Two days at the Digital Agenda Assembly 2012, Brussels

This time two weeks ago I was in the middle of a really interesting and exciting two days at the Digital Agenda Assembly, Brussels. I was invited to attend by the European Commission along with the other OpenIDEO web start-up challenge winners – what an experience! The commission had sponsored the OpenIDEO challenge and therefore invited us to Brussels to be part of the discussions and to have an opportunity to present our concepts to the group and other members of the EU Commission.

The main objectives of the Assembly were to:
– Assess progress to date on implementation towards the Digital Agenda’s goals and actions and seek ways to improve delivery;
– Identify challenges ahead for the implementation of the Digital Agenda and for the information society in general;
– Mobilise stakeholders’ actions to make further progress and address challenges.

Digital Agenda Assembly poster

And the days were broken up with 8 different workshops in the European Commission on day one, (followed by an OpenIDEO specific concept workshop in the afternoon, a dinner with the commission and speakers in the evening) and day two was a plenary session in the Hemicycle room at the European Parliament.

Here is a summary of my learnings…

Day 1: workshop 8 innovation and entrepreneurs, European Commission

The workshop was opened by MEP, Pablo Zabla who was very clear that Europe’s barriers to innovation and entrepreneurialism are caused by low funding, increased global competition from China and India and too high a level of youth unemployment. He felt we need to grow entrepreneurs, repeat events like the DAA and encourage institutes to listen and learn.

Zabla felt we should replicate the US model and in turn understand the importance of entrepreneurs in Europe. Amy Bonsall tweeted the following during his talk: “Why is Silicon Valley what it is? talent (stanford), failure acceptance, and funds” – Google via Pablo Zabla #da12innov #oi_startup. Zabla was the first (but not the last to mention the word failure). I loved the quote he used

“falling down is permitted but getting up is compulsory” – this is something we should all remember!

Workshop 8: innovation and entrepreneurs

The next person to talk was Laia Pujol moderator of the innovation and entrepreneur community of Digital Agenda for Europe. Pujol summarized research findings and stated that ‘start-ups don’t grow in the EU due to a lack of funding and support’. Unlike the US, there’s a lack of entrepreneurial culture and we need to stimulate hot spots or clusters for specific entrepreneurial areas to help them grow. The problems the EU face for these to be achieved are providing internships to encourage more people into the industry, highlighting sources of funding to help entrepreneurs grow and then retaining the talent it’s created!

Interestingly, 50,000 jobs were created due to the introduction of ‘Apps‘. This has clearly been a valuable new ‘hot spot’ – how can we learn from this to create another 50,000 jobs?

A really poignant point that came up during the discussions was the need to find ways to listen, learn and inspire others to spark ideas. We must ‘follow our curiosities and if something disturbs you, that’s a good thing’.

The first non-EU speaker was Derek Holt of StartUp America, a start-up for start-ups (who boast to have he world’s shortest URL!) who are there to help ‘inspire and celebrate entrepreneurs’. StartUp America are not there to create jobs, they are there to help others grow by taking the idea, ramping it up and speeding it up. With 1/2 million start-ups every year in the US, there’s clearly a need for an organisation like this one!

Holt rounded up by saying that we must ‘celebrate failure – visibility of mistakes means you will make your own mistakes and that’s when innovation happens’.

The other speakers, including Amy Bonsall and Haiyan Zhang from IDEO, Nico Perez from MixCloud, Jose Jimenez from Telefónica I+D, Spain and Gary Stewart from Wayra Spain broke off into smaller groups to talk about their initiatives, journeys and stories connected to innovation and entrepreneurship.

Workshop 8: innovation and entrepreneurs

Nico Perez gave an insightful talk about how to run a lean start-up without receive VC funding. Perez and his team spent 18 months living and working in a (not so glamorous) warehouse with no salary and no funding but the skills to get their business off the ground. Once MixCloud had built up enough traction and a good user base it was time to go looking for investment – even at this stage it was taking too long to negotiate a deal, by which point they had already started building revenue.

