[CITY-ZEN RESEARCH] Connect innovative companies and start-ups

Ideas and opportunities arise where people and organisations of all sorts meet. City-zen’ believe is that supporting triple helix collaboration (authorities, knowledge institutions and companies) is a prerequisite for urban innovation and focusing on demonstration of innovations and less on technical research alone. For smaller companies, this setting is great to show and demonstrate their solutions. This resulted in an open project allowing innovations by SME’s and start-ups to enrich the project. In this article we share the lessons learned so far; where we were successful and in other cases where we needed to adapt.

Nine lessons on how-to stay open and profit from innovation by others.

1. What about the why?

Asking parties from outside your consortium to join in, allows you to integrate new ideas into your demonstrations and research. At the same time, they can learn from your experiences and participate in a larger project, this is a great reference and gives them a fantastic network.

2. And why not?

Concentrating on and delivering your own tasks and making the consortium work is often quite a challenge. Delivering your solution will probably be your first priority. If these are your only priorities, working in an open project within a consortium might not be the best choice for you.

3. Connect to an existing eco-system

As many regions have developed a good innovation infrastructure and eco-system by now. One of the keys to success is identify new parties in the network and connect them to your project.

Have a look at Grenoble Ville de Demain and Amsterdam Smart City to see different approaches.

4. Take an SME on board as consortium partner

Although joining a consortium for a European project might seem a bit too much for many small companies, it is also a unique opportunity to cooperate and work with larger corporates, authorities and knowledge institutions. To make this successful, understanding each others pace and interest is key. In projects with an extended duration, allowing SME’s to finish their contributions in shorter stretches could make this more acceptable.

In City-zen NeoSmart, Think-E and Clicks & Links are valued consortium partners.

5. Allow SME’s to deliver innovative technology or services

Some tasks may have room for subcontracting. Delivering innovative technology or services might just as well be done by a small or middle size company. This may ask for a more innovative way of tendering – also allowing parties to join with a shorter track record. Asking consortium partners to act as a ‘launching customer’ is a good option.

Since 2016 the City of Amsterdam explicitly values ‘tendering for innovation’ in its tendering procedure. It gives room to be a launching customer or to develop solutions together with the market by not asking for solutions, but setting a challenge.

6. Open up your research and results

The results from both research and demonstration projects in European projects contain valuable information for innovative SME’s. Keeping IP (intellectual property) protection to a minimum and using and providing open data and standards are a prerequisite to be able to share this information. Don’t forget to make a more accessible version of academic papers and the dense (deliverable) reports required by the European Commission. SCIS is a good portal to easily access results from several projects at once. Providing SCIS with blogs and news items is a good way to attract attention.

Learning by doing is also sharing our story about the challenges we discover along the way. Subscribing to the City-zen newsletter (at the bottom of the page) is a great way to stay up to date and be the first to learn about our results.

7. Allow room for improvement

Inviting SME’s along the way is only possible if the Description of Work is not fenced in. Allowing improvements in specific tasks or maybe even keeping the opportunity to add an extra task works well. This requires courage from the consortium and the European Commission. To find suitable solutions offered by SME’s a challenge or hackathon open to student teams and SME’s could be set – at the beginning of the project – with the option to ‘win’ the opportunity to realise your solution.

Not defining how to meet the targets of the Amsterdam renovation projects in City-zen, allowed property owners to define their own set of measures, suitable to their specific needs and situation. While in many cases common measures could do the job, sometimes a more innovative measure was needed.

8. Adopt a start-up and have a ‘startup’ partner

Select some start-ups and help them to develop their solutions is a brilliant way to bring the experience of corporates en seasoned entrepreneurs together with the bright minds and creativity of a younger company. Asking an incubator to design a task dedicated to challenge and help start-ups to offer solutions might be a good choice. They are the experts to help start-ups grow into scale-ups. A dedicated incubator around the themes in your project could be a strong asset. The other consortium partners can participate as mentors or launching customers.

In City-zen achieving the goals set was already challenging at times. Opening up and allowing other parties to join in was not that easy. Next time, we might ask Tenerrdis, Rockstart or StartupinResidence along.

9. Give the stage to…

A European project gives a lot of opportunities to showcase solutions to cities, peers and the European Commission itself. Sharing this stage with innovative SME’s will allow them to access this network too. So interview them for your website, give them credits in your blogs, and give them the floor in your conference or webinar.

If you want to learn more about the innovations of companies in our networks, join us for the City-zen events and conferences. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive an invitation.

  • The Project

    A city operating entirely on clean energy. In theory, it's possible. But in real life? How to integrate new solutions in existing buildings, systems and people's lives? What are the technical, economic or social barriers? And how to overcome these? That's what we've learned by doing in 20 projects in Grenoble and Amsterdam.

  • Our Activities

  • Achieved Impacts

    • 20 innovations in Grenoble & Amsterdam
    • 35,000 tonnes CO2 saved per year
    • 76,000 m² renovated residential buildings
    • 10,000 dwellings connected to a Smart Grid