The Best of Technoport Talks

Over 700 attendees enjoyed a packed day of insightful talks and discussion at Norway's fastest-growing technology conference.

"We are building a movement, not a company"

The main day of Technoport talks proved the common denominator of Crack the Code is one thing: Collaboration!

Charles Adler talked to us about the empowerment of people, Ian Millard and Tuomas Nousiainen about public innovation funds, Dirk Ahlborn introduced us to crowdstorming and Kirah to “innovation with, not for people”. Finally Stéphane Garelli addressed the challenges related to the enterprises of tomorrow.

After the necessary pleasantries from the Mayor of Trondheim and Johan Hustad, NTNU’s Pro-Rector for Innovation, familiar face Leo Johnson got Technoport 2016 underway by encouraging participants to "forget the word impossible."

Crack the World

In a world where technology companies that didn’t even exist 25 years ago generate more money than many small nations, it was important to start the day with some perspective. Hege Skryseth, Executive Vice President at Kongsberg, one of Norway’s leading industrial companies, did just that by outlining the digital revolution and the transformation from physical products to digital services.

Kickstarter co-founder Charles Adler then showcased how his digital service has impowerd people to create new physical products, from the record-breaking Pebble smartwatch right throught to a group of high school kids building a flight simulator from a recycled Piper Cub fuselage.

Peter Hirsberg spoke about the power behind the maker movement, so powerful in fact that Barack Obama recently hosted a Maker Faire in the White House. Particularly relevant to Trondheim given our successful high-profile Maker Faire, Hirsberg talked about how innovation is clustering into cities, and how makers are becoming an essential ingredient for large corporations.

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Bridge the Innovation Gap

How do we bridge the gap between big governmental funding into innovation and turn it into jobs? The speakers who would address this topic come from very different countries and perspectives.

The EU-perspective 

Tuomas Nousiainen from the European Commision mentions that Europe struggles to turn know ledge into jobs. He outlines that innovation is quite complex and dynamic, and it is difficult to find a pattern of what actually works. In today’s society there is a paradigm shift - more open innovation and co-creation. The institutions need to accommodate this. There are three pillars that need to be formed. The regulatory framework needs to be more innovation-friendly. There must also be incentives in place to do investments on start-ups. Finally, the impact of innovation tools must be maximized. 

The EU has a 77€ billion innovation fund. There are a lot of applications and forms to fill out. This is a bit too complex for smaller entreprenuers who only require small funds. In summary, the EU needs to adapt it’s platform to accomodate today’s innovative society.

The Norwegian perspective

How will Norway crack the code? Alexandra Gjørv is the CEO of Sintef, Norway’s biggest independent research institute. Sintef has a large span of research groups in virtually every field. Their newest lab creates lightning, she even invited the crowd to try it. Sintef are in a way open for collaboration with both the industry and students.

Sintef has a wide range of spin-off companies, which come from their research projects. They have an infrastructure in place to help them into the market. You may recognize a couple of these Sintef-spinoffs: Nordic Semiconductor, Powel, Resman and GasSecure.

Big companies from major injuries have today a good collaboration with Sintef. Many of them run their R&D department out of Sintef. But a challenge today is to work better with smaller companies, who can’t afford this. How does Sintef accomondate the work-schedule and amount of resources to small companies, who are both bright, innovative and contribute to solutions?

The international perspective

Dirk Alborn is the CEO of Hyperloop, a transportation-tube which travels at the speed of sound. The first travel route will be between Los Angeles and San Fransisco and the travel-time will be only 30 minutes. Hyperloop are running their business in a very unconventional way. They work on a global level, not just locally only in California. They incorporate crowdsourcing into their business model, meaning that innovation comes from all around the world. Hyperloop hires people worldwide, with stock options as the payment. In addition, they have over 20,000 passionate people globally who share their ideas and opinions.

An interesting aspect is that Hyperloop hasn’t proactively raised any funding, thanks to $18 million worth of person-hours donated so far. Ahlborn says that you can do amazing things even without funds. The vision is to gather a group of people who share a passion of making a difference. Hyperloop have found a way to work open-source and mix it with a commercial venture, which is a tricky thing.