Interestingly, their lawyer turned out to be their most useful mentor; someone who had worked with similar companies in the past.  They realized early on that they were forced to work out a robust business model as cash flow was their life line. His advise for determining a budget and forecast for a start-up is to talk to others in a similar situation. ‘start collecting data points from your network to try and estimate your budget as best as possible’.

The other area of advise was to do with building your online community, a problem that many start-ups face. The ‘cold start’ problem of building up a user base can be a real challenge. Perez suggested immersing yourself into the community that you want to use the site. It is essential to know and understand the desired user group and build on the network you already know.

OpenIDEO Challenge winners enjoying lunch

After lunch we broke off to discuss our winning challenges concepts but I will write about these in a separate blog post.

Day 2: the plenary session, European Parliament
The hemicycle room in the European Parliament is an impressive room and I never imagined I’d ever get the opportunity to sit in it!

European Parliament, Plenary session, Hemicycle Room

The morning was full of innovation, start-up, funding, technology and entrepreneur experts – to save a very long explanation of my leanings, here are a number of quotes which I felt really stood out from the opening speakers:

‘80% of European citizens are connected to the Internet, the Internet has created a 25% increase in jobs in the last year and ICT grows by 3.8% every year’
‘we need to improve our innovation culture without being scared of failing’
‘it is easier to steal a movie on the Internet than it is to buy one – how can we better protect our copyright?’ Alexander Alvaro, VP of the European Commission.

Neelie Kroes speaking at the, Plenary session, European Parliament

‘we can achieve when we act together. We must listen to the outside world’
‘the Internet matters for citizens, it is a platform for astonishing crape activity and we haven’t found it’s limit yet!’
‘there are too many barriers to the internet. 1 in 3 Europeans have no internet access at home and 1 in 4 adults haven’t been online’
‘it’s important to unlock finance to support the entrepreneurs who can provide jobs in the future’
‘what will future generations say about us? Did we adapt to disruptive change? Did we create a better connected continent? Did we make easy tools for elders to join the digital world? We need to act now – the future is in our hands’ Neelie Kroes, VP of the European Commission

The next sessions were panels sharing their views on the topics already discussed to do with eliminating barriers:

‘don’t over tax entrepreneurs’
‘the younger generation are most familiar with the digital world but universities are too slow and because of that there is a skill gap’ Guiseppe Zocco, Index Ventures

‘don’t forget the elderly or disabled. They must be art of the digital community’ Adriana Ticau, Member of the European Parliment.

‘never compromise on research and development’ Ben Verwaayen, CEO Alcatel-Lucent

‘there is a (perceived) lack of access to early stage capital and growth capital.
There is a lack of entrepreneurial culture.
There is a lack of acceptance to failure.
Why are Europeans more risk adverse than the US?’ Stefano Parisi, President of Confindustria Digitale, BUSINESSEUROPE

‘we need to change mindsets and improve the culture’ Robin Wauters, European Editor – The Next Web

‘we must foster a community that supports entreprenures’
‘the Israeli culture learn from role models and encourages school leavers to start their own company straight away. In Europe it’s seen as safe to go and work for a big company when you graduate’
‘society is driven by numbers. Let’s create an incentive culture’
‘education is good but we need practical experience’
‘you can’t copy Silicon Valley by copying the buildings – you need the people’ Eze Vidra, Head of Google Campus

‘there’s a perceived fear of looking stupid. That is our reason for not wanting to fail’
‘Steve jobs was an innovator, not an inventor – he delivered other peoples ideas better… We don’t need to make the next billion dollar idea but make what’s out there, better’ Yossi Vardi, Early Stage internet investor

The last presentation I saw was given by Juliana Rotich, executive director of Ushahidi, ‘a non-profit tech company that specializes in developing free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping’.

