involved, material costs as well as ten percent customer acquisition costs, 10 percent handling, as well as the costs for delivery and VAT. On our website we publish the calculation of each individual project.

Geldbörse über Urban Change Lab gefertigt
Wallet produced by Urban Change Lab according to customer idea ©Urban Change Lab

What are the Difficulties Your Company is Facing?

The biggest challenge is the transport from Africa to Germany. After the quality control of the goods, they are handed over to a local agent, who organizes the transport to Germany. Since we do not yet ship large quantities, it is difficult to find a suitable logistician. The Sub-Saharan region in particular is poorly connected to the international logistics network. I find it shameful that in the 30 years that Europeans have been active there as development aid workers, they have not yet succeeded in establishing affordable logistics there. This is massively hindering the growth of online platforms in this region.

Your Trade Partners Must Also Feel This?

Yes, there are still too many barriers here for effective online trading and expansion into other countries. Here, too, we try to work transparently and sustainably by presenting our trade partners and their work on our website. It is important for us to communicate at eye level and to present our actions in an understandable and comprehensible way.

What will Happen with Urban Change Lab in the Future?

We will definitely try to improve the logistics successively. We are doing quite well, but there is still a lot to do. It is also important to become better known, so that many more people can implement their creative ideas and we can further intensify trade relations between Africa and the rest of the world.




Testing ultra-economical LED street lights

Munich is one of the cities which, as part of the EU project Smarter Together running from 2016 until 2021, has already installed some intelligent lamp posts, equipped with energy saving LED-lights. Research aiming to increase energy saving in street lighting on a long-term basis is running at full speed and scientists at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have now developed a new, even more economical LED street light.

The scientists have managed to reduce the current consumption by another 20 percent, by using a special arrangement of weaker LEDs, instead of conventional high-performance diodes. This not only reduces the CO2 emissions, but also saves municipalities millions on electricity costs. The first practical test of the new LEDs is already underway in the municipality of Maxdorf, in the Rhineland-Palatinate area, where the Pfalzwerke Netz AG has equipped street lamps with new light heads for the first time.

“We have succeeded in significantly increasing the efficiency factor and lifespan of the lamps compared to conventional LED lights”, says Michael Heidinger of the Lighting Technology Institute (LTI) at the KIT. From his pen stems a circuit that intercepts the aging and failure of individual light-emitting diodes. It would be complicated to switch a large number of LEDs in parallel, since the failure of a single diode would lead to a failure of the entire system or subarea, explains Heidinger. A problem that many may know from own experience. If one small lamp breaks among the fairy lights on the Christmas tree, the entire remaining lights on the chain go out as well.

To circumvent this problem, you could switch the LEDs in series. But this would also come with disadvantages, as higher voltages would be needed with an increasing number of diodes. So far, only 40 LEDs can be installed in a connected series, as the voltage categorized as non-life-threatening lies at 120 volts. Now it is possible to mount up to 48 light modules on one circuit board. Since Heidingers new switching concept allows to work with a voltage of 20 volts, where otherwise 120 volts would be necessary. This does not only save costs, but the lights are also safer to handle.

The old street lamps will soon fall into disuse © Khusen Rustamov/Pixabay


For all of the named reasons, especially the cost savings, numerous cities and municipalities are already in the process of switching from conventional power-guzzling street lamps to LED technology. According to the municipal utility companies, the street lighting of a middle-sized city with around 320,000 inhabitants, such as Karlsruhe, comprises of more than 55,000 lamps, of which about 35 percent are LEDs. The consumption of electricity in 2018 was about 10,800 megawatt hours. The annual electricity and maintenance costs lie at about three million euros. “With a complete conversion to the novel LEDs, financial savings of another 30 percent would be possible”, says Stefan Lang, who is responsible for technology and innovation at the Pfalzwerke.

In addition to the positive characteristics in relation to the energy consumption, the new lamps are also cheaper in acquisition, as low-power LEDs cost less than high-performance LEDs. This way, the production of the new system will be cheaper despite the higher number of lights.

Another advantage is that the lights are more pleasing to the eye, according to Klaus Müller, CEO of Gratz Luminance GmbH, who manufactures the new exterior lighting in Weinsberg, in the region of Baden-Württemberg. “Many small LEDs are perceived as surface-emitting-diodes from the distance. As a result, they are less glaring than high-performance LEDs, which are perceived as a point source of light”, he says. The transition to the new lamp technology is straightforward and thus inexpensive: “Our lamp head can easily be mounted onto existing lamp masts.”

