Anyone getting the feeling it’s a bit crowded here? When you’re living in the city, you probably do. More than half of the global population is gathered in cities. That number is projected to rise to two-thirds of the population by the year 2050. The megacities of the future and the communities living in them will face new challenges, and we need smart ideas to face those. Blue Tulip Awards Cities & Communities theme has gathered experts to look for the most brilliant idea.
Experts in the Cities & Communities theme
Registrations for the Cities & Communities theme of the Blue Tulip Awards are now open. During this year-round program, innovators are offered a unique chance to accelerate business, along with the most promising startups and important corporates and institutions. The programme involves experts who will be assessing and coaching the most groundbreaking innovations that can change the way we live together. We spoke with Alexandra Belicova of StartupAmsterdam and partner of Blue Tulip Awards, jury member Marjolein Hooijdonk of KPN and previous award winner Aman Jindal of DeNoize.
Get to know the amazing finalists here
StartupAmsterdam: innovation from Dutch capital
When it comes to the combination of large cities and cutting edge innovations, it’s hard not to look at Blue Tulip Awards’ partner StartupAmsterdam. It’s the municipality’s initiative to promote the startup ecosystem in the Dutch capital. Alexandra Belicova is Partnership & Events lead of StartupAmsterdam. During the last one and a half years, she has seen great resilience among entrepreneurs. “If you are an entrepreneur, you find ways of deploying and building your product no matter what. The support structures we build are simply bonuses.”
Creating support structures to help entrepreneurs succeed, also means ensuring equal chances for anyone with an innovative idea and the drive to turn that into a successful business. Belicova says that is why StartupAmsterdam puts extra energy into creating a level playing field for everyone: “Our recent initiative We-Rise is creating a hub to help female entrepreneurs.”
Bridging the funding gap
Research shows male entrepreneurs get more funding for their startups under the same circumstances than women. “We-Rise is trying to bridge that funding gap and educate more women to become part of the tech ecosystem. Hopefully, this makes Amsterdam a better city but also serves as an example for other cities struggling with diversity. Talent is a big part of the programme, it really inspires me.”
Being involved in Amsterdam’s startup ecosystem means Belicova sees new initiatives to improve city life regularly. StartupAmsterdam, as well as other teams within the Economic Department of the municipality, highlight and prioritise five growth sectors: circular economy, energy transition, smart mobility, health and life sciences and safe digital cities.
Being involved in Amsterdam’s startup ecosystem allows Belicova to see innovative solutions within these sectors on a regular basis. “Amsterdam has some stellar examples in all of these sectors”, she says. “Ranging from FastNed’s network of EV-chargers that is currently expanding all over Europe, to Circular IQ that helps companies achieve sustainability goals with circular solutions or VanMoof, the popular e-bike scale-up that just raised €108 million in funding.”
Floating charging stations
Through their Startup in Residence programme, the local government is also collaborating with Rotterdam-based startup Skoon. A prime example of timely startup-government cooperation, says Belicova. “Skoon is accelerating the energy transition with a network of swappable batteries. With renewable energy stored in batteries Skoon provides a clean and financially competitive alternative to fossil fuel based energy. Ships, ports, festivals, construction sites and events can now easily access clean energy. That’s a great solution, as the municipality aims to have decreased the city’s CO2 emissions by 55 per cent in 2030 and by 95 per cent in 2050. It’s really nice to see such a collaboration between a startup and the municipality.”
DeNoize: tackling the noise problem
Aman Jindal acknowledges that for cities to continue to grow in a sustainable, safe and efficient way, everything and everyone needs to work together. “You’re talking about smart ways to handle mobility, electrification of the grid, treatment of waste, there’s so much to think about.” One aspect that is getting more and more attention is the noise all these people living together endure. It’s exactly that problem that Jindal aims to tackle.
He is the founder of DeNoize, a Delft-based startup that has a solution for noise pollution that occurs in urban areas: noise cancelling on windows. DeNoize’s solution can be retrofitted on any glass surface and makes windows capable of cancelling out noise from outside, making it nice and peaceful inside. “When there are many people living close to each other, there will always be noise. When you talk about sustainable living in a city, it also means people need to be able to live happily in a quiet home.”
