How countries are spurring innovation and how America could as well.
Both Germany and the Netherlands are world leaders in innovation. Why is this? Instead of always looking for better ways to improve solutions we already have, they think outside the box. They re-invent the problem and a new, unique solution is found. What are the catalysts that help prompt this change? One of their keys to success is re-inventing the work place. Traditionally, workplaces have been centered around individual companies working alone to promote their business and expand their trade. This mindset promotes a monoculture of ideas within a company. While this system did work to an extent, it also stemmed the creation original ideas. As a result many companies, such as Kodak, who were originally industry leaders fell away as they lacked the innovation to compete with technological advances. In Germany and the Netherlands, the idea of an innovation cluster or hub has been used to counter the traditional workplace and provide a new medium for advancement in industry.
Innovation clusters are prevalent throughout Europe. Various hubs are located in Eindhoven, The Hague, Amsterdam, and Freiburg. Many of these clusters use a bottom up approach in which smaller companies take the initiative and provide the key advancements in industry. Such companies collaborate in a high density, easy to interact way. The repurposed Philips industrial area in Eindhoven is the perfect example. Formally an industrial campus for just one company, Philips, this area thrived when first created. Over time, Philips had to change their business strategy or risk going out of business and as a result this industrialized park was not used anymore. Since then, the campus has been repurposed to fit this high density collaboration hub. Physical makerspaces are combined with software makerspaces. A law firm was created to work in conjunction with the local companies. Community colleges providing education are available on site and feed directly into many start-ups. Other amenities are added such as food courts and shopping stores to round out the area. Areas like these as well as the plethora of green spaces promote for contemplation and employee satisfaction. Consequently, companies such as Amazon have recognized the importance of these areas and have sent projects such as their Kindle product department to Eindhoven.
Can these specialized hubs be utilized in the United States? Absolutely. The Research Triangle Park, or RTP, is an excellent candidate for a renovation geared toward an innovation hub. Created in 1959, RTP was envisioned as a spread out research campus geared toward automobile transformation. And for a while it worked. Now, two changes in RTP would spark more innovation: updated transportation and high-density collaborative hubs.
The RTP campus depends on cars for transportation. For a 21st century innovation center, this is outdated. Within the park itself, public transportation needs to be deployed.
This transportation would mirror HTM’s “first and last mile” philosophy where employees would be picked up at a SMART traffic managed parking lot and then delivered near their work location. This will promote cars to stay outside of the research triangle park allowing for more green space. Additionally, this will provide a more time efficient way of transporting employees to their company as they do not have sluggishly inch forward in the campus itself. For on- campus transportation, trams and smaller trains would be utilized. The system would have a new train arrive every five minutes in peak hours and drop to fifteen minutes in non-peak times. Additional analysis and rider trends gathered in the first few years of implementation will allow the transportation company to refine these times as well as consider additional services to save money and improve rider satisfaction.
Another transportation improvement that would significantly help with traffic issues and make RTP a smarter campus would be the implementation of an electric car sharing service that utilizes self-driving cars. While this technology is not available yet, it will be soon. These cars would complement the public transportation and continue the “first and last mile” mindset. Parking need on campus would be greatly reduced and more structured traffic patterns could be established with automated cars. Additionally, the opportunity to power the electric cars with renewable sources of energy would push for RTP to be eventually emission neutral. Positives all-around.
This transportation system fits perfectly with implementing a high density collaborative hub. This hub would consist of big, open spaces full of natural light and easy for casual, quick collaborating. Researchers across a wide range of scientific and technical fields would be in close proximity promoting a cooperative relationship accelerating technological breakthroughs. Even though these companies are physically close to each other, the high density hub will only be a facilitator. It will provide resources and a support structure for participating companies but the actual running of the business will be up to each individual company/start-up. This still allows each company to be unique.
The Research Triangle Park has had success so far in North Carolina but to be a real game changer, they must adjust with the times and follow models that have shown success in Europe.