Uitgesproken tijdens de Innovatielezing op 2 juni 2015. Gesproken woord telt.
Ladies and gentlemen,
A few years ago I met Vince Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet. He told me that, when they invented the Internet, they could not have imagined all the possibilities this technology had to offer.
Just think of all the products and devices which have been developed around it. Mobiles, Apps, Internet of Things, touch screens, search engines, robots, Cloud, driverless cars. etc etc.
All these things have changed our lives and work in a fundamental way. And this is only the beginning.
This speech is about change, about transformation, disruption and the role of innovation in dealing with change. This speech is about something that has always been at the core of science, industry and society.
Let me say this: Change is not just a necessary or an obvious thing. Change is not just something of the last decades or even centuries. Change is not limited to President Obama and inspiring a nation with: ‘Yes, we can!’.
I would like to give this word ‘change’ much more emphasis and meaning: Change is inevitable. It is an inevitable part of our lives and the lives of future generations. And that is how we should treat it. In the best possible manner.
We should embrace change, because we have to. Our future will be based on how we are dealing with change. How we are dealing with challenges like climate change, or aging. With energy resources and the ever increasing population and urbanization. With a rising water level or with or water shortage. With cybercrime and cyber security.
When we talk about change, It is about opening up to new challenges, ideas and opportunities. But perhaps most of all: when it is about finding groundbreaking solutions, it is about allowing new players to be a part of the game. That is why “change” is about all of us, why we are here today.
The world around us is changing fast and more rapidly than ever before. Existing concepts and vested interests are under a continuous pressure to adapt to the new.
When I think of the possible responses to change, I can identify ‘ignore’, ‘reject’, ‘adopt’, ‘adapt’ or develop the new. It is the choice between blocking change. Or give guidance, leadership and vision to change. The future of our telecom sector; the energy sector; the automotive and healthcare sector will rely on our ambitious and agile response to change.
The Netherlands has often been at the forefront of technological innovation and it still is. Our water management system (Deltaworks) is world famous. Our offshore industry is globally leading. We are in the top three when it is about nanotechnology or exporting agro food. And we have globally leading corporates like DSM, Shell, Ten Cate, Philips and its “offspring” ASML and NXP. We have a lot to be proud of.
The present times, however, require a different attitude. The average lifecycle of innovation is now a few years, instead of a decade. And large corporates in particular have difficulty in keeping up and reinventing themselves continuously. Corporates are just not designed to manage that process very well.
In my opinion, corporates should let in ‘new blood’, new talent, new thoughts and ideas. Not to buy them or ‘incorporate’ in their system. Not because they like to have a trendy startup in their midst. But because they realize that change is inevitable and is happening faster than ever before.
Startups and corporates could be a perfect match. Even more so when academia are involved as well. It is a win-win-win for everyone. Together they can develop a flourishing ecosystem with talent, knowledge, capital, coaching, legal advice and opening up international networks, mentorship and, more importantly: becoming a launching customer.
The key question is of course: how much are we willing to leave our vested interests? How many layers of bureaucratic decision making do you need to survive, before your innovative idea reaches the boardroom?
As a Special Envoy for startups. And as a former Commissioner of the Digital Agenda, I have a great interest in newcomers. The new kid on the block. The out of the box thinker. The disruptor of old business models. Because they are the ones who are making the difference today.
Embracing change, requires a different mindset. The other day I walked through the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and saw the paintings of the French artist Matisse. In every phase of his painting he overcame the prejudices of his contemporaries and of the society he lived in. He innovated himself and his work constantly, by experimenting; using new methods and not caring about vested interests and vested artistic values. In his own studio. Matisse, as we would say now, worked like a lean startup.
Embracing change, is also about taking risks, because they are part of the same game. I would like to make this even stronger: Taking risks and accepting failure, is actually about loving to improve your work. By the way: It was a European from Dublin, the author Samuel Beckett, who said: Try again, fail again and fail better!
I don’t think, he had ever set foot in Silicon Valley, to be taught this lesson. Beckett was a startup, avant la lettre. He challenged us to take risks and warned us not to wait…!
