Sunday, September 25, 2011

Innovators on the Edge - In the Woods is Good to Grow

As written earlier Saxony Economic Development Corporation (AKA Wirtschaftsförderung Sachsen GmbH or in short WFS) has played a major role in facilitating the economic success of Saxony over the last twenty years. Last week 20 journalists were about to learn more about its depth. The lean thinkers amongst us would have said, "Going to the GEMBA (where the real stuff happens)":

Waiting and letting the experiences from last week settle in my mind and the business context has been more than interesting. We saw global players like BMW Plant Leipzig (H), Freiberger Compound Materials GmbH (G), rather locally embedded ones like Wätas (F), and Gerber Spitzen GmbH (E) - and were surely surprised.

Just to have a feeling what we have covered of Saxony - only a small fraction of what really is going on in the field of innovation (in various fields) here link to the route. For a visual quick glance, the following gives some feeling

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The whole trip was -in retrospect- beautifully choreographed by PR Piloten and WFS even though while being in the midst of the trip it was difficult to see the broader picture. Starting off with Eickhoff Antriebstechnik GmbH (B) with its new production plant in Klipphausen, producer of gearing for wind energy installation, steel and heat grounded everybody. Tangible things to quite familiar to the engineers amongst us. Quite contrary -concerning the weight of the products- next station was Mittweida. There we learned, in the middle of the town of a formerly racing sports car producer, at which plant location now parts of the new Airbuses are produced in ultra-light composite materials. Composite Technology Saxony, shortened to COTESA GmbH (C) was the first twist in perception. The Brandeins magazines sitting on the visitor area tables put an explanatory light on what entrepreneurial power and vision lie in the laid-back countryside.

After this rather high-tech orientated first day almost finished the day, a stitching company in the former stitch center of the world (its brand name still quite famous, "Plauener Spitze"). Gerber Spitzen GmbH (E) was our last visit for the day. 20 minds were thinking, "What might expect us there?" - Tuning in over coffee and cake, a perfect "chess move" to arise the curiosity. We heard of High Stick & High Stick+ and that stitching as a means of reinforcing material stability (with at the same time lower weight) is what the future is about. Curiousness tension rose even more.  Moving on over to the production area was like coming back to the early times of Toyota when loom machines were their main business. Amazing to the machine in action, learning about loads of punch tapes in the archives - innovation is not always about technology in the first place, it is all about human creativity to be put to work. .... the future of stitching is certainly closer than we all could see that afternoon. Automotive usage just one area and as Stitch World (a special issue of Technology Review) shows.

With that experience and freed-minds, the crowd stayed at Plauen with a continuous conversation over what was seen that first day of the trip.

Next day's morning travels for about 90 min brought us to Olbernhau, a small town right in the forest. An old and authentic entrepreneurial villa invited the group, the wood framed conference room brought back some of the spirit that was famous for the time before World War II as the region was sparked by innovators (on the edge). Listening to the short presentation for some minutes in it became quite clear that Wätas (F) is just another lean-orientated "hidden champion" in Silicon Saxony. During the first minutes of the presentation it became quite clear that the lean mindset is not just brought in by Porsche Consulting (which offered support due to the fact that Wätas earned an innovation prize lately) but entrenched in an old Saxonian mindset: making more with what you have at hand (in other parts of the world, this runs under the label 'Lean Thinking').

After a rushed visit through the premises and production line, the next point of interest during the tour was Freiberger Compound Materials GmbH (G) in Freiberg - actually where Silicon Saxony was sort of kickstarted and originated some 50 years ago almost on the date. The two days should close with a visit to the newest BMW plant in Leipzig (H) also visiting their logistics partner Kühne & Nagel (H). There we not only saw what economic "side-"effects a major player in the automotive arena has initiated in terms of economic growth of the region and the uprise of new supporting industries close by. Quite a few suppliers of complex car parts are based around the production area in the close vicinity even based on the premises.

Wrapping up, these two days enabled all participants to learn about a wide range of innovative companies in Saxony, which Wirtschaftsförderung Sachsen GmbH has helped in one or the other way to make the setup a successful one. As we could see innovation comes from the most unexpected sidelines from fields where a competitiveness towards the global market would not be obvious at first sight.

In one sentence to grasp the experience: Saxons make their on-the-edge setting away from the big thriving business centers into an innovation hot spot with a centuries-long history dating well back to the 16th century. Passion, Pride, and Pursuing rules!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Start Small, Accelerate Quickly

One year back in time, fresh like plucked today. Thoughts to be thought about.

