Innovation is key to solving climate change related challenges — and when startups and big corporations join forces, innovation can be accelerated. That is the conclusion of Urbantech, a three-year ‘accelerator program’.
Urbanisation is a trend affecting most of the world. The UN predicts that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. Sustainable development is therefore vital if the global community is going to succeed in solving the major climate and environmental problems we face. Most recently, the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow has shown that there is an urgent need for innovative, yet practical, solutions.
COWI, EWII and VKR Holding/VELUX joined forces in 2019 with the philanthropic association Realdania and the Danish Industry Foundation to increase focus on innovation and sustainability in the built environment.
Specifically, the Urbantech accelerator was established - a program where startups in technology and construction develop products and business models together with large Danish corporates. A total of 39 startups have participated in the program - and the results have been excellent.
"It has gone better than we had dared to hope for. We have created a value-adding and dynamic knowledge environment in Denmark, which makes it attractive for foreign talent to come here. Many of the entrepreneurs who have participated in the program are still working with Danish companies, which should result in innovative solutions and increased competitiveness. Urbantech has shown us that collaboration across size, disciplines and industry boundaries can be very valuable. We will definitely take that experience with us,” says Thomas Hofman-Bang, CEO of the Danish Industry Foundation.
The 39 entrepreneurs have thus far created over 110 new jobs. However, what is even more remarkable is that they have managed to raise DKK 199 million in venture capital - twice as much as the Urbantech programme originally aimed for.
“In addition to the great results - in the form of new solutions, job creation and attracting venture capital to the built environment - we are also responsible for the development the three large corporates in the program have undergone. The numerous startups that have been inside the engine room of these companies over the past three years have inspired them to see themselves and their way of working with innovation in a whole new light. I hope this can also inspire many more established companies in Denmark to do more,” says Simon Kofod-Svendsen, Project Manager at Realdania.
The startup businesses obviously benefited from working so closely with established players in and around the built environment. At the same time, COWI, EWII, and VKR Holding/VELUX have also learned a great deal, not only from their encounters with the various startups, but also in terms of cross-collaboration.
‘Urbantech and collaboration with the startups has undoubtedly accelerated COWI’s digital development and helped change our business mindset. When you combine the agility, creativity, and willingness to change of the startups with the management structure and customer base of the larger corporations, you create the ideal environment for radical innovation. In the future, we will therefore focus even more on entering into strong partnerships with, for example, startups, because when we work together, we can create better solutions for a sustainable world,” says Lars-Peter Søbye, CEO of COWI, which recently worked with the startups Parametric Solutions, Cogo, Treble Technologies, Excess Materials Exchange and Woodsense.
Likewise, working with the startups in Urbantech has been instructive for the utility EWII - and it has opened the doors to an entrepreneurial universe for the Kolding-based group.
“Urbantech has shown us that there is a world we did not have sufficient insight into - and that world has transformed our self-understanding and created new dynamism in the company. I don’t think I have ever been in an environment as valuable for the development of a well-established organization - an environment where we naturally feel like meeting each other at eye level and with mutual respect for the things we can develop together. Urbantech has left a lasting effect on EWII's contribution to the green agenda, ” says Lars Bonderup Bjørn, CEO of EWII.
There will also be a lasting effect for many years to come at VKR Holding and VELUX, which in the future will put extra weight behind the work with entrepreneurship, technology and sustainable construction.
“For VELUX, participating in Urbantech has been an eye opener. We come from a background where innovation and new thinking have always been part of our DNA. The Urbantech collaboration really opened our eyes to how much is happening in the entire ecosystem around the construction industry, and how many ideas and initiatives are bubbling around us. The collaboration has opened new doors, we learned a lot about technology - and lastly we learned how to work with startups. We hope and believe that we have added great value to the entrepreneurs in the form of advice and sparring. But we have also learned a lot from the collaboration - so much so that VKR Holding has just made a major investment in KOMPAS, a venture capital fund with a focus on sustainability and technology in the construction sector," says Tina Mayn, SVP for Products at VELUX. The venture fund aims for investments of one billion kroner over the next 10 years and thus it is one of the largest single venture capital funds in Denmark.
Three years of involvement with entrepreneurship have provided a lot of insight. The time has now come to evaluate, conclude and consolidate based on the lessons learned from the Urbantech project.
‘We have learned a lot. And when I say ‘we’, I mean the entire environment around Urbantech. It is important that we thoroughly consolidate after three hectic years, so that the new knowledge and experience acquired remains in the industry and ecosystem, both here in Denmark and internationally. That happens when the various parties involved combine their skills and creative ideas in new ways,’ says Michael Ambjørn from Rainmaking, who headed the three-year Urbantech project throughout the period.
Woodsense has developed an IoT solution to monitor timber structures during the entire construction process to improve quality assurance and catch damages as they emerge.
Cogo gathers shared rides for frictionless mobility and a better tomorrow. Cogo is an app gathering all shared scooters, bikes, cars, and mopeds as long as they are human or electric powered. We currently include over 160 different operators in 500 cities worldwide capturing valuable data across multiple vehicle types and various user needs.
Excess Materials Exchange is a B2B SaaS platform. The platform unlocks the potential of the world’s excess materials and products by matching them to their highest value uses. The platform quantifies the required financial, environmental, and social data as well as shows the ROI of high value reuse for organisations to make data-driven decisions. We leverage technologies like AI, blockchain and machine learning to scale circular solutions and speed-up the world’s transition to a circular economy.
Parametric Solutions provides technology-driven and intelligent solutions for early-stage design processes. We offer a cloud-based platform that helps property developers and architects make informed decisions and create better urban environments. Instead of designing one option manually we generate a multitude of design alternatives – all with unique challenges and possibilities. Thereby, we create a more information-driven and democratic decision that visualizes the consequences of decisions already in the planning phase.
Treble is developing a new cloud-based software product for dealing with sound and acoustics in the built environment. The software builds on a simulation engine that models the acoustics of spaces. In addition to improved accuracy the tool offers a highly efficient workflow by integrating into industry standard 3D modelling software. Our Virtual Acoustics feature couples highly realistic simulated sound with interactive 3D models.
Søren Kragh Pedersen
Head of Group PA & PR