All posts by Emilee Armstrong

Applying Dutch Innovation Systems to the U.S.

Merging ideas from Dutch innovation groups to create a better Research Triangle Park

While in the Netherlands, we had the opportunity to visit several innovation groups, including the Amsterdam Smart City and Strijp-S groups. Both are platforms that spur innovation by bringing numerous start-ups and established companies together, giving them the opportunity to collaborate. Observing the similarities and differences between the two innovation hubs can aid in drawing conclusions of how Research Triangle Park (RTP) could be structured in the future to become an innovation capital.

The creative outside of Amsterdam Smart City, the platform where businesses have the opportunity to work together on smart city ideas.

Amsterdam Smart City (ASC) is a platform at which companies that are working on making Amsterdam into a smart city can meet. A smart city is a city that integrates and connects technology and data from around the city to increase the quality of life of its inhabitants. Each company that is housed in ASC has a moon goal. ASC values the quote “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you will land among the stars”; they believe that every company should have a major goal that they are shooting for. The government and other companies all have to agree that the company’s moon goal is achievable and useful for the city before that company can pursue the goal. Involving the city government in the goal is important for making sure the company does not create a technology that is not marketable or helpful to increasing quality of life.

Presentation by an Amsterdam Smart City representative. On this slide, the various companies that work on with the platform are shown.

Following the presentation about Amsterdam Smart City, Tom Van Arman presented to us about hackathons. Hackathons have a lot of potential for solving major problems the city faces. During a hackathon, a problem is brought forward, and people from the city form groups to brainstorm solutions. The hackathons only last for a day or two. When people are under a time constraint to come up with a solution, they generate a lot of ideas that may not have come up otherwise. At the end of the hackathon, the group with the best idea is given funding to work on their project. Hackathons are therefore great events for generating new ideas and putting those ideas into practice.

Strijp-S was a cluster of companies we visited while in Eindhoven, a town in the southeast portion of the Netherlands. Many of the companies housed within Strijp-S focused on reinventing Eindhoven. According to our professor, Eindhoven was not always the neat town that saw while visiting: it had undergone a lot of changes. Several of the Strijp-S companies were focused on adding sensors, greenspace, and residential communities to the city. The sensors could monitor crowds and could change the light color, which could help to control how loud people are. Eindhoven’s city government funded many of the projects, demonstrating that it is important to have the government involved in the planning of the city.

“This is the age of makers” is an encouraging sign hung outside the workspaces of the businesses in Strijpe-S. It demonstrates the company’s dedication to and promotion of innovation.

There are several aspects of Strijp-S that made it a strong innovation environment. For one, established companies and start-ups are housed in the same building, which enables start-ups to get advice from the established companies and established companies to receive new ideas and motivation from the start-ups. As we toured the building, we were greeted by open space and lounge areas with drinks and game tables. Our guide explained that the lounge areas were good informal places for businesses to mingle and bounce ideas off each other. In the past, several companies had met in these lounges and brainstormed ways for their companies to develop a product together. Nearby cafes and markets also provide the opportunity for the different companies to meet up. Discussing ideas with other companies is a great way to spur innovation.

Coffee space in Strijpe-S. This series of tables and drinks provides an open space for employees to meet and bounce ideas off each other.

Strijp-S and ASC have several similar qualities. The government provides some funds for both of the clusters, but for ASC the government gives input into what is being developed for the city. This is an important aspect because it ensures that the cluster is working to improve the quality of life of the city’s inhabitants. Both clusters also bring different companies together, which helps the companies to share advice and skills. While ASC brings companies together by requiring that they approve each other’s moon goals, Strijp-S houses start-ups and established companies and provides common meeting areas. Even though the clusters differ in how they bring companies together, their methods touch on two important aspects of innovation: regulation and informality. Requiring that companies approve of each other’s ideas increases the likelihood that the idea will be successful while informal spaces help to bring businesses together naturally.

A meeting place in Strijpe-S, located right outside the start-up company workspace. These tables are likely used for companies to chat over lunch.

In addition to governmental aid and bringing companies together, the clusters also value the triple helix model. In fact, this model was popular for many of the businesses visited throughout the Netherlands. The triple helix model is a model that combines industry, the government, and institutions to bring about the best innovation possible. In this model, the government provides funding for projects and ensures that projects are in the best interest for the city. Universities and businesses often work together on projects, and it is not uncommon for students to intern with the companies. This triple helix model is important for innovation because it allows for city input, builds students into future innovators, utilizes all available research space, and brings the experience of businesses together with the fresh ideas of students.

