Taginnovation

Urban innovation and research labs & programs

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[Work in progress!] Starting a list of urban innovation labs & programs, research programs in that field and the like.

What will be included in this list? At the outset the programs, initiatives and labs that support smart city development and urban innovation but are not pilot smart city projects with their own infrastructure; that support and enable the development and/or provide guidance/policy, but don’t run the technical platforms. One-time events aren’t currently included, but rather ongoing hubs/labs/programs.

Pointers welcome!

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Questioning the Euro tech narratives

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There’s a been a lot (a lot!) of talk about Europe’s, and particularly Germany’s, take on digitization and tech innovation. Sometimes using the Industry 4.0 terminology (connected factories and the like), sometimes framed using European vs US startup success stories (“Where’s a German Google?”).

While a debate about tech innovation, adaption rates and access to the benefits of new technology is necessary – especially when it comes to providing a supporting political framework – I can’t help but notice a few narratives floating around that are quite wide-spread and seem to be dubious at best.

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Berlin Night @ Tokyo (slides)

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As part of a Berlin delegation of technologists, startups and connectors, Bistream kindly invited me to Tokyo to speak at a number of events and meet the local tech, startup, hardware, IoT and innovation scene.

Part of this was a presentation at Samurai Startup Island (event link, Japanese), one of Japan’s top startup incubators. I spoke about hardware startups and the Internet of Things, commonalities and potential of an exchange of ideas/skills/talent between Tokyo and Berlin, and about ThingsCon.

 

Slides below. Enjoy!

 

A visit to KOIL

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After catching up on some work and admin, I was invited to join a meeting over at KOIL, the Kashiwa no ha Open Innovation Lab. It’s part venture arm, part coworking space, part office rental, and it’s been operational just since April 2014. As we went on a tour, it quickly became apparent that it’s all a very high-end, professional affair that incorporates the flexibility as well as the look & feel of grass roots spaces like Berlin’s Betahaus, but supported by a serious budget. The pretty well-equipped in-house workshop space is a good indication.

But of course, as much as I like to visit office spaces, the most important thing was to meet the KOIL team, including a few very high-ranking members of the management, who took the time to chat, give feedback to one of our tour member’s hardware prototype, and to discuss potential further collaborations.

Since the conversation took us well into the evening, a few of us just wrapped up the Friday night with a short trip to Akihabara, aka gadget & game central of Tokyo, where we had ramen followed by a few rounds of games at one of the larger arcades as well as photo booths. When we came back out into the street, I could hardly believe just how quiet the city seemed in comparison to the deafening soundscape inside the arcade.

The year of the connected device, but consumer IoT startups face big challenges

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Over on the BoschSI Internet of Things blog, I contributed a short piece on the challenges that startups in the consumer IoT space are facing.

There is hardly any doubt that 2014 is the year when connected devices – particularly wearables – will go mainstream. Technology tradeshows and media alike are practically bursting at the seams with new products, concepts, and announcements for connected devices.

It’s worth noting that this is quite a special slice of the Internet of Things: this isn’t about the industrial internet, it’s about bringing the IoT to consumers. This is a very different story altogether, a segment with its own opportunities, challenges, and dynamics, one that exists at the intersection of various verticals – think home automation, wearables, connected mobility, personal analytics, health tech. It’s a space where the lines aren’t yet fully drawn, the terminology not yet fully evolved – which is usually a sign of a field that’s moving quickly and innovating. In other words, this is where some truly innovative and interesting stuff is happening.

Read the full text here.

An Entrepreneur-in-Residence program for non-VC firms?

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Wherever you look you see corporations trying to get closer to startups, variably in terms of reputation, release cycles, culture or reputation.

One of the more common ways is to start an incubator or accelerator program, which certainly isn’t the worst option out there.

It is hard, however, to let the learnings and culture flow back from these programs into the HQ.