Why do I mention artists and writers from the past? Because in my opinion we are already surrounded by inspiration within our own culture. That is: If we are willing to see it and be open to it. We don’t need to go to Silicon Valley. But we do need to become more ambitious and daring!
For example: We are reacting against the power and market dominance of Google, for good reasons. But we should also pro-actively put our best European brains and capital together and ask ourselves: What would a post-Google era look like? Do we dare to dream about it and realise this dream? And what will be our leading role in it?
My point is:
We should make a big, ambitious step forward and not lean back into our comfort zone of the past glory of vested interests or the false security of nationalism. It won’t last.
There is a whole new generation coming up, which works successfully in a different and globally transformative manner. This talent is a huge, but yet untapped potential, we should foster.
Present developments already prove this how transformative and disruptive new companies are on a global scale. Look at like booking.com, Adyen, Uber, AirBNB, Tesla, Shapeways, Instagram. Or Bitcoin. Perhaps the real banking crises has yet to come.
Don’t wait until you can tell your kids about your own Kodak-moment. Because this time, it will not be just a snapshot. It will be a long term disruption and you could have acted on it!
The region of Twente is an excellent example, even a role model on how to deal with change. In the past, this region used to be an frontrunner of the Dutch industrial revolution. This was the center of the Dutch textile industry, which nowadays translates itself in high tech fashion and innovative wearables.
Over the years Twente has become an innovation leader when it is about new materials with companies like Ten Cate; or radar with Thales. The university, with MESA+, has global top position when we look at nanotechnology.
This region, with the university in the middle, is also an example when looking at developing new businesses. From the start, this university looked at opportunities to develop spin-offs from academic knowledge. So perhaps, what I am going to say next, will be no news to you. Nevertheless.
How should we deal with change?
First of all: You need to fight the right battle, which is about forward thinking. It is about dealing with “change” in an ambitious, innovative and risk taking manner. You have many good examples and role models in your startups. Your next challenge is making them grow internationally. By attracting Cottonwood, you have made an excellent move. Recently, you have signed with MaRS Toronto and StartupDelta an MoU. How can StartupDelta further assist? Let’s use this opportunity!
Secondly: it is about cooperation. About sharing and joining knowledge, networks and expertise. About inspiring and helping each other. Corporates could give credibility at an early stage to startups by venturing, coaching, launching customerships and sharing their global networks.
Universities, institutes and corporates should actively open up their knowledge and IP to reinforce the growth of an innovative startup ecosystem.
Alumni, ‘who have been successfully out there’, should share their networks and coach startups.
Thirdly: there is no such thing as a free lunch. Money does make the world go round, and the Netherlands is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Why not invest in ourselves? Create strong Business Angels networks in your regional innovation hubs. I call for more leadership and urge wealthy individuals to take responsibility here. What an opportunity, in such an innovative region!
And again, the large institutional investors should play a role in this as well.
Fourth: It is all about translating academic excellence into new models. This University sees entrepreneurship as a valuable and important career path for your students. You are thinking in new academic and new business models. But…aren’t you to modest about this? And don’t say that this is in your nature. It just won’t help you.
Fifth: Digitization is a key factor in embracing change. What is the future of medical sciences without Big Data? The development with every sector is intertwined with digitization. Twente has a strong position on IT. It is your task to make sure we have sufficient and excellent skilled people in this field. So please, support my message to make coding a part of the curriculum. And think with me how we can use the StartupFest in 2016 - where thousands of talented young people will visit the Netherlands - to keep them here. And perhaps study or work in Twente.
Sixth: as a government we should embrace change. We should develop the new rules of the game. Fiscal measures to spark more investments; regulation which is responsive and pro-active to change. Bankruptcy should not haunt companies for the rest of their lives, but be a stepping zone into the next business. A flexible labor market. Investing in research and innovation. I could go on.
To be able to embrace change, we need a startup state of mind. Lean and mean. Agile and flexible. Joining and sharing. Embrace risks, invest and be ambitious on a global scale! We can do it. Everything is there. And you are an excellent example!