In Maxdorf, the lights are currently being tested in a field test. Preparations for a series of production are already underway, as other municipalities have also expressed interest in the technology. “We hope to be able to offer the lights to selected pilot clients in the second half of 2019”, says Müller.


Erneuerbare Energien

More than 40 percent of the electricity consumed in Germany in 2018 was generated from renewable energy. Wind turbines accounted for the lion’s share, and solar energy also increased thanks to the super-summer. However, more than half of the electricity is still generated from fossil fuels. Countries such as Costa Rica are already far ahead of Germany and Great Britain (28 percent) in this respect.

The Central American country has expanded its renewable energy production enormously in recent years. The electricity for the ever increasing number of e-cars is also generated entirely from renewable sources. Meanwhile Costa Rica covers more than 99 percent of its entire electricity demand from renewable energy – and the sun plays only a small role. Most of the electricity (78 percent) comes from hydroelectric power, about ten percent each from wind and geothermal energy, solar and bioenergy have only a negligible share of just under one percent.

The German government has also set itself the target of producing 65 percent of its energy requirements from green electricity by 2030, and one way of achieving this could be via Power-to-X (PtX). In a PtX plant, electricity produced in abundance in particularly favourable wind or solar conditions is converted for other uses. This includes the transformation of electricity into heat (Power-to-Heat, PtH), gas (Power-to-Gas, PtG), chemical products (Power-to-Chemicals, PtC) or fuels (Power-to-Fuel, PtF).

In recent years, the Ministry of Economics, Innovation, Digitisation and Energy of North Rhine-Westphalia (MWIDE) has funded a project of the Virtual Institute “Electricity to Gas and Heat” in order to further explore the possibilities of the various technologies. In this virtual institute, seven research institutions from NRW (including Fraunhofer UMSICHT, Ruhr University Bochum RUB and Forschungszentrum Jülich) are working on behalf of the state government to further develop these flexibility measures, taking into account the energy market, grid stability and the constantly growing overall system. First results from the years 2015 to 2017 have now been published.

Power-to-X technology

With a focus on transport and industry, the researchers have considered the possibility of reducing greenhouse gases in long-term scenarios using different strategies of Power-to-X technology and have incorporated these results into an integrated electricity market and grid model.

Furthermore, site analyses for Power-to-X plants were carried out and the path analysis by Fraunhofer UMSICHT describes a “3-pillar model”, consisting of the direct use of electricity for energy-intensive processes, methods with which difficult to process resources can be tapped and so-called “Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) processes”. In these CCU processes, hydrogen is produced with the aid of electric current, which can be used to produce CO2-chemical raw materials and even fuels.

As part of the experiments, Forschungszentrum Jülich built and commissioned a plant to demonstrate power-to-gas technology. In addition to electrolysis and a demonstration of the PtG process based on chemical methane production, the scientists at Fraunhofer UMSICHT have also investigated a biological process for the production of methane from CO2 in a pilot plant specially developed for this purpose. This involved the use of bacteria that can process CO2 and hydrogen into methane under anaerobic conditions. As with chemical methanization, the hydrogen was provided by electrolysis. The results of the investigations showed that the material transport to the microorganisms is decisive for the implementation of the process and must still be improved for an industrial implementation.

Based on the research results, the consortium advised, among other things, to integrate PtX plants as part of the grid relief. “The merger of seven different research institutions from NRW has shown that cooperation on this basis can be very effective. The bundling of the different competences results in a clear added value for German energy research”, summarises Dr. Thomas Marzi, Head of the Idea Factory Department at Fraunhofer UMSICHT. In a planned follow-up project, Fraunhofer UMSICHT will further develop PtX technologies for the production of chemicals for the chemical industry.

Photos: Pixabay


Innovation Origins is expanding its activities to Poland and Austria

Redactie IO Innovation Origins

The headquarters is and will remain in Eindhoven, but Innovation Origins has now also managed to build a solid base outside that Dutch city-of-tech. The story of innovation is also sourced – and spread – in the rest of the Netherlands, in Germany, and since today also in Poland and Austria. In the coming months, the expansion to a complete European platform will continue.