A meeting place in Strijpe-S, located right outside the start-up company workspace. These tables are likely used for companies to chat over lunch.

One final similarity between the ASC and Strijpe-S is their emphasis on start-up companies. In Strijp-S start-ups help to provide new ideas and are placed with the established companies. In ASC, start-ups are generated from hackathons. Once again, the two companies illustrate several important innovation concepts: the merging of start-ups with established companies and events to spur new ideas and start-ups. Merging start-ups and established companies helps to combine expertise with fresh ideas while innovative events like hackathons help to brainstorm new companies for major problems.

Workshop space in Amsterdam Smart City, which is used by the business to come up with new smart city technologies and solutions.

In order to create a successful innovation hub in RTP, the factors seen in the Netherlands should be synthesized and applied. First, let’s consider the structure of RTP. The park was originally constructed in the 1950’s and is therefore ready to be constructed into a new innovating machine. Start-ups and established companies should be housed near each other. This housing could be within the same building or on a campus. If the companies are housed within the same building, this building should have common meeting ground for the businesses. If the companies are housed on the same campus, coffee shops and restaurants should be scattered throughout the campus. These would provide informal meeting places. Many business leaders stress the importance of chatting over coffee or in lounges: this is where new product ideas are developed best! The fresh ideas of start-ups and the expertise of established companies are two important ingredients for successful innovation.

Game and lounge space in Strijpe-S. This informal meeting space is located near the working places of all of the businesses, which provides an easy place for employees to take a break and mingle with other businesses.

The government of Raleigh should not be separated from the innovation in RTP: both ASC and Strijpe-S have proven that the government plays an integral role in innovation. Funding from the government is important to promote innovation, as new products and companies are expensive to create. The government should go a step further than merely providing funding to RTP, though; similarly to Amsterdam the Raleigh government should have a say in the products that are being created. This could take the form of having a monthly meeting between a governmental official and an RTP representative. The government should be able to veto some products in order to ensure that the products will be helpful for the city.

As discussed earlier, the third aspect of the triple helix model is the university. Universities provide important new ideas and research/project opportunities for businesses. There are three major universities in the research triangle region- UNC, NC State, and Duke- and these universities have the potential to make a tremendous impact on innovation in RTP. However, there is not a lot of collaboration between these universities and RTP companies, especially when it comes to research. This is a key factor that must be changed for innovation to be successful. Specifically, programs could be created at the universities that connect students with companies. Students could intern at RTP companies, and companies could share some of their knowledge with students. Projects between companies and students are also essential to innovation because they utilize the university’s resources, generate useful products for society, and teach students how to innovate and how to think about innovation.

One final aspect to consider in the process of creating an innovation capital in Raleigh is hackathons. In Amsterdam, hackathons have tremendous success in bringing people together to think about problems. Hackathons could be hosted by RTP to bring forward new ideas and to generate new start-up companies. In addition to the citizens of Raleigh, students, professors, and governmental officials could take part in the hackathons. This would aid in strengthening the triple helix model and bringing in fresh ideas. RTP has all of the ingredients of an innovation capital: start-ups, established companies, universities, and the government. However, these pieces have not yet been merged. The creation of the triple helix model in RTP is essential for the future of innovation there. Moreover, start-ups and established companies must have space to mingle, allowing new ideas to flourish. Following the examples set by ASC and Strijpe-S, RTP can become an innovation capital in the U.S.

-Emilee Armstrong

G20 Protests and City Tour of Hamburg

G20 protest remnants and the various neighborhoods and sites of Hamburg

Upon meeting up with our tour guide, Rolph, we learned a bit about the G20 protests that had taken place over the past couple days. One of the first things he told us was that while the city might appear to be a normal city, Hamburg is in a state of tension beneath the surface. The people of Hamburg are still trying to process what had happened at the G20 protests on Friday and Saturday. During the protests, roads were barricaded for 8 hours to prevent police and firefighters from entering. Numerous stores had broken windows. Several cars were set on fire. Distrust between the government and the people penetrated throughout the city. When we first arrived in Hamburg on Sunday, evidence of the protests could be seen everywhere: graffiti statements, stickers, posters, signs in store windows, and even sidewalk chalk exclaimed resistance against the G20 event. However, among all of the protest efforts was evidence of the care people had for the city. Hundreds of volunteers were working to clean glass from the streets and graffiti from building walls. A street performer played the drums on one of the most popular streets of the region, bringing the citizens together to enjoy music.

