All posts by wonorato

Shared Innovation Work Spaces

Shared working places create synergistic relationships and foster innovation.

Innovation is an important aspect of the conception of smart cities. As populations rise and urban density continues to increase, cities are facing new complications, in regard to transportation, connectivity, and even housing. Innovation plays a significant role in finding ways to solve these nuanced problems, as well as in continuing to develop progressive products. One vital method that smart cities, in particular Eindhoven and Berlin, have used to foster innovation is providing shared workplace ecosystems for adolescent start-ups, and giving them access to equipment and working space.

This is the common room in the Microlab shared work space building. Surrounding the common room, many small companies rent their own work space. While workers eat lunch or share a drink together, they exchange ideas and build synergistic relationships.

On July 6th, students visited a building purchased by two brothers in Eindhoven, Netherlands. The brothers restored this older building to create workspace for entrepreneurs to pursue a newborn idea. They named their facility the Microlab, the place for makers, creators, and innovators. On the ground floor of this high rise building, is a work shop, equipped with tools, machines, and any sort of equipment that the startups might utilize. Above the workshop a few floors up in the Microlab building, is traditional office space, where many different small entrepreneurs call home. New businesses can rent the mode of space that is most appropriately suited to their needs. Microlab offers different rates depending on the customer’s request. For instance, one could just rent a desk for 175 euros a month or access to the downstairs workbench for the same price. The companies are also able to rent out resources as they need them, such as conference rooms or presentation rooms. The idea of shared work space is to bring different companies together to construct a synergetic relationship. On every floor, Microlab provides a common room with tables, and a bar where workers could discuss a new idea over a beer or cup of tea. Regardless of the size of the space the customer rents, they always have access to this shared area, which is one of the reasons Microlab is so successful in promoting startups. However, in most cases, due to the low cost of rent rental contracts for these startups are are limited to 5 years.

CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin offered shared working space for small startups in the adolescent stage of development. With cheap rent and many available amenities, this area was ideal for new tech companies attempting to enter the clean technological sector.

On July 13th, in the startup capital of Europe, students toured a similar location called CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin. Focusing mainly on clean energy and technologies, this area provided the ideal infrastructure for young companies entering the field. One advantage of this shared ecosystem space is its close proximity to the CleanTech Business Park, which is roughly 90 hectares of industrial area where clean tech companies can prosper. This area is typically where the more successful startups transfer after their contract with the shard spaces is finished. CleanTech Innovation Center also works hand in hand with many political, financial, scientific and economic communities. This is valuable for smaller companies aiming to expand their network. Lastly, CleanTech Innovation Center even provides small spaces within the shared space for computer programmers or other workers who’ve lost track of time to catch up on sleep late at night. CleanTech Innovation Center and similar places, catalyze the growth of small scale industry in Berlin, allowing the city to truly become the startup capital of Europe.

This sleeping area was provided in the CleanTech Innovation Center in Berlin. An ideal location for computer programmers, or workers alike, to catch a quick few hours of sleep when they lose track of the time.

To transform the RTP area into a smarter city, similar shared working ecosystems could be useful in making the area technologically progressive. At the current moment, the only promoter/incubator in the region is the American Underground, which has three locations in Durham, and one in Raleigh. With similar amenities as the facilities students have seen in Europe during our tour, the American Underground is perfect for entrepreneurs working in the technological sector.

With the shared innovative workspaces observed in Eindhoven and Berlin, problem solving follows. The RTP area could prosper with the implementation of more shared working spaces like those in Europe. Shared Innovation Work Spaces allow regular citizens to bring out their ideas, and that’s what innovation is all about.

-William Onorato

Farewell Dinner

The last gathering of the Burch program

After an exciting alternate tour of Berlin focusing on street art and gentrification, students were given about five free hours to explore the German capital city. Students dispersed in small groups to view the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, city center and the Tiergarten, Berlin’s largest inner-city park. After exploring the city students headed out to meet the professors for the farewell dinner reservation at 5:45, a couple S-Bahn stops away.

Städige Vertretung, the restaurant where students and professors gathered to eat their last meal together.

Professor Gangi and Radamker chose a restaurant called Ständige Vertretung, which means permanent or steady representation. Upon entering it was certain that the restaurant had an archive of history hanging on its walls. Black and white pictures of politicians, historical icons like the Berlin Wall and various photographs of political groups covered all available wall space.

Coaster and menu of the restaurant. It was quickly evident that this restaurant is a place of great history.
A hungry and happy Professor Gangi ponders the menu as he awaits students to arrive to the restaurant.

As it turns out, “Permanent representation” has a significant political meaning. After WWII, and the fall of the Nazi regime, the German country was controlled by two main political sectors. The Western Allies held the western side of the country while the Soviet Union covered the eastern side. Tensions began to grow between the east and the west territories which eventually led to the cold war. Citizens on the eastern side began to flee to the west for a safer life. In response to this migration, in 1961, the Berlin Wall was constructed to officially divide the two territories. Crossing was possible only at certain checkpoints, as for instance Checkpoint Charlie, though only people from West Berlin were able to pass through to the East. These two sides did not have regular embassies, but “steady representations” in the regions of Bonn and East-Berlin. When the Berlin wall was torn down in November 9th, 1989, a bitter fight commenced between the west and east capital cities. Eventually the city of Bonn lost and Berlin became the capital of the united Germany, after which the city expanded greatly. Therefore, forty years of Bonn as a German capital was consigned to history. This is why Städige Vertretung restaurant was born! A French news agency previous wrote – “The ‘StäV’ is not an ordinary pub, but a political reading-book … The past decades’ history is brought back.”

