Tag Archives: innovation

CleanTech Innovation Center’s Start-ups and Culture

Three Start-ups in the early stages of development

Today we spent our afternoon at the Clean Tech Innovation Center. Although it may have been hard to find, it was a very interesting space with a lot of early stage startups. While here, we were able to check out three very different startups that all share the same space.

Nuventura:

Nuventura is looking to find a way to make a cleaner grid by producing an IP based technology that converts synthetic CO2 into naturally decomposable substances. The founder took some time to speak with us about his motivations and his struggles being an early stage start up. Formally an electrical engineer, the founder quit his day job to work on a technology he believed would solve the world’s future problem regarding CO2 emissions. He focuses his work on the technology and not on creating a marketable product since his background his not in advertising or manufacturing.

He also shared his thoughts about working in a shared workspace. Something he said that was intriguing was that he liked that he was able to bounce his ideas off of people, but also that they all had a connection because of the fact that they were all trying to become something from nothing. They all face struggles with funding. Yet, he told us that he doesn’t feel competitive against the other workers because they are all working on such different ideas.

A representative of Shoutr Labs explaining the innovative technology to our group

Shoutr Labs:

Shoutr Labs is creating a beacon Wi-Fi network for museums. These beacons offer an interactive audio guide for patrons of the museum, which allows people to use their existing technology without taking up any storage or using any data. This auto-syncing technology even allows people to view 360-degree photos, by simply scanning a QR code upon entering an exhibit. One interesting feature that this technology offers is a type of virtual experience. Shoutr Labs created a system for the natural history museum that makes it seems like there are dinosaurs in the room via your phone screen. With this function, people can take selfies and feel close to live dinosaurs!

A QR code for Shoutr Labs’ beacon network. It allows museum goers to enter a world of virtual reality when walking through exhibits.

Skypoint:

Skypoint is working on producing storm resistant fix drones equipped radar, camera, and surveying systems. These drones are tethered to the ground and produce energy through wind collection using the small turbines on the product’s shell. The product’s founder and CEO has a lot of visions as to where this technology can go. For example, it could be used for property protection, open pit mining, delivering goods after a natural disaster, filed management, control of an unmanned vehicle, herd management, and border control. Border control, specifically for the US-Mexico border, seemed to be the main target for this product as he was marketing to private security companies.

All the functions and uses that Skypoint technology was looking to solve. Although still in the early stages of design, this product seems to be a very versatile option for the future.

-Megan Gwynn

Clean Tech Center

The Benefits of Creating an Industry Cluster

On the east side of Berlin, the Clean Tech Business Park and Innovation Center are growing to become the hub of clean technology. The Clean Tech Center is focused on supplying co-working office space and manufacturing space for any startup or business that contributes to sustainability and environment consciences. When we visited, they explained to us the benefits their park and greater Berlin offers to its customers and how the formation of the center forms an innovative cluster.

The logo of the Clean Tech Innovation Center in Berlin.

The property contains office space, production space, and large outdoor testing lot. The Clean Tech Center is forming spaces suitable entrepreneurs by giving them areas to create, test, and produce a product. This all-inclusive area is one of their selling points and something they hope will draw people to the area. Also, they hope will draw more people with the attractiveness of Berlin. As Berlin is being reshaped since reunification it has become the startup hub of Europe and a central city for research universities and economic opportunities. The Clean Tech Center hopes this environment will draw innovators to their campus.

A communal kitchen and eating area for the workers. This area is surrounded by four or five open room offices where different startups are working on their ideas.

The Clean Tech Center also offers incentives to increase the area’s desirability. They receive funding from the European Union which allows them to lower rent to a cheap price of €99-129 per month. The area is located near transportation stops, to cheapen the cost of transportation. On campus, they offer networking and collaboration services so innovators can meet with each other, share ideas, or network. Also, younger companies can learn and grow from the older companies. Conjoining an innovation center and a business park also has many benefits. By connecting the two parks people can now stay in one area as their business grows.

