First European Matchmaking Summit on Mobile and E-Technologies, Stuttgart, Germany, 15-16 May 2008

Living Labs flourishes in Europe

“Science as opposed to technology does violence to common sense!” – this provocative remark was casually slipped into the conversation by one of the participants at the networking diner Friday night. The direct implication was of course that modern theoretical physics has become practically nonsense and that we can only really understand the practical application of existing technologies. But the speaker also had a subtext, and he continued by asking: “Does any of the science and technology discussed on this conference make sense?”

This question is actually an interesting and relevant filter through which to view the conference in Stuttgart. The first European matchmaking summit on mobile and e-technologies was a unique two day event focusing on the collaboration between the public sector and private enterprises. The participants came from one hundred of the most innovative firms in the mobile and wireless sector, and together they represented over twenty European countries. Another important group was comprised by various public decision makers from city administrators to health care specialists. The third and all important ingredient in this melting pot of the new mobile market was the very active participation of the most advanced science clusters in Europe today.

On the first morning of the conference, that that took place in the appropriately high-tech convenience of the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart, many people showed up early, and the place was already buzzing with anticipation and conversation, when the first speakers got ready to launch the event. Professor Jan Annerstedt from Living Labs Europe welcomed everyone to the conference and proceeded to sketch out the new challenges: In opening the European markets for digital solutions a crucial key to success lies in the ability of the private and the public sector to communicate and to work together. He underlined that we can find better ways to make small and medium seized enterprises smarter in the way they approach users. Finding the best business models and opening up for new instruments such as venture capital is a step in the right direction, but to overcome the weaknesses, we must be able to create larger partnerships. Professor Annerstedt presented the Living Lab concept as an ideal network of clusters that enable faster cooperation between users and providers, and most importantly as a network that uses the city as an innovative space where the involvement of the users is always the centre of attention.

The audience were attentive, but there was a clear and positive shift in the energy in the auditory as Professor Annerstedt gave his final statements. He made clear that the whole project is only a stepping stone, and that Living Labs as a self-funded organisation will make a platform, where we will see a real model emerging. The audience knew that the European market has 70 million potential end users, and everyone were thrilled to be part of an active network where this is the main focus. These thoughts were also taken up by the next speaker, Dr Reinhart Büscher, Head of Innova, who was happy to continue on the subject of innovation and markets. He explained that Europe has too many standards today and that Innova is not going to be standard setting. But Innova is going to find which are good standards and which are bad. This will be of the greatest help to enterprises. Innovation management as a craft will have to be developed further, and the art of converting ideas into money is still very much on the agenda. There will be a strong research and science perspective, and Dr. Büscher stipulated that the public founds, time and energy that goes into these projects must be converted into value added. Therefore cluster networking alone is no longer enough, it will have to be taken to the next level, where real collaboration, professional partnerships and world class excellence is achieved. This was all well received, as the new cross-network collaboration between clusters in Europe, public sector agencies, business firms, venture capitalists and research institutions has already begun to flourish.

All of these points were summed up by Dr. Jakob Rasmussen, who stated that Europe has a leading global competence in mobile communication services – and he continued by asking the question: “What can we do in the future?” Dr. Rasmussen mapped out the huge potential in the European market, and explained how the public sector and private enterprises working together in unison can create initial demand for new services and drive the demand by functioning as advance buyers. This dynamics is being strengthened by the mClusters project, and people were happy to learn that Living Labs Europe will continue to map out competences in Europe, will continue to establish partnerships of trailblazers, will continue to make innovative showcase projects that can be exported.

But most important of all – and the point that everyone nodded their heads at – Living Labs Europe will continue to hold matchmaking sessions of supply and demand in the future.

At no point during the two days was it forgotten that this was a matchmaking summit, and Dr. Rasmussen’s speech served as the perfect link to the lunch and to the following matchmaking sessions that continued for the duration of the afternoon. The participants were divided into three groups and they spent four and a half hours discussing mCities, mLearning and mHealth. In the first part of the sessions an expert panel comprised by exponents from the public sector, private enterprises and from universities told about their own projects, and they showcased interesting examples for the whole group to dissect. The second half of the sessions saw the further splitting up of the groups, as people were put together in small teams of four or five members. These small teams now had to make an assessment of the killer applications that already exist – then they had to brainstorm about the coming trends, and finally they had to “dream up” their ideal applications of the future. These interactive workshops really livened things up, and it was clear for all to see that the participants began to enjoy themselves while learning interesting and important things from their colleagues and potential partners.

It proved quite a task for the group moderators to stop the eager participants, who were now deep into heated discussion and complicated explanations, but all good things come to an end, and Fraunhofer laboratories had generously arranged for everyone at the conference to visit their research facilities before the grand networking dinner started. When people began to arrive at the dinner there seemed to be widespread jealousy towards those who had gone to the interactive driving simulator, and there was much joking about the fairground experience provided by Fraunhofer. All social ice was now broken, and as it’s so often the case in situations like these, everyone were beginning to communicate actively – the real matchmaking had begun. Evening turned into night to the tones of a small jazz ensemble, and no one can deny that this was the most valuable hours seen from a networking perspective.

On Friday, the last day, there was a short introduction and an interesting speech by Ulrike Daniels on the European Satellite Navigation Competition 2008. Then three new groups were established and three new subjects were introduced: mLogistics, mTourism and mPayment. The same procedure as on Thursday was followed, but this time there was a lot of participation and discussion from the beginning. When Jan Annerstedt held the closing note just before lunch, it was only natural that he should be positive and happy in his evaluation of the event; all participants were enthusiastic about the time that they had invested in coming to Stuttgart, and there was a genuine spirit of expectation, when Professor Annerstedt made a promise: “This is only the beginning.”

The speaker, who made the cheeky question about science and technology at the networking dinner, was referring to the speculative discussions about future trends at the interactive workshops. But he continued and gave an answer himself. He was impressed with what was being achieved and created on the conference, and for him too, this was only a beginning.

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