Innovation Origins started in January 2015 with a clear mission: tell the inspiring story of innovation. By listening to the people and organisations who are working on finding solutions for the problems of today and tomorrow, we can show the world where the opportunities lie. Without being blind to the enormous task of our time, but always from the awareness that it can never come to a good end without the pioneers, innovators and entrepreneurs who dare to stick their necks out. People who dare to question the achievements of the past and take new paths with enormous energy are at the core of our focus. And because they themselves are far too busy with their own mission, we have made it our own to spread their stories. To inspire – and sometimes reassure – others. Not because the usual journalistic story (which often focuses on the things that are not going well) is wrong, but because a supplement to that is desperately needed.

Editorial Consultation Innovation OriginsEindhoven

Eindhoven was – and is – our logical basis. This city of pioneers, of innovators, of technicians and designers, forms the perfect foundation for our innovation mission. After almost four years of mining, the Eindhoven source is far from exhausted. On the contrary, every month it becomes richer and demanding more efforts on our part. Not only to please a proud local audience but far beyond that. We, therefore, decided early on in our development that it would be good to confront others with the Eindhoven story as well. Hence the decision to publish in English as well.

This had indeed made the local story of innovation accessible to a global audience, but that, of course, did not mean that the world was directly at our feet. Telling the story is one thing, spreading it smartly is another. There are roughly two solutions for the latter: money and credibility. Yes, money, because Google, Facebook and the likes are willing and capable show every article to anyone you want, as long as you pay. But for a startup like ours, that path was hardly feasible and that was the reason why we worked with great force to strengthen our credibility. First and foremost, of course, with reliable and relevant stories, but also by linking the Eindhoven base to that of other major innovation hubs.

Editorial Consultation Innovation OriginsMunich

We did this by ‘natural’ growth (gradually from Eindhoven to the rest of the Netherlands), but also by occasionally making a bigger leap. Munich was our first step: started on June 4, our local Munich editorial team has now brought several hundred innovative developments to the attention of a wide audience in German, English and Dutch. The direct side effect: the Eindhoven story also came to the attention of people in southern Germany. Credible, reliable and relevant, because it was integrated into the flow of ‘own’ Bavarian innovation stories.

Warsaw and Vienna

And now there is a cautious start in Warsaw and Vienna. Why exactly there? First of all, because in these places too, countless untold innovative developments await us, of course. Because the resulting stories can be nicely combined with those from the other innovation hubs where we are already located – and thus contribute to our central mission. But also because Poland and Austria fit in very well with a gradually and logically built structure of our organisation.

What’s next? We will continue along this path, will occasionally take a side step, but will remain focused on the one mission that we had in mind from the start: to provide inspiration by giving a platform to the people and organisations that are trying to solve the problems of our time.

Electric mobility in Germany – too little knowledge among consumers


Germans know too little about electromobility. This is the result of a recent study by the energy supplier Eon conducted in cooperation with Statista. It turned out that many Germans assume that electric cars do not get far enough with one tank charge, charging takes far too long and there are too few charging stations. Common prejudices, which often offer enough reason for discussion. But are they really true?

62 per cent would drive an electric car

According to the study, the willingness to drive an electric car is relatively high. 62 percent of German driving license holders would buy an electric car. It is precisely the 18 to 24-year-olds (79 percent) who could imagine driving electric cars. Among the 55 to 69-year-olds, only one in two would be willing to switch to electric driving. The main reason for electric mobility is primarily environmental awareness. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed said that reducing CO2 and particulate matter emissions played an important role for them.

On the other hand, 38 per cent of driving license holders surveyed would not switch to an electric car. In order to inspire them to do so, however, the purchase prices would have to fall (73 per cent), longer ranges would have to be achieved (71 per cent) and more charging stations would have to be available (65 per cent). Perhaps it is not surprising that the range (81 per cent) is one of the main arguments for diesel drivers.

Range greater than estimated

An electric car doesn’t even go 200 kilometres with one tank of fuel. This is estimated by about 50 per cent of the drivers surveyed for the study. However, current models have a realistic range of between 200 and 300 kilometres – 31 per cent of those surveyed know this. Nevertheless, this is not enough for most people. 40 per cent of the study participants emphasized that an electric car must travel at least 450 kilometres. Here, too, the age of the drivers plays a role: the older the respondents, the more frequently long ranges are a must. Just like for diesel drivers. Opponents of e-mobility demand the highest range. One third says that electric cars have to drive more than 500 kilometres with one tank of fuel. Interestingly, this group of respondents covers an average of fewer than 100 kilometres per day by car.