The property and facility brochure the Clean Tech Innovation and Business give out. These pamphlets discuss the benefits that come from working in a shared space, and having the ability to share knowledge and infrastructure.
The partners of the Clean Tech Center, notice that universities (local and international), companies, and the local government are all involved in the future of this cluster.

Creating a space for innovation in an environment that will sponsor it is a fantastic idea and needs to start happening in America more. Currently, America has large clusters like Research Triangle Park and, on a larger scale, Silicon Valley. These American clusters lack the shared infrastructure that makes the Clean Tech Center so appealing. The clusters in America are located well, surrounded by research universities and economic markets. But they are less dense and normally involve innovators working in their own building, and staying within their company. These places lack denser shared workspaces, and normally only have the occasional incubator or shared building.

American entrepreneurs should look into creating attractive workplaces with shared space. Having places like the Clean Tech Center could change the culture of working in America, shifting from getting a job in a pre-existing company to creating one’s own job in one of these shared workspaces because the social benefits and creative freedom is so attractive. Also, surrounding one’s self with people with like ideas and a place to collaborate will foster growth and innovation. I think shared spaces will motivate more students and people with ideas to feel their idea can become reality.

-Emily Bulla

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

Automotive Campus: Creating a Greener Future

Electric vehicles and innovation ecosystems will power our economic and environmental future

After traveling via train to Eindhoven yesterday, we spent our first full day in and around Eindhoven today (July 5). Within fifteen minutes of leaving the city, we were biking through the countryside, alongside a beautiful canal and a seemingly ceaseless row of old trees. Eventually, we came upon Helmond, sometimes called the “automotive city” because of its role in vehicle innovation. In Helmond, we visited the “Automotive Campus,” where we listened to two presentations focused on the future of vehicles and their intersection with smart cities. We also were able to look around a workshop on the Automotive Campus where students from Fontys University (in Eindhoven) build their own electric cars, one of which drove to Berlin with only one recharge. While we didn’t learn much about the technical aspects of these student-built electric cars, it was impressive to witness an example of the hands-on learning that students in the Netherlands participate in to further their education and to hear about the companies that financially support this technical, hands-on form of learning. We picked up a great deal of information during our first day in Eindhoven, but I thought some of the best insights were on the future of electric vehicles and innovation ecosystems.

Just ten minutes out of Eindhoven, we already reached beautiful green areas surrounding the city.
We were able to bike alongside a beautiful canal for much of the bike ride to the Automotive Campus.
We arrived at about 1:00 at the Automotive Campus.

Both presenters prefaced the importance of transitioning to electric vehicles by mentioning the impending threat to the Netherlands from climate change. While Eindhoven would be safe, most other major Dutch cities could be underwater in mere decades if no major action occurs to combat climate change. That’s why the innovation occurring at the Automotive Campus is so crucial. Our first presentation focused on smart and green mobility, with our presenter Daniel introducing us to facts and goals for the Netherlands. The largest ambition for the nation is having one million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road in 2025, a huge increase from the current amount of 113,000 registered EVs. It’s pretty appealing for the Dutch to embrace EVs because gas costs are very high here, making electric a better economic and environmental option. Along with the increase in EVs will come an increase in public and private chargepoints for EVs, although our presenter emphasized that he thought the main increase would occur in private chargepoints (either at workplaces or homes).

After our presentations at the Automotive Campus, we went to a workshop where engineers and Fontys University students were piecing together electric cars.
We left the day having learned a great deal about Automotive Campus, Fontys, and all their partners. All in all, this day was fascinating and a huge success.