‘Changing the soundscape’
DeNoize won the Blue Tulip Award last year and is currently finishing up a research period with over 200 inhabitants of the area around Schiphol Airport, traditionally plagued by aeroplane noise. Jindal aimed to link sound to how it is perceived. “We collected a lot of good data and it became more and more clear for us that just cancelling noise isn’t the complete solution. We should be changing the sound in environments to create an optimised soundscape.”
That’s why Jindal is optimising its innovation to not only cancel the unwanted noise but at the same time enhance sounds that people do like. “Think about the amplification of nature sounds, like the birds in a tree outside or the rain. We could even use the window as a speaker, to play music. People are bothered that others are making decisions about what they hear. We can give them an interface to give them control back.”
DeNoize’s sound noise cancelling and sound-enhancing windows will be commercially available in 2022, after a pilot this year. The startup is currently working with Velux, an international window and skylight manufacturer, to try to integrate their solution. Jindal: “The following step could be a long term relationship.”
KPN: expecting increase in data usage
Having accomplished companies work together with small, innovative companies is an ideal combination for Marjolein van Hooijdonk. She is Executive Vice President Omnichannel Strategy & Operations at KPN, the largest Dutch telecom and internet provider, and jury member in the Blue Tulip Awards Cities & Communities theme. “Innovation starts with a single good idea”, she says. “But by seeking the connection with other people, experiences or sources of capital, ideas can move forward.”
And good ideas were desperately needed the past one and a half years. With everyone forced to work from home, KPNs networks were used a lot more. “We saw huge peaks on our network, but it held its own. We expect the load to increase in the coming years. Many innovations are based around data usage, so the usage of the internet will not decrease.”
Internet to increase quality of life
With her responsibility for the customer processes and supply of products and services on the consumer side of the company, it’s obvious for Van Hooijdonk how an internet connection will increasingly become important. The Internet of Things is going to play a massive role in smart cities, says Van Hooijdonk. “Technology will work to make living for the communities more pleasant. For instance, having street lights that sense people approaching and shine brighter when someone is around. We’ve seen pilots of this and as a woman, I find that very pleasant. “
Van Hooijdonk sees multiple examples of IoT solutions that are shaping the city of tomorrow. “There are connected trash cans that signal to the municipality when they are full. These are just some examples on city-level, but they will also translate to consumer-level. Smart Home applications can already make your life easier. It is now possible to remotely keep an eye on your home. To close the curtains or switch the lights on if you want.”
‘At Blue Tulip Awards it comes together’
With new innovations come new challenges, Van Hooijdonk sees. “Smart doorbells are getting more common now, but also raise some privacy questions. Electric vehicles are more energy-efficient, but how are we going to use them effectively with smart ride sharing initiatives? If we can work together towards a solution, that could really make a difference for the megacity of the future.”
In the quest for innovations, initiatives like the Blue Tulip Awards are essential, says Van Hooijdonk. “I have enormous faith in the role that startups and scaleups can play in the future.” She encourages cooperation between established and accomplished parties and newcomers with fresh ideas. “We at KPN have the resources and the infrastructure. Others may have innovative, out-of-the-box ideas. At Blue Tulip Awards, these come together.”
‘Never hurts to be on tv’
For new participants, Jindal advises thinking about the contributions of their product if they want to advance in the competition. “You need to be able to answer questions on how it contributes in the future. And how it currently fits the landscape. We were lucky. Everyone knows noise is a problem, and we could show what we could do for people and how we could reach them.
As a previous winner, Jindal knows how valuable the marketing and publicity surrounding the awards can be. “We were able to reach a bigger audience and meet relevant people. It gave us a lot of leads, expanded our network and increased our credibility. Our mentor was incredibly helpful. Also, it never hurts to be on tv.”
Events make the ecosystem stronger
For Belicova, keeping events is crucial, ‘especially during and after the pandemic’. Not only to benefit Amsterdam: “I know the Blue Tulip Awards are not region-specific. But I’ve seen the other partners that have been involved in the Awards, and I think everyone can benefit from making the ecosystem better and stronger.”
“We’ve seen what having no events can do for the ecosystem”, says Belicova. “Entrepreneurs flourish when they get together, and the Blue Tulip Awards infuse other stakeholders in the process to make sure the innovators get the support they need. During these times, it is so crucial for founders to meet mentors.”
Register now for Cities & Communities theme
Innovators with the solution to keep the megacities of the future running smoothly and sustainably are encouraged to sign up for the fourth generation of the Blue Tulip Awards. The Cities & Communities theme is now open for registration, sign up here!
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