Rotich’s talk was very powerful. She based it on the theme of cognitive surplus ‘learning how to use more constructively the free time afforded to people since the 1940s for creative acts rather than consumptive ones, particularly with the advent of online tools that allow new forms of collaboration’

Rotich’s work which is mainly based in Africa but used globally, crowd sources data via an online platform. She stated that only 13% of Africans have Internet access yet they make use of all the resources that they have – Ushahidi’s work helps turn these  resources into invaluable tools.

The organisation she heads up is an incredible platform for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories. ‘Technology gives us the opportunity to magnify power – it’s taken 15 years for the Internet to make as much change as the industrial revolution did in 50 years!’ She went on to explain that we need to view the world from the ground, not just from main stream media and luckily, the Internet allows this. Now there are global voices and people online blogging about their experiences. Open systems are providing people with a skeleton to flesh out their ideas and co-working spaces and incubators in Kenya like IHub are allowing stimulation instead of regulation. ‘We need to remember how important feedback loops are for changing behaviors; they are like a dashboard to our social lives.’

Should we be supporting leaderless networks?
Should we stimulate or regulate?
What we need are gate keepers or trail blazers to empower and open doors.

A fantastic final presentation providing a heart felt message to a very insightful, information filled couple of days.

I captured all these quotes, lessons and insights but what did I learn?

  • Europe has the right people to help nuture and grow digital entreprenurial start-ups but access to funding and support needs to be easier and more approachable.
  • There are ways to support entrepreners better (tax relief, policy changes etc) and we need to drive awareness for a likely hood of these happening in the near future.
  • We need to drive innovation forward making sure we use the talent of the younger generation.
  • Failure is a known problem for start-ups – we should embrace it, change our culture and not shy away from it.
  • The internet has so much potential, we have only scratched the surface and we need to seek out the opportunities lying ahead of us.

And the last thing I want to point out is the lanyard we were all given with our name tags. I had forgotten that the clip for the lanyard doubled up as a memory stick! A nice touch.

DAA Lanyard

All I need to do now is put it into my computer to see what’s on it…

(the hashtag for the workshop was #DA12innov and the whole event hashtag was #DA12 for those wanting to read up more via twitter)

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from Ohio to Europe…

I was fortunate to spend a couple of days last week in Brussels to attend the Digital Agenda Assembly and meet the other OpenIDEO web start-up challenge winners. The ten of us had only ever met in a virtual context on the OpenIDEO platform before this event but we had a really great time together (well, I know I did!). Luckily there was time to socialise as well as ‘work’ and we got to share stories from where we live (Ireland, New York, Austin, San Francisco, Istanbul and London were some of the cities represented).

This was James’ (Moyer from Columbus, Ohio) first trip to Europe (James, have you left the States before?) and over dinner we had a great discussion about the differences between England, Belgium and Ohio. So many of James’ stories fascinated me that I (gently) persuaded him to write up some of his thoughts to share on my blog. And he did! I hope you all find them as entertaining and insightful as I did:

Columbus to Europe

James Moyer’s travels so far….
This entry covers travel in Brussels and Amsterdam (and the bus trip in between the two.) I have had a fascination with Europe for a lot of my life, so many things didn’t necessarily surprise me, yet their reality was still so odd.

*Europeans like bottled water. I’m not surprised by this, I just didn’t fully appreciate how much Europeans like bottled water. This is funny because Americans really like bottled water too, but Europeans seem to feel that it isn’t any good unless it comes in perfectly clear glass, instead of slightly opaque plastic. On this note, while restaurants in the US are happy to provide you tap water in a glass for free, the notion seem to trouble the Continental soul. (Priyanka and I had a very interesting experience paying €6 for a bottle of water. She ended up paying for it, so I could only really be horrified by it on her behalf.)

*Speaking of restaurants, condiments are extra. I’m often hear about Europeans complaining that sales tax is added at the cash register for items purchased (which I can sympathize with) but then charging extra for condiments seems to be approximately as vile. Perhaps I just really like condiments.