After some conversations around this, I think one path to explore might be temporary entrepreneur-in-residence (EiR) programs. This isn’t new, of course, and particularly in the US you can find the occasional one – usually in VC firms.

I believe that the concept makes a lot of sense for non-VC firms as well.

This should especially true for entrepreneurs who didn’t just have a massive exit (as is usually the case for the VC-EiR model): Those entrepreneurs building the next generation of hardware, for example, who bootstrap their endeavors and haven’t made it yet financially because they are breaking new ground and exploring markets that have yet to be fully defined.

So what could that look like?

  • Embed an entrepreneur in your company for 3 months. Like an Entrepreneur-in-residence, working side by side with your product and strategy team, both on their own product and at the edges of your company’s focus.
  • The EiR can heavily use their outside network, with enough wriggle room to at least maintain their own things (think 2 half-days in a week – let’s say they’d be off Tuesdays and Thursdays after lunch).
  • The EiR is paid a solid management-style salary, so there’s a financial incentive, too – after all, founders often bootstrap their own companies, so a cash injection might just be a good incentive.

And then let them roam and work with your teams, embedded, hopefully on some kind of joint project that connects your business with theirs.

Of course working conditions should be optimized to empower these entrepreneurs to play out their full potential. Small things like flexible work times and BYOD should be standard. (If you can’t handle someone bringing in their own laptop, then you’re not ready for the program.)

I’m pretty sure that this would be quite beneficial to both sides. The Entrepreneur gets to know a potential collaborator and partner, as well as a little cash injection. The corporation gets the external domain knowledge and opens up its own culture in the process, and unlocks a large new network of potential collaborators.

These are just some initial thoughts on what an EiR program could look like outside the VC context. Curious to hear if it’s been done before, or to help set one up.

Snapshot: The Digital Agenda for the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities

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Over the last few months it’s become painfully obvious – once more – that we’re not really set for the 21st century, policy-wise. This probably holds true globally except for very few exceptions, but it’s certainly true for Europe and particularly for Germany. It’s something I’ve been discussing with friends and peers for a while, and I’m more and more convinced that we need to collectively dig into getting the policy level right.

In our industry, and among the tech elite, there’s a widespread school of thought that politics move too slow to bother with, and that pushing ahead and just innovating (aka “doing our thing”) is the preferred way to go. There’s something to say for this mode of operation, too. But I think that we need to also get the actual policy right too, the laws, the codified rulebook that our society is based on.

Trying to collect my thoughts turned into a massive scribbling session.

 

Notes: Digital Agenda for the 21st Century

 

Notes: Digital Agenda for the 21st Century

 

Notes: Digital Agenda for the 21st Century

 

Here are the key policy areas I think need to be addressed as they came to me scribbling away. I tried to list key challenges and opportunities; this list is by no means complete – not even near to complete. It’s a snapshot of my thinking at this moment, in early October 2013, and a note to myself more than anything else. So if you see all the points that might seem out of context or just single words/references, that’s why. Much of it also focuses on a European/German context. Again, these are just quick notes.

I’m hoping that going forward I find the time to explore these areas further, beginning with more detailed blog posts, then let’s see where the path leads.

So here goes. Proceed at your own risk.

Key challenges for the 21st century

  • Education
  • New Work
  • Innovation
  • New Manufacture
  • Connected Cities & Things
  • Health, Tech & Data
  • Politics, Governance & Administration
  • Cyber Foreign Policy

Education

  • Budgets. We need to invest massively more into education at all levels.
  • Embrace technology, foster tech literacy (personally, culturally, institutionally)
  • Peer learning (student-student, teacher-teacher, teacher-student, student-teacher)
  • Collaborations & partnerships
    • domestic/international
    • Social Media Classroom
    • Hive Learning Network
    • Webmaker Movement
  • Alternative certification of knowledge & open access
    • Open badges, etc.
    • Open Educational Resources (OER)
    • MOOCs