When electric vehicles are mentioned, the conversation often focuses around cars. But the Netherlands is truly looking to the future by investing in heavy duty electric powertrains and e-buses. As of now, 43 e-buses operate in Eindhoven and 100 operate in Amsterdam. The most complex question around e-buses is the time it takes to recharge the buses, but there seems to also be a solution for that in the Netherlands. Faster chargers, also known as superchargers, can charge a bus in as little as twenty minutes. Fast recharging could make e-buses a more viable option for public transit across the world. Because of more and more e-buses, public transportation will cause less pollution and more cars can be taken off the road, decreasing traffic and increasing efficiency.

Here is the electric engine of a beautiful white convertible, showing that while expensive, it is possible to move from a typical gas vehicle to an electric one.
Fontys students work together on elements of their “homemade” electric car.
Students listen as more is explained about building electric cars and about some specific successes of Fontys students.

In these two presentations, we also learned more about innovation ecosystems and knowledge clustering, an important part of smart cities that we have already looked at earlier in the trip. Our second presenter, Bram, discussed the so-called “triple helix,” otherwise known as the cooperation between knowledge institutes, government, and industry. This close cooperation allows innovation to occur in an environment where it is in the best interests of economic growth as well as individuals’ well-being. The triple helix is a form of knowledge clustering, with different parties bringing different viewpoints to the table and helping to create a smarter region, country, and world. These concepts are economic boons for startups and innovation and could be successfully implemented more in cities across the United States and the rest of the world.

-Joseph Womble

Automotive campus is a playground for transportation innovation

Green mobility innovations will make for an exciting future for cities

Our first class day while in Eindhoven began with the group biking to the Automotive Campus in Helmond. The Automotive Campus hosts a variety of startups that focus on innovations that will improve the efficiency of automobiles as well as help move toward the transition to electric vehicles. After our lecture we visited a workshop on the campus that is an extension of Fontys University of Applied Sciences. We made a trip to the university yesterday and today had the opportunity to see more of the kind of technical work that universities in the Netherlands do in order to foster relationships with universities and help prepare students to enter the workforce and think like “gamechangers.”

In the hall of the automotive campus is a map of automotive organizations in the Netherlands.

Our class time was in two parts: one lecture focused on innovations that are being worked on that will enable full automation of transportation and the other one focused on the transition to electric vehicles and how this would operate in an urban system. As part of the development of smart cities, we mostly talked about electric vehicles in the context of public transportation in urban areas. Green Mobility would include private cars and car sharing in addition to electric trains. Electric vehicles and automation together will decrease energy demand while also eliminating fossil fuel emissions with platooning, or the communication between automobiles and traffic lights.

Electric vehicle single-passenger charging outside of the automotive campus building.

The social implications of automation include more efficient use of space in cities. This is really important when thinking about the challenges that many European cities face when trying to expand outward. Automated vehicles and car sharing services within cities come with great potential for the development of public space due to less of a need for parking space within cities. Although less parking would mean a decrease of revenue for cities there could be more housing developments within the city. The introduction of more green spaces would improve water retention within cities as well as protect the air quality in cities.

Students watching engineering students in the Fonty’s university workshop.

Shared workspaces are an important aspect in supporting an innovation ecosystem with the development of new and improved technologies and data collection. Chapel Hill and many other cities in the United States would greatly benefit from more investments in public transportation. Public transportation intersects many different aspects of sustainability as it can decrease the carbon footprint while decreasing the collective cost of transportation resources within a city. Transportation also promotes social equity by making more of the city accessible to more people.

Timeline graphics in the hall of the Automotive campus show automobile development and innovation. They also include pivotal legislation restricting air pollution and the transition to more sustainable solutions.

As we have seen modeled in our visits to universities is that there is great potential for knowledge sharing when using triple helix solution models; using partnerships between the government, industry and universities to solve problems and improve cities. What we have found during our time in the Netherlands is how the transition toward renewable energy solutions and smart city planning is much more urgent when considering the serious consequences of climate change. Hopefully government and industry in the United States will soon realize the benefits of these innovations in strengthening the economy using the triple helix model to move the US to the forefront of innovative technology.

-Marques Wilson