‘Precisely because things are going so well in Brainport Eindhoven, it is important to link the power of today to the challenges of tomorrow’. According to Arnold Stokking, Managing Director Industry at TNO and initiator of the future exploration of Brainport Eindhoven; what are the opportunities for the region when it comes to innovation and new business models in 2038? In this fortnightly column, Stokking and those directly involved explain important points from that foresight.

In the various future scenarios we can think of, we assume that anything is possible with technology. But that also means that the answer to the question of how we prepare for the future does not lie in technology. It is much more in the ‘human side’ to which technology can respond. We have to look differently at the social needs and the ways in which the manufacturing industry can meet them. Because you only see it when you understand it.

That may sound cruel, so I’d like to make it more concrete. A good example is a Summa College project in which mbo-2 students work as professional carers or as handymen/women for senior citizens. Older people, however, do not want to be seen as ‘pitiful’ and ‘needy’ and young people are generally not easy to motivate for ‘help for the elderly’. Yet this project seems to be an enormous success. The trick is that the elderly are appointed as internship supervisors of the students/trainees. And then it works. So we have to look at systems, at the regular course of events, quite differently. Could a postman, for example, also mean something for lonely people in his neighbourhood? In other words, can a logistics company take on a social care function at the same time? I expect things will be much more mixed up in the future.

The key question for Brainport Eindhoven is then how we can apply this multidisciplinary principle to business models. This requires creativity. The current earnings model of ‘I make a product, you buy that product’ is no longer valid and shifts to services around products and people. That’s why an initiative like the Eindhoven Engine, in which students collaborate with regional companies, is very good. In this way we not only involve young people with fresh ideas in innovation, but this also offers entrepreneurs inspiration for new business models. If we elaborate this philosophy into the next phase, it can eventually result in new or innovative products. Products that meet the changing needs of people. Perhaps the postman with care responsibilities needs another uniform with handy integrated communication tools and a vehicle that can do more than just transport cargo. Again, you only see that when you understand it. If you look very closely at society and discover social needs. What should the toolbox of these mbo trainees ideally look like?

Let me give you another concrete example. Unfortunately not from our region, but that doesn’t make it any less smart; the Swap bike. A subscription of 15 euros per month for a bicycle, with a characteristic blue front tyre, which is replaced within a day in the event of a defect. The Delft start-up that came up with this idea has only existed for two years and has already rented ten thousand bicycles and employed three hundred people. An appalling hit. And it is a service model that responds to the growing partial economy. So think differently. Large bicycle brands did not try it, even venture capital – the big sponsor of the start-up idea – did not see any point in it. I myself would never buy a granny’s bike with a strange luggage carrier on the front wheel and a blue tyre, who will pay 15 euros a month for that?

But innovation no longer stems from a classic roadmap for product improvement, as I wrote in my previous column. We are now talking about major themes, we want solutions for mobility, for longer healthy living with a social connection, we want to use less energy. You no longer look at your Swap bike as a beautiful bike, the appearance doesn’t matter anymore, it’s a smart transport concept and you like to pay 15 euros per month for that. This alternative view of innovation will have a major impact on the manufacturing industry. Technology will be more following than leading. Customers in the sharing economy are service providers who buy in large amounts instead of many consumers with all their individual wishes.

Which certainly does not mean that technology is no longer important. Bicycles will continue to be needed, even if they look strange and become smarter and smarter. Technology makes changes possible. Technology helps to solve major social issues; the manufacturing industry remains hugely needed. But a classic product roadmap is replaced by service roadmaps. Innovation comes from unexpected quarters, often starts on a very small scale and is driven by the enormous need to solve our major societal challenges! Our manufacturing industry will certainly contribute to this, but we do need completely different antennae than before.

To map the future of Brainport Eindhoven as broadly as possible, all ideas are more than welcome.  If you would like to think along with us, please contact us at [email protected]