“The next generation of vehicles, such as the new Nissan Leaf, has ranges of around 400 kilometres so that even the few long-distance journeys of Germans are easily covered,” explains Andreas Pfeiffer, a specialist in electromobility and responsible for Eon Drive at Eon.

More charging stations than assumed

When asked about the distribution of charging stations, it becomes clear that the myth of too few is widespread. 70 per cent of motorists believe that only 3,000 charging stations are available nationwide. Another 20 per cent expect 6,000. In fact, he is more than 13,000, Pfeiffer adds. (Editor’s note: According to Federal Network Agency there are more than 5,600 public loading stations with an average of two loading spaces).

The situation is similar when Germans are asked about loading times. Half believe that an e-car hangs on the power cable for more than six hours. In fact, it takes four to six hours for the car to be charged. “At home or at work, where 80 per cent of all charging takes place, that’s no problem”, says Pfeiffer.

The survey participants estimate the fast charging time to be almost congruent with direct current (DC). 63 per cent believe it takes at least one hour for a full charge – but in fact, it takes 30 to 60 minutes. 37 per cent would be satisfied with these charging times, even if they had to cover longer distances. 42 per cent would be happy with charging times of 10 to 30 minutes. Exactly the charging time that the latest generation of ultrashort chargers needs for compatible vehicles.

E-Autos load faster than expected

The Germans also estimate the average charging times of electric cars to be significantly higher than they actually are. Half of the interviewees assume that the electricians hang on to the plug for more than six hours during normal charging with alternating current (AC). In fact, current vehicles are fully charged in four to six hours. “This is no problem at home or at work, where 80 per cent of all charging takes place,” says Pfeiffer. The fast charging times with direct current (DC) are estimated by 63 per cent of the survey participants at more than one hour. In fact, depending on the battery capacity, 30 to 60 minutes are sufficient for a full charge. For 37 per cent of respondents, this would also be an acceptable charging time for charging over longer distances while on the move. Another 42 per cent would be between 10 and 30 minutes.

“Wish and reality, therefore, meet in a few months at the latest. If you also realize that you don’t drive an e-car to refuel in the classic way as you would with a combustion engine, but load it when the vehicle is stationary anyway, nothing should stand in the way of purchasing an e-car. The only drawback is actually the high purchase price, which still overtaxes the purses of many potential users,” Pfeiffer explains.

It is logical that the high purchase price slows down the willingness to buy an e-car. This is also shown in the study. The lower the monthly basic income, the fewer people can imagine buying an electric car. Only just under half of the low-income earners would buy an electric car.

For the study, 2,004 drivers between the ages of 18 and 69 were interviewed. The survey took place in June 2018, nationally representative according to age, gender and region.

Got interested? At Expo REAL, October 8-10 in Munich, all-electric car sharing platform Amber will show what it’s like to drive electric, using shared cars.

Usono to extend operation to Poland and Germany


MDS Cardio will act as a local sales organization for Usono in Poland. The health tech company based at the High Tech Campus Eindhoven has also appointed a first ‘Usono Ambassador’: Professor Jaroslaw Kasprzak from Lodz.

Usono is also continuing its international expansion elsewhere. The first customer in Germany was recruited: the Catholic Krankenhaus Hagen. Usono is also working with Mermaid Medical on sales in 9 countries in Europe. The ProbeFix – one of Usono’s main products – was recently acquired by the University Hospital in Oslo, Ulleväl, and Mermaid is in discussion with hospitals in Spain, Sweden, and the UK. The ProbeFix is used in these countries to monitor the heart of patients hands-free while they are walking on a treadmill, something that is never done in the Netherlands.

Less stress
Usono now works intensively with various hospitals in the Netherlands that have purchased the product and apply it in practice or for study purposes. The reactions from Deventer, for example, are very positive. Together with the Catharina Hospital in Eindhoven, Deventer is conducting a study to demonstrate that RSI complaints in shoulder and arm are reduced because the ProbeFix holds the probe in place and therefore the doctor has their hand free.