The G20 “Welcome to Hell” movement was one of the most violent protests during the conference. Here, a sign shows the logo of the protest and explains the demonstration details.

A collection of feminist signs hung along one of the walls near the train station. They encouraged people to reach out to G20 leaders to address the inequality in education women receive.

One the first places we stopped at on our Monday tour was a meeting point for many of the protests. Outside the building hung the sign “Capitalism will end anyway. You decide when!” This was one of 3-5 buildings throughout Hamburg where people can meet to discuss alternatives to capitalism. The plaza surrounding the building was a place where people were looking to change the world. It is also a common gathering place for students.

“Capitalism will end anyway. You decide when!” was a poster hung outside one of the main meeting points of the G20 protests. This building also houses discussions about alternatives to capitalism.

We then walked through a region of town known as the Slaughterhouse region. True to its name, meat packaging had once taken place here. In the 80s and 90s the city had bought this region before it was supposed to be torn down. The city leaders hoped to improve the area, but they also wanted to keep a balance of housing prices. Gentrification, or the movement of a middle class into a newly developed region, was a concern for the leaders. Rolph explained that the city tried to keep affordable flats open to people and that problems arose when this housing was no longer considered affordable. As we walked, we saw a leftist neighborhood: a sign stating “FCK G20. Make capitalism history – another world is possible!” hung outside the neighborhood gates. Nearby, sidewalk chalk exclaimed “No cops, no border, no action”. Continuing through the city, more protest signs, political graffiti, and broken store signs showed evidence of the protests that had taken place.

This banner hung outside a leftist neighborhood that we toured in the morning, promoting the end of capitalism.

Before leaving the Hamburg region immediate to our hotel, we discussed a World War 2 bunker that could be seen nearby. During the war, cannons lined the top of the bunker. After the war, people wanted the bunker destroyed; however, it would have been too expensive for the city to destroy. Currently, an investor is buying the bunker and is hoping to build a rooftop garden. This is a common theme for the bunkers in Hamburg: the city or private investors are looking into making bunkers into a more useful structure for the city.

We then hopped on a tram to the harbor region of Hamburg. Here we discussed how the city had raised the harbor sides by 1.5m to protect against global climate change. Nearby, a prototype for a house floated on the water. The home was a two story house, and it was said that it was too dangerous for the canals of the city. This specific home was around 300-500 thousand euros. These floating houses are being explored for an option to cope with global climate change and rising sea levels. While the prototype that we saw would not work for canals, there are many floating homes that are on the canals of the city. There are only 1000 spaces left for canal floating homes, and it is predicted that these will fill up within the next decade.

Pictured here is a double story prototype for a floating house. While this particular model of the floating house cannot be placed on the canals due to height restraint, many other floating homes are on the canals. These homes are being explored as a response to global climate change.

We then visited the Elbphilharmonie building. This building- with its one of a kind wavy roof that appeared to match the waves of the harbor- was a popular attraction in the city. A symphony hall was perched on top of the building, and an incredible view of the harbor and the city accompanied a walkway around the building. The Elbphilharmonie is considered a signature building of the city. It is a place where the imagability of the city comes into play: the building provides a site that is memorable to Hamburg. While the Elbphilharmonie was originally estimated to cost 70 million euro and take 5 years to construct, it ended up costing the city 700 million euro and took 12 years to build. This brings in the question of what a signature building in the city is worth.

The Elbphilharmonie building in Hamburg is considered to be a signature building in Hamburg due to its unique design. Visitors can view the harbor and the city from the walkway around the building.

We then trekked through the rain to our next location: the Unilever building. This glass building with unique ceiling designs and plenty of open space is a public space that strives to bring people together on the outskirts of the city center. From the bottom floor, several stores could be seen, such as a market, a Dove store, and a cooking site. People meandered and chatted freely with one another.

Pictured here is the Unilever building: a public place where people can gather to shop, chat, and hang out. The goal of this space is to move people out of the center of the city.

Our final stop before lunch was a site from which companies, community housing, and a school could be viewed. The city had originally not planned for having a playground with the school. In order to conserve space and provide a play area for the children, a garden was constructed on the roof of the school. This is an excellent example of how cities can maximize their space. The garden could also provide an opportunity to help reduce the overall heating of the city that occurs because of the common black rooftops. The community housing nearby provides families with easy access to the school and to the nearby businesses. Overall, the combination of the companies, the school, and community housing exemplifies how cities can be planned out to provide people with easy access to everyday events.

