Urbanisation is a global phenomenon that affects the majority of the world’s population. According to the United Nations, cities will house 70% of the world’s population by 2050. Sustainable development is so critical if the global community is to solve the significant climatic and environmental issues we confront. The recent COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow demonstrated the urgent need for creative, yet realistic, solutions.
NEW TECHNOLOGY CAN PROVIDE BETTER BUILDINGS
COWI, EWII, and VKR Holding/VELUX partnered with the charitable organisation Realdania and the Danish Industry Foundation in 2019 to boost attention on innovation and sustainability in the built environment.
The Urbantech accelerator, in particular, was developed, which is a programme in which entrepreneurs in technology and construction collaborate with significant Danish corporations to develop products and business strategies. The programme has had 39 startups join, and the outcomes have been good.
“It’s gone better than we could have hoped for.” We have established a knowledge ecosystem in Denmark that is both valuable and vibrant, making it appealing to international talent. Many of the program’s entrepreneurs are still working with Danish enterprises, which should result in more creative solutions and greater competitiveness. Urbantech has demonstrated that collaboration across size, disciplines, and sector borders may be extremely beneficial. “We will undoubtedly remember that event,” says Thomas Hofman-Bang, CEO of the Danish Industry Foundation.
So far, the 39 entrepreneurs have produced over 110 new employment. What is even more surprising is that they have raised DKK 199 million in venture financing, which is twice the amount that the Urbantech initiative initially intended for.
“In addition to the excellent achievements in terms of innovative solutions, job creation, and bringing venture capital to the built environment, we are also responsible for the growth of the three significant corporations involved in the programme.” The countless startups that have been inside these firms’ engine rooms over the last three years have encouraged them to see themselves and their approach to innovation in a whole new perspective. “I’m hoping that this will motivate many more established Danish enterprises to do more,” says Simon Kofod-Svendsen, Project Manager at Realdania.
GREAT VALUE FOR THE LARGE CORPORATES
Working so closely with established actors in and around the built environment clearly helped the upstart enterprises. At the same time, COWI, EWII, and VKR Holding/VELUX have learnt a lot from their interactions with numerous companies, as well as through cross-collaboration.
‘Urbantech and engagement with startups has undeniably expedited COWI’s digital development and assisted in changing our business attitude.’ When the agility, inventiveness, and readiness to adapt to startups are combined with the managerial structure and customer base of bigger organisations, the optimal atmosphere for radical innovation is created. “In the future, we will focus even more on forming strong partnerships with startups, for example, because when we work together, we can create better solutions for a sustainable world,” says Lars-Peter Sbye, CEO of COWI, which has recently collaborated with the startup’s Parametric Solutions, Cogo, Treble Technologies, Excess Materials Exchange, and Woodsense.
Working with the entrepreneurs at Urbantech has also been enlightening for the utility EWII, opening the door to an entrepreneurial cosmos for the Kolding-based company.
“Urbantech has shown us that there is a world we did not have enough knowledge into – a world that has revolutionised our self-understanding and sparked fresh vitality in the organisation.” I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a more valuable atmosphere for the growth of a well-established business – an environment where we naturally feel like meeting each other at eye level and with mutual respect for the things we can build together. “Urbantech has had a long-term impact on EWII’s contribution to the green agenda,” says Lars Bonderup Bjrn, EWII’s CEO.
There will also be a long-term impact at VKR Holding and VELUX, which will put more emphasis in the future on entrepreneurship, technology, and sustainable building.
“Participating in Urbantech has been eye-opening for VELUX.” We come from a family where creativity and innovative ideas have always been instilled in us. The Urbantech cooperation truly opened our eyes to how much is going on in the construction industry’s overall ecosystem, and how many ideas and projects are boiling around us. The partnership has opened new avenues for us, we’ve learnt a lot about technology, and we’ve also learned how to work with entrepreneurs. We hope and feel that by providing guidance and sparring, we have provided significant value to the entrepreneurs. But we’ve also gained a lot from the partnership, so much so that VKR Holding recently made a significant investment in KOMPAS, a venture capital fund focused on sustainability and technology in the building sector,” explains Tina Mayn, SVP for Products at VELUX. The venture fund aspires to spend one billion kroner over the next ten years, making it one of Denmark’s largest single venture capital funds.
ANCHORING IS SET TO MAKE THE BIG DIFFERENCE
Three years of experience in entrepreneurship has brought a wealth of knowledge. The moment has come to analyse, conclude, and consolidate based on the Urbantech project’s lessons learnt.
‘We have learnt a great deal. And by “we,” I mean the entire ecosystem surrounding Urbantech. After three frantic years, it is critical that we completely consolidate so that the new knowledge and experience obtained remains in the industry and ecosystem, both in Denmark and worldwide. That happens when the many parties involved combining their expertise and creative ideas in novel ways,’ explains Rainmaking’s Michael Ambjrn, who oversaw the three-year Urbantech project.
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