All posts by Basil Rodts

The Differences for World Leaders

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.

-Basil Rodts

Berlin: A City of Opportunity

Learned from the past, focused on the present, planning the future

Staying consistent with the last few days, a steady drizzle once again persisted as students transferred from Hamburg to Berlin to round out the study abroad trip. Upon arriving in Berlin, they were amazed by the Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Students had visited many multimodal train stations over the course of the trip, but nothing like this in Berlin. Not only did the main train station have many forms of transportation integrated within it, but it had multiple levels for train lines as well. Many call this Hauptbahnhof “the greatest train station in Europe.”

Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof, one of the biggest and most impressive train stations in Europe. It features a multimodal transportation hub as well as multiple platform levels for long distance trains.
Sign located on a German long distance train that informs riders that this train runs on renewable energy.

Upon arrival at the hotel, students did some quick exploring. A unique feature of the Berlin Plus Hostel is its location. Just a block away is the location of the Berlin Wall separating East and West Berlin. Although the wall was torn down in 1989, part of the wall still stands a couple blocks away from the hotel. This wall is a tribute to the cold war and has been decorated by professional graffiti artists making various political statements.

The rest of afternoon was spent visiting Adlershof, one of Berlin’s biggest technology and research sites. Located in East Berlin, Adlershof employs roughly 17,000 workers in a 4.5 square kilometer campus. They employ the triple helix management structure which works to integrate education, research, and products/services. Here, large companies work with smaller start-ups to match innovation with the money to back it up. On-campus, they have main tech areas specializing in photovoltaics and renewable energy to IT and media. Each of these tech centers has their own specialized hub which is customized for specific needs. Generally, all the hubs receive high speed communication systems as well as high-tech equipment which include things such as labs and workshops. Adlershof provides resources and equipment to start-ups and students that normally they would not be able to use affordably.

Frank explains how Adlershof has expanded over the years and the location of specific tech hubs on the campus.

The campus is not all sunshine and rainbows however; they do face some challenges when it comes to its workforce. The campus is located forty-five minutes away from Berlin’s city center. As a result, the young workforce they rely on for breakthrough ideas has to commute this distance every workday. A possible solution is to create housing very close to the research park which would significantly reduce commute time. With this solution however comes a few requirements. For employee satisfaction and the general “want” to live there, the local area must have the right infrastructure. This includes necessities such as good schools for their children, recreational facilities, and everyday stores needed for a high quality of life. These are all improvements that Adlershof is working on for the good of the employees in the park.

This is an example of some the housing in the vicinity of Adlershof. This location significantly cuts down commute time for employees compared to many who live in downtown Berlin.

Adlershof is a bright point in East Germany, competing for national and international business. They provide start-ups a brand name to build off of and promote their product. To stimulate this innovation, they provide an open space with no fences and many common areas for easy, casual interactions among different companies. This is a company that is continuing to expand and contribute to global innovation.

-Basil Rodts

Priva: Specialized Agricultural Technology

Applying the German Mittlestand-like approach in the Netherlands

After a long stretch of company visits and sightseeing tours across the Netherlands, students finished the week traveling to De Lier to visit the agricultural tech company Priva. To get to the the company’s headquarters, students ventured through the countryside from The Hague over the course of two hours. Along the way, students observed many of the construction projects occurring in the city. The city has shifted their focus away from constructing new urban areas. Instead, an effort to develop and revitalize current urban areas have taken place and led to construction projects not located on the outskirts of the city. These projects will increase the quality of life in these areas and offer a more attractive location closer to the city center and the main train stations.

In this photo, construction projects take place just outside of the Hague. The city is moving away from creating/developing new urban areas and instead to revitalizing current urban areas.

Arriving to De Lier in the early afternoon, students received a short reprieve to eat a snack before continuing on with the program at Priva’s headquarters. Here, students were met by Dr. Jan Westra who takes the role as a Strategic Business Developer for the company. He explains that Priva was started in 1959 as a family owned agricultural tech company. Even though Priva is small compared to many other businesses, they are still a competitive global company whose core industrial objective is to produce software and hardware to successfully implement greenhouses around the world.

Priva Headquarters, a global company that provides software and hardware to greenhouse farms. The second picture is an overview of their spacious lobby area which includes a refreshment stand as well as a comfortable lounge area.

The company currently employs 320 workers within the Netherlands as well as 130 additional employees abroad. They have headquarters located in most continents including three in North America. A viable comparison to Priva is the German Mittlestand concept. This is a company who has stayed relatively small and has maintained their family-oriented values. They constantly employ interns internationally for research as well as for job specific development leading to future employment. As a result, 80% of Priva employees have received a University education and the company is top 30 for research and development spending in the Netherlands. Additionally, they have also found their own special niche within the agriculture industry becoming one of the top specialist for greenhouse technology.

Priva is active on two markets: Horticulture and Building Management Systems. On the horticulture side, many developments are made in-house by designing and building their own greenhouse systems. They make their systems SMART by integrating things such as heat, carbon dioxide and electricity together. They then continue on with their Building Management Systems. With the technology systems they have already perfected, they take on many projects across the world implementing their systems into existing greenhouses. An example of this implementation is through the UrbanFarmers company located in The Hague that we visited a week earlier. Priva constructed the intricate aquaponics system that UrbanFarmers relies on to yield fresh produce as well as home-grown tilapia to sell to local restaurants.

Not only does Priva help create SMART systems for other companies that are environmentally friendly, but their own headquarters building also takes into account this mindset as well. In De Lier, the Priva headquarter complex sports sustainability through thermal energy storage, moss covered roofs, heat pumps, and clean electricity from Norway. Additionally, they are looking into the BlueRise project which harnesses ocean thermal energy through the difference in temperature in between deep cold water and shallow warm water. As a company, they continue to push for environmentally friendly methods to gather and save energy.

We concluded our trip with a visit to the history room which detailed the background of the company and how it was started in the 1950s. We then moved on to the showroom which is used primarily for displaying new products to potential clients. Finally, we ended in the quality control center where we were able to see the hands on approach the company took to inspect their technological products.

Overall, the students were impressed by the unique niche and Mittlestand-like approach Priva takes, one that focuses on their products and not necessarily just profit for shareholders. As a result, Priva looks set for a long and prosperous future in the agriculture business.

The Hague University sports complex. The building seen is not one big futbol field but instead many different athletic spaces for exercise.
Old-fashioned windmill located in Loosduinen. Majestically standing erect against a stormy backdrop.
Location of Parkpop. Occurred last Sunday. Big music festival with some of the top European bands/artists.
Kerosene heat generator that originally was used in Florida to keep crops from freezing at night. Later, it was found that this releases CO2 which is a key component in growing crops in a greenhouse setting.

-Basil Rodts