*Credit cards aren’t as accepted. Perhaps that’s just a Dutch thing, where they have created their own card based payment system…no, they were weird about credit cards in Brussels too. To be fair, this goes back and forth in America as well. Back in Columbus, credit cards are accepted everywhere, but I have found that stores in NYC are more selective. I was actually fascinated to find a store here in Amsterdam that didn’t even accept cash.

*There aren’t as many fat people…but I feel like there aren’t as many thin people either. I expected there to be less fat people, but less thin people was a surprise. Maybe the Hostel I’m staying in is just full of well-fed, stocky Germans and Spaniards.

*To go with those average sized people, elevators are unusually small to me (complete surprise.) Even in European Parliament buildings, which are nice, proper, modern office building the elevators are so small. It’s like they are encouraging people to use the stairs. And that can only be as vile as charging for condiments.

*More logically to me, the base floor of a building is numbered zero, instead of one. I happen to really like the number line though.

*I have encountered a lot of slow fluorescent lights. In the US we have started converting from regular bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs, but one of the conditions was immediate startup. These older European bulbs are unsatisfactorily slow and I can only assume that Europeans enjoy the time in the dark for nefarious unholy purposes.

*Cows in Belgium are huge. I kept looking at them trying to figure out if I were seeing ruminating Fiats or if these were real live cows. No! They are cows! OMG they are huge!

*Dutch is like German but without German’s effervescent charm.

Bewaking 'monitoring'

This is awkward, but usually I charge to bewak in front of a camera.

*Toilets. I have much to say about toilets. I’d like to begin with the fact that they use a cleaning chemical here that I swear smells like piss. I’m curious to see if that’s the case in the UK too. I also see a lot more dual flush toilets here (one button for a small amount of water, larger button for a bigger amount of water for better flushing action.) It’s rather fascinating to me as an armchair designer to see how different manufacturers set-up the two buttons.

I would like to end by adding that I encountered a toilet in Amsterdam whose sole purpose was to convert the precious resources of water and noise into a gentle massage for the lucky toilet bowl contents.

My take-aways from these insights are:

  • I’m surprised, yet not sure why, about the bottled water comments… I thought Europeans weren’t fans of bottled water but I clearly have an idealistic view on the matter.
  • I will have to look at the size of cows when I next visit Belgium. I can’t say I’ve ever thought they were particularly large…
  • I have to disagree on it making sense that the ground floor starts on zero. I’ve never understood why we don’t calculate floors like the Americans do and start on number 1.
  • I love the fact that James has commented on the size of the elevators in Brussels. They are always tiny. Why?

I’m looking forward to the next installment of insights 😉 Thank you, James!

Made In Brunel: Pecha Kucha 2012

Made In Brunel banner

I was honoured to be invited back to the Made in Brunel 2012 exhibition to give a Pecha Kucha presentation at the Barge House on London’s Southbank. Not only did I do my undergraduate degree in Industrial Design (back in the Runnymede years) but I helped organise our end of year exhibition and have always been a fan of the Brunel end of year shows.

It was a hard task to speak along side this list of inspiring people!

However, the theme ‘journeys fuelled by ideas’ did allow me to present how I went from an undergraduate in Industrial Design to being a social innovator today. Here is a summary of my 20 slides (each timed at 20 seconds long):