Tianjin 2010 - Shaping the Future + Closing Session by World Economic Forum

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Hidden Champion - 20 Years WFS & 50 Years Silicon Saxony

Last Monday, on September the 5th 2011, the Economic Development Agency Saxony (Wirtschaftsförderung Sachsen GmbH AKA WFS) had invited to its press talk due to its 20 year anniversary. The event took place at a small, yet technologically up to the rank "hidden champion" in the wireless network applications in Dresden, dresden elektronik ingenieurtechnik GmbH.

Surprisingly the audience of about 20 journalists and relevant media connector learned once again and for their audience, what really is cooking on the sideline of Germany, in so-called Silicon Saxony.
Shortly after the reunification of Germany in 1991, the government of Saxony decided to create an agency that would, even though loosely connected to the Free State of Saxony, act on its own as an LLC to spur the transformation of the local economy. An asset has been that the area around Dresden had been the microelectronics heart of the former COMECON (the communist economic entity) and so research institutes, well-educated engineers, and facilities were still in existence and to be used to bring economics up once again. It became evident that the local firms, even though they had made business with the global economy already needed support to connect to possible investors and new markets for their products and the ones to be developed. The WFS has functioned since then as a facilitator and connector of the local economy and the global markets in order to bring fertile connections into being.

The major goal back in the early days was to "put Saxony back on the global map" - as Saxony had been the European "powerhouse" in machinery, automobiles, railways, and many other fields (till the Second World War). Behind the "iron curtain" not much came out of what was really cooking, even the developments since the start of the microelectronics age back in 1961 in a research lab in Dresden were unknown to most.

Since the beginning in 1991 the WFS has involved almost 3.000 Saxonian companies to step over the country borders in order to outreach to foreign markets bring not only the word about Saxony out but also attract foreign companies to invest and cooperate with partners in Saxony. Over 47.000 new workplaces could be created with the support of WFS. One of the two major achievements were the two chip factories, Global Foundries (formerly AMD) and INFINEON, which since the mid-90s have attracted not only suppliers locally to emerge but also fueled back into the research and academic institutions based in the area.

Current activities are the supporting of the entrepreneurial eco-system of Saxony, a deeper collaboration with research institutes and universities (here one has to name DRESDENconcept), a future outreach into Indian markets.

Some thoughts on visions to be pulled by the future we could see on that Monday in the room:

  • In what way WFS will outcompete other internationally active economic development agencies the minute the new social tools are taken into account as boundary objects to connect across the globe with almost no cost? 
  • How would the entrepreneurial spirit of Saxony which once was driven by constraints, which led then to innovations we still use today, e.g. tubed toothpaste, the SLR camera, the PAL TV system, and more? 
  • Being a high-tech hot spot of its day now in all the relevant fields of technology, from robotics, nanotech, biotech, mobile computing, energy efficiency, solar energy,   ... what effect would have one or more (networked and closely working together) institutions like Singularity University to the economy of the region? 
  • What impact on future economic growth would a combined screening of Tiffany Shlain's documentary "Connected" and the documentary by Barry Ptolemy about futurist Ray Kurzweil "TranscendentMan" in Dresden fuel?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Connecting the Dots AND Knowledge in the Air

For four days Dresden is host of a unique conference. The sub-conferences bound neatly together create Wissensgemeinschaften 2010 (Knowledge Communities 2011) - #delfi11 #geneme11 #gmw11 or #wige11 (which combines all).

Yesterday a pre-conference day with doctoral presentations and workshop put the setting and learning into gear. Issues like gesture use through smartphones in education and AR (augmented reality) as well as Ambient Displays were some of the most interesting topics. Some thoughts by workshop leader Mostafa Akbari on the relevant blog (translation via GoogleTranslate -a feature which is BTW just recently been added on Facebook). Quickly the dialogue of the session partners spurred into business world use and possible applications. However also the negative implication of overusing technology instead of becoming aware of what the human body and mind is really capable to use for learning as some participants outlined.

We are definitely on the turn of education, where standard education is what we see in most schools and universities, using the standards that were relevant some 20, 30 years ago with no World Wide Web in ubiquitous use - whether laptops, tablets, smartphones or even internet of things.

The first movers of these technologies are most often seen in the context of universities, where doctoral students are exploring new use of current technologies emerging quietly on the edge.

Being part of the "living cluster" of emerging technologies applied into education, a truly not easy to change environment these days, facing lots of strong head winds in public, is like seeing the future right in front.

.... to be continued .... more from #geneme11 from tomorrow and on.