Smart Innovation Hubs

A look into innovation hubs in Germany and the Netherlands

One thing I have found fascinating about smart cities throughout our trip is the idea of investing in innovation and knowledge. Examples of this were seen throughout the Netherlands and in Berlin. The ability to attract talent and start up companies came from cheap rent that provided space to work and potential to collaborate for all parties. Any ideas developed in these spaces for innovation could be tested in a few areas in the city in things known as living labs. Strijp-S in Eindhoven and Adlershof in Berlin both had some projects that were being tested in the area to see how useful any technology or project was and how it could be improved. Setting up hubs for innovation has many positive effects for the city. First of all, when people working on different projects have space to work around each other, it is more likely for them to share ideas, get feedback, and discuss solutions with others working in the same building. This can lead to solutions that could never be reached without collaboration. More innovation hubs can also give a city an upper hand for government funding since it is likely that local and global solutions for problems are most likely going to come from cities focused on innovation. Innovation hubs don’t need to be super complicated either, the main perk of these hubs would be cheap rent and open floor plans. This would attract start up companies that aren’t far enough along in the business process to start making money. When companies aren’t concerned with trying to make money to pay rent it is more likely that their work will be a higher quality. In Berlin we saw it as a common theme to provide cheap rent for startups and then when they get their feet off the ground they can move into larger office spaces on the same campus with a higher rent. The most effective innovation hubs had an open floor plan that gave the room a transparent and collaborative feeling. We saw this in Eindhoven’s microlab. The first floor was used for physical workspaces such as carpentry, art and design. Workshops could be rented on a weekly or monthly basis. Above this, many different kinds of companies ranging from startups to corporations had offices with glass windows and glass walls. This gave the space a collaborative creative feeling. On a larger scale, the business park at Adlershof combined many different businesses on a small campus. It even collaborated with a local university to allow students to contribute ideas and gain practical experience. The clean tech campus in Berlin also had a similar setup. There were different sections of the campus designated to startups, the more established businesses, then solid functioning businesses. The goal of the design was to provide space for a company to start up and develop all on one campus while maintaining loyalty to the area. I see this as huge plus for the local community. Many companies that develop on these campuses recognize they received a lot of aid from the beginning and will stay in the area. This can bring income, jobs, and inspiration to the community. Similar to Silicon Valley, once people see success in an area they want to develop there as well, gaining help and feedback along the way. We noticed a significant local impact of innovation systems when we visited A Smart Amsterdam. The organization of Hackathons provided the best solutions to local problems for the best price. Amsterdam used the lean startup approach for businesses and applied it to the city by allowing engineers, business people, policy makers, and tech gurus to come together and figure out a solution to a problem such as waste disposal. The solutions could then be tested in the area and altered to fit a more desirable outcome. This is similar to living lab techniques for city problems. This is why I believe innovation hubs like the ones seen in Germany and the Netherlands could be very beneficial to the RTP. Surrounded by NC State, Duke, Chapel Hill and various technical schools this area has a rich workforce. As startup hubs begin to emerge from the triangle area more students and locals are provided opportunities to develop ideas that can benefit the local community, region, country, and world. One very effective technique for solving problems on campus at UNC could be to implement a similar hackathon method that Amsterdam used. Allowing students a chance to solely dedicate themselves to problems seen at UNC could bring forth some very effective ideas.

Office space for the startup section of the cleantech business park in Berlin. An open floor plan and greenery offer people positive, innovative environments for work.
A view of the open floor plan from the MicroLab innovation system in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Transparent walls and collaboration are key elements of the MicroLab.

-Charlie Garnett