  1. I started my talk by urging everyone to read Victor Papanek’s ‘The Green Imperative’ – a book that changed by view on design, made me question the world of consumerism that I was experiencing and think about what the future will look like.
  2. This new way of thinking inspired me to see if I could wear/buy only second hand clothing for a year. It would be a challenge but a good challenge – I would need to think creatively about my wardrobe, it would help me save money and give me peace of mind that I was preventing unwanted clothes from going to landfill.
  3. Of course, buying only second hand clothing meant I spent a large amount of time in charity shops – then came Mary Portas!
    Pecha Kucha slide - Mary Portas
    Mary Portas presented a tv show where she transformed a run down charity shop into a fantastic retail experience. It made great tv and raised awareness around charity shops but… I didn’t feel it was true to reality. Not all charity shops have money, a film crew or a tv celebrity!
  4. I wanted to see if I could use my design thinking to help improve local and independant charity shops with little or no money.
  5. So, I immersed myself in a local charity shop and became a volunteer to see what it was like to be on the receiving end of donations. I steamed clothes to join in the back room conversations, I worked on the till to speak to customers and I hung around outside the shop to get a feel for what the community was all about.
  6. These insights, volunteer stories and community help allowed my to come up with a tool to provide recommendations for changes to the charity shop. The recommendations ranged from renting out the shop windows to community groups needing advertising space to changing the opening hours to attract a different type of customer.
  7. I had a real love for second clothing and wanted to learn more about the subject so I went with [re]design, the social enterprise and their ‘Chalky Van’ to the Vintage Festival. We facilitated sessions to find out how people might give an old shirt a second lease of life – the ideas were brilliant. My favourite was ‘blow my nose on it’.
    Pecha Kucha - Chalky Van
  8. I also ran a swishing event (where people come together to swap their unwanted clothes) with a twist. I wanted to see people’s reactions when a rack of clothing was placed in a busy street and people were allowed to swap their clothes. Some people swapped the clothes they were wearing, others negotiated with friends to swap and some went home to get something else to swap. It proved that people do like second hand clothing – it just needs to be displayed and presented in an interesting way.
  9. It was becoming clear that my passion was around behaviour change and encouraging people to swap bad habits for good ones and began to focus on using my design to do this.
  10. I became a design ambassador for the Design Council‘s Water Design Challenge and worked with a group of girls at a school in Southampton to enter the challenge. Their enthusiam, creativity and interest in reducing in their water consumption amazed me.
  11. I got involved with the People’s Kitchen in Dalston helping provide ‘food for the people by the people’ to encourage people  not to waste food.
    Pecha Kucha - The People's Kitchen
  12. Some people come to learn new cooking skills, others come to share their recipes, some come to eat an affordable meal and others come to meet like minded people. The best part is that everyone is helping to eat what would be unwanted food and change the attitude towards waste food. A People’s Kitchen has opened in Brixton which is fantastic news.
  13. And now, I’m Director of Behaviour Change at Ecoinomy helping large companies engage their staff to change their habits.
  14. It’s often hard for companies to create change within the organisation. Either the message is top down which feels like a stick is being waved to enforce change, or the message is bottom up and unheard.  Ecoinomy offer a system that motivates employees to change their habits by rewarding them for their actions and in return, money is given to a cause of their choice.
  15. Changing behaviours can be challenging and I spend most of my time working with the end users to find out how our system can be improved, discover what language needs to be used and how we can dig deeper into the world of good sustainable  habits.
  16. An area I had been wanting to work in was health and as a result teamed up with four other designers to enter the Design Council’s ‘Living well with Dementia‘ challenge.
  17. We decided to focus on helping improve the lives of the primary carer by encouraging families to collaborate to share the necessary care.
  18. This meant spending time with primary carers, speaking to people living with dementia and really finding out what life is like for everyone living with dementia.
  19. I am a real advocate for OpenIDEO – the platform where people collaborate to design better, together and recently ran an OpenIDEATION workshop with the Kingston University MA Design for Development students. We came up with concepts for the challenge looking at ‘how might we design an accessible election experience for everyone?
  20. And my latest concept ‘TED positive – sharing failures‘ for the OpenIDEO ‘how might we support web entrepreneurs in launching and growing sustainable global businesses?‘ is being developed as one of the winning concepts.
    Pecha Kucha - OpenIDEO conceptDo you have a failure story relating to your work/business/journey that you would like to share for others to learn from? If so, please let me know – I’d love to hear it!

And lastly, I’d like to thank Brunel for inviting me to speak, not only did it give me an excellent reason to reflect on my journey over the last 2 years but I got to meet plenty of interesting people and many old friends.

I also want to thank the lovely, Laoise Casey for taking photos while I spoke!