New Work

  • Trend to more flexible work structure
    • Less full time employment, more part-time/project-based/freelance work
    • international mobility (global nomad elite/elite nomads). How to enable, empower, capture value?
  • Administration has to catch up
    • We need easier transition between systems
      • between countries/jurisdictions
      • between employment, freelance, alternative phases (family time, sabbaticals, education breaks, etc.)
      • between public/private systems (health insurance, social security)
      • pension plans & social security must follow the person around the globe (at least around Europe)
    • Social security for freelancers & other not-full-time-employed
    • Hubs/coworking spaces, etc., can revive and enrich buildings and neighborhoods. Embrace & foster them!

Innovation

  • Universities
    • Universities need massive budgets for applied research
      • Increase budgets
      • Foster cooperation with industry & non-profits
      • Foster trans-disciplinary cooperation & adjust budgeting processes accordingly
    • Increase cooperation between technical & design universities and departments
      • Create products and spin them off. Feed profits back to research.
      • Research and critically explore societal implications of technological innovation.
  • Fund experimentation and innovation
    • Create easy-to-tap innovation and founders funds & make it easy to raise money from distributed (non-VC) sources
  • Don’t regard political regulation as barrier but as creative constraint/framework to innovate withing
    • Example: Europe’s strict privacy laws are often regarded as a barrier to market entry by US companies. Rather, they can be an asset. Europe as data/privacy safe haven and privacy innovation cluster; home of privacy focused startups and services.
  • Update copyright, licensing, relationship between content creators, distributors, consumers/users.

New Manufacture

  • Germany is well positioned to play a leading role in new manufacturing (3D printing and related technologies)
    • But only one globally leading company in Munich, while most consumer-focused companies in the industry are based in US, UK or NL. Huge potential!
    • Foster collaborations with universities (like in the US), recognition as a policy priority (like in the UK).

Connected Cities & Things

  • Rules of engagement: Core philosophies of citizen/user empowerment are key.
  • Find & foster alternatives to authoritarian/top down models of “smart cities”
    • see Adam Greenfield’s work (Urbanscale, LSE)
      • empowerment instead of control
      • bottom up instead of top down
      • give citizens tools & control
  • Empower the organic networks of researchers & practicioners that exist outside big industry and universities
    • see critical & constructive informal networks exploring connected cities & devices
      • manifested in clusters like Silicon Roundabout/Tech City, or design school/lab Fabrica, built around small groups of committed individuals
      • Driven by practicioners, researchers & connectors like Dan Hill, Alexandra D-S, BERG, etc., who implement their philosophies of user empowerment in their design work/products/teaching each within their discipline
  • Can Europe play out its strength by empowerung these networks & structures?
    • plus a strong set of rules of data ownership/protection equivalent to privacy laws
    • more user/citizen centric power structures are possible

Health & Tech

  • Can Europe’s privacy laws be extended to other kinds of data/data ownership/open access?
  • Find the sweet spot at the intersection of
    1. Privacy/data ownershop/open data
    2. Body data/quantified self/personal analytics/health data
    3. Innovation
  • Potential of cluster in health tech built around these rules/ideals?

Politics, Governance & Administration

Most pressing issues/topics:

  • Legal framework needs to be updated to 21st century requirements
  • Net neutrality
  • Surveillance
  • Privacy
  • Governance, direct democracy, responsiveness
  • Transparency & open data
  • Digital inclusion
  • Update admin, processes (see gov.uk, nyc.gov)

Cyber Foreign Policy

  • Current focus of CFP in Germany is security/defense
  • How can a European version of 21st century statecraft evolve and work?
    • And who can be the actors/drivers?
    • see Ben Hammersley’s work
  • Merge and/or foster exchange between foreign policy/statecraft and innovation

 

Many, many big, gaping holes there, and lots of questions to explore and dig deeper. Hoping I can find the time and resources to do so in some way or another.