The session concluded with a Q&A session with the speakers. Gjørv points out that the state and govermental institution is a challenge in Norway, in terms of making a project like Hyperloop work out here. But she acknowledges Ahlborn’s key point into making innovation global in order to solve challenges.

In summary, this session presents the way of doing innovation from three different perspectives. Norway has a lot to learn from the US and Hyperloop’s way of doing business. Dirk Ahlborn introduced us to "crowdstorming" and how important it is with inputs from as many people as possible. “We are building a movement not a company,” he said.

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From Idea to Reality

In this lecture Gutvik and Berre, the founders of the concept PAI, Fuchs, a lecturer at Stanford, and Kirah, a designer who has worked for Boeing and Microsoft, shared their experiences with us. The main topic was the methods required to make a good idea into a product that people would demand and ask for.

The foundation for innovation is always a problem. The problem is the main reason people do innovation, mostly because the existing products in a certain area isn’t good enough or that the demands have changed.  A Norwegian success story is the one regarding Gutvik and Berre, who invented a new kind of fitness watch, using new parameters to measure health and activity. This technology is named PAI, which stands for Personal Activity Intelligence. Despite being turned down by Apple, they didn’t give up, and soon started a partnership with MIO instead. Recently PAI reached the front pages of Wall Street Journal, and the success story goes on. The conclusion presented from the two inventors is always to think big, and be humble to other’s knowledge.

With Fuchs the big focus was on the market. To make money from an invention the inventors or entrepreneurs need to find a relevant market, if not they will never really make it commercially.  The startup should have a clear plan and business model, which could make the way to the top a bit less steep.

Kirah is an experienced designer who has worked for industrial giants like Boeing and Microsoft. Her focus as a designer was always to observe people, the users of the technology. This has to do with her background as a psychologist, and from her point of view, the innovation should happen with people, not for people. This because the technology ultimately is about the users, not the technology itself.

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Building the Enterprises of Tomorrow

To conclude the sessions, the challenge of building the enterprises of tomorrow were adressed. A supportive ecosystem is vital in order to help businesses thrive.The session started with Professor Stèphane Garelli addressing the world economy. As it is today, it is not optimal in order to make businesses thrive. In many countries, governements are focusing on allocating their resources to bailouts rather than investing in businesses. Another issue is big companies such as Apple and Google who place their money in tax havens, rather than the respective land in which they operate. In addition, many countries have legislations who are both lengthy and difficult to interpret.

The next speaker was Ian Millard from Innovative UK. He states the fact that the UK has world class innovators. One solution to their problems with innovation is the SBRI, which connects innovative ideas from the industry to the public sector. The programme has made a large and positive impact on small businesses.

The final speaker was Marianne Vikkula, the president of Slush. Slush is regarded as Technoport’s sister event and has several thousands attendees. With the same vision as Technoport, Slush has become a sucessful meeting place for entreprenuers. One of their keys to success, is that it’s driven by passionate students. Research has found that startups play a large part of economic growth and job-creation. It is safe to say that both Technoport and Slush will help fuel the process.

The session concluded with a Q&A-session with the speakers and two angel investors. The panel gave their best tips of what to do, and what not to do when you are a startup interacting with investors. One of the key things the angel investors is looking for is momentum. It must be generated and articulated to the investors. When things are working, money comes in fasters. The investors strive for startups to understand their business model. They must also have a clear vision on how they will make customers and how to generate revenue.

 The session gave a clear picture of the ecosystem within innovation. Governments interferes processes and they can’t steer innovation. However, one way of counteracting this is to create an innovation collaboration between the industry and public sector, which has been a success in the UK. Finally, meeting places such as Technoport and Slush are platforms in which startups and entreprenurs can meet investors who will help accelerate them into the market. From a startup perspective, it is important to do it with passion, as well as having a clear plan to present to investors.

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See you next year, everyone!

Photos: Wil Lee-Wright Photography

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