Hungry students and professor Cor preparing to feast. Bittersweet emotions before the start of dinner.

Students were seated at two tables with the professors, Emily Gangi, and Gina Difino, the Burch program head administrator. Professor Cor Radamaker gave a heartfelt toast to the group, saying “it’s been a pleasure getting to know all of you, and I hope to keep in touch.” The menu offered various traditional German meals, like curry-wurst sausage and flammkuchen, a German style flatbread pizza. Over the delicious meal, everyone traded food and reminisced on the top memories of the seemly quick six-week program. Some best memories included the castle day, where students hiked up hills in the French country side, or watching the sunset on the beach every night in The Hague. A bittersweet atmosphere filled the room as deserts were ordered and students realized their summer adventure was coming to a close.

The final meal, which consisted of meatballs, fish, and german pizza called flammkuchen. It was all delicious!
Professor Cor commencing his final toast during dinner. Quote, “it’s been a pleasure getting to know all of you, and I hope to keep in touch.”
Burch students bonding for the last time together at the end of the six week program. Also, note the interior of the restaurant, and its historically decorated walls.

As the tab was paid and everyone moved outside the restaurant, the program was officially concluded. No more eight o clock program day mornings and no more train rides through the beautiful German countryside. After hugs and an official goodbye from all the professors, two students snuck up behind Dr. Gangi and started a program wide group hug in the downtown district of Berlin. There could have been no better way to end such and amazing six-weeks abroad.

-William Onorato

The Peace Palace

The Peace Palace is an international court to avoid war.

After a delicious lunch in a small terrace restaurant in the downtown area of The Hague, students biked to various notable sights and places on their first day exploring the city. While dodging cars, people, and mostly other bikers, students were finally led to the Peace Palace, or known in Dutch as Vredespaleis.

The Peace Palace is a judicial building for member states of the UN to handle international disputes in a diplomatic, nonviolent manner.

Upon first glance, the Peace Palace cast a massive shadow upon the perfectly manicured gardens. On the periphery, the mid-June sunshine highlighted colorful pink and red flowers and illuminated the spring green courtyard. Meanwhile, a light blue United Nations flag played in the wind. It was quickly obvious that this building held a fascinating history.

Students entered the information and education building, quickly finishing their gelatos, and were led into a small area to drop off bags, mobile phones, and other electronics. Following this screening, however, they were not allowed inside the palace as a “confidential case” was in session. The tour of the educational center was soon to begin.

Within the courtyard of the education center of the Peace Palace lies what was called The Wish Tree. A symbolic tree decorated with the wishes of many visitors over the years. Many people wish for peace.

The Peace Palace was officially opened on the 23rd of August of 1913. The idea of such Palace was conceived by Russian and American diplomats searching for a place to house the Permanent Court of Arbitration. These diplomats, having found a location suitable in The Hague, reached out to American steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie for funding. After some convincing, Carnegie donated $1.5 million US dollars. Designed by the French architect Louis Cordonnier, the Palace was built in a Neo-Renaissance architectural style. The Peace Palace took six years from first laid stone, to the inauguration ceremony on the 28th, 1913. It was designed to act as a judiciary body where member states could go to resolve possible violent conflicts, which would otherwise lead to fatal and environmentally degrading outcomes.

Today, the Peace Palace holds two main bodies of judicial review. First the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which has been present in the Palace from the beginning. This court serves as a bench to resolve disputes between member states and intergovernmental organizations, primarily through international agreements. These agreements can pertain to any legal situation spanning from maritime boundaries to human rights issues. The body of the Court of Arbitration is composed of representatives from all member states. The member states may appoint up to four judges or arbitrators for a six-year term. An example of a case reviewed by the Court of Arbitration is an Island of Palmas case in which the United States and the Netherlands were disputing ownership of the territory of this Island. Ultimately the court decided that Island of Palmas belonged to the Netherland’s East Indies, and is now part of Indonesia.

The second court in the Peace Palace today is the International Court of Justice which represents the primary judicial body of the United Nations. Established in 1945 by the United Nations charter, it deals with legal cases among its member states. The International Court of Justice is composed of fifteen judges elected for nine year terms by the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council. The court mainly relies on means of compromising to settle major disputes. It is regarded as the court’s most effective approach to settling agreements. An examples of a case handled by the International Court of Justice was Nicaragua versus the United States. Decided in 1986, the court stated that the United States had violated international laws by unrightfully mining Nicaraguan harbors. However, criticism of this judicial body presented by the tour guide, focused on the limited jurisdiction to member states that does not effectively represent private enterprises, or even terrorist groups.

Students pose in front of the Peace Palace humorously symbolizing their understanding of the court’s true meaning; utilizing diplomacy to avoid conflict.

Close to the conclusion of the tour, the guide initiated a discussion within the group of students. The question arose, “Which is more important, peace or justice? Which one comes first?” This thought provoking inquiry led to a thorough debate, from which most students concluded that peace and justice must coexist.

-William Onorato