A school (left), a company (center), and community housing (right) are pictured here, demonstrating the mixing of the three into the city. On top of the school is a garden and playground, which was strategical planning for the city: the city did not originally plan for a playground for the school.

-Emilee Armstrong

Fraunhofer Technologies and Goals

Renewable technologies of Fraunhofer ISE and future goals for Germany as a whole

After experiencing a typical lunch environment for the Fraunhofer employees – which involves outdoor seating, delicious cuisine, and socialization time – we had the opportunity to see some of institute’s technological inventions. When it comes to technology, Fraunhofer’s focus is on expanding electricity to all aspects of life, maximizing energy efficiency, improving devices, minimizing the cost of devices, and developing new devices to expand renewables. Employees explained fuel cells, batteries for cars, induction car chargers, and different types of devices that converted light and infrared to energy. One example of how the company improved their devices was apparent in their solar panels: a change in panel material and circuitry made it possible for solar panels to convert light to electricity within 45 seconds rather than the original conversion rate of 12 minutes! As we walked through the displayed technology, several of the company’s labs were visible, and we had the opportunity to see the general work environment at Fraunhofer. Additionally, after the indoor tour we saw both an electric and hydrogen car and their fueling stations.

This is a picture of the outdoor terrace where employees eat lunch. In this picture you can see employees socializing and enjoying the outdoor setting.
Here the outside of Fraunhofer ISE is pictured. This is the building where laboratories are located.Here the outside of Fraunhofer ISE is pictured. This is the building where laboratories are located.

In the future, electric cars are expected to take the place of fuel powered cars, and for that reason I would like to write a bit about the car technology from the company. The induction car technology and electric cars have the potential to have multiple uses. First, let me explain a bit about the chargers: induction car chargers are spiral-shaped metal devices that are placed in parking spots and used to charge electric cars. During the day, the electric car is charged. When the car returns back to the owner’s home, the energy left in the car can be used to power the owner’s home, and for that reason the car serves multiple purposes. Outside the lab, we examined an employee’s electric car. The institute has a charging station, so it was possible for the employee to charge their car during the day. The specific electric car could travel up to 200 km in the summer and 100 km in the winter: the distance the car could travel depended heavily on the outdoor temperature. The employee’s car was actually an older version of electric cars, and the newer cars can travel up to 400 km in the summer and 200 km in the winter.

Pictured here is an employee’s electric car. At Fraunhofer ISE, there is an electric car charging station. This specific car can travel 200 km during the summer and 100 km during the winter on a full tank of gas.
Pictured here is a hydrogen filling station located near Fraunhofer. Similar to the electric car pump, this station is easily accessible for Fraunhofer employees.

After learning about Fraunhofer’s technologies, we heard a bit about the institute’s vision for the future of Germany. Germany’s Energiewende project aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. As of last year, the world reached a 1.5°C increase in temperature, and over the course of the past 20-25 years sea levels have risen by about 10 cm. These changes can be viewed as national security threats; rising sea levels cause the relocation of coastal communities and global climate change leads to weather uncertainty which in turn can destroy crops. With these global changes in mind, Fraunhofer generated graphs and goals for Germany. One graph demonstrated that if Germany continues on its current track of implementing renewable energy sources it will only reduce carbon emissions by 60%, rather than its goal of 80%. To address this issue, Fraunhofer created an hour by hour simulation of Germany’s energy usage from 2014-2050 and considered how older infrastructure could be replaced to increase energy and heat efficiency. A chart that demonstrated how much energy was needed from certain renewable energy sources from now until 2050 was also created. Based on the chart, most of Germany’s energy in the future will come from onshore wind and solar energy. Fraunhofer also generated a graph that showed the optimum combination between wind a solar energy. Currently, Germany is slightly off of the optimal path; there will need to be an increase in solar energy to meet the ideal path. Overall, the graphs and ideas generated by Fraunhofer are important for the country as a whole. With a goal that is so far in the future – such as the 2050 goal of reducing emissions – it is easy to forget that the effort put into each year is important, and the graphs help to give Germany yearly goals in addition to its overall goals.

This is a hydrogen car at Fraunhofer ISE. The sign behind the car labeled hydrogen as the energy of the future, which represented the idea that hydrogen will be a prominent energy source in the future.

The major steps that Germany is taking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions demonstrate the importance of working to reduce global climate change. At the end of the presentation, a few of us chatted about how Germany cannot be the only country in the world to make changes to reduce emissions. In the grand scheme of things, Germany is a relatively small country, and it will be important for other countries around the world to join their effort to prevent global climate change.

-Emilee Armstrong