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Think Tomorrow – Co-creating ecosystem innovation for a digital society



The global population will grow to nine billion by 2050, with more than 70 percent of people predicted to live in cities by that time, according to the World Urbanization Prospects 2014 report. With such shifts come increased demand for safe neighborhoods, as well as affordable, local food, water and energy – societal challenges that will require innovative thinking and change-the-world optimism.

The consensus was that the top 7 technologies would be:


  • Computing power
  •  Internet of Things
  •  Big Data
  •  Robotics
  •  Alternative Energy
  •  New materials
  •  3D printing


These technologies by themselves cause disruptions within their own sectors, but taken together, they are likely to change entire industries, such as automotive, horticulture, or healthcare delivery. The good news is that, in this way, innovative solutions can be found for some of modern society’s biggest challenges.

For existing companies, it demands embracing change to an unprecedented degree. A staggering 30% of entrepreneurs within small and mid-sized companies here in the Netherlands, for example, expect that their current way of making money – their business model and livelihood – will soon disappear because of the shifting technological landscape. Entrepreneurs and employees will need to be extremely flexible to survive.

Jef Staes, author of the Red Monkey book series on organizational change, delivered an inspirational and provocative speech at Dutch Technology Week. Quoting Darwin, he said that, if the water level increases, you can only survive by learning to swim. Surfing the tidal waves of upcoming digital technologies is what we now need to learn to do – or going under will be inevitable.

But can existing companies survive in the face of the giant ‘born digital’ companies, with their top talent, and very deep pockets?

Here in the Netherlands, there is a region around the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven known as ‘Brainport’. It thrives on a very strong high tech systems industry, and is home to numerous leading multinational companies whose origins can often be traced back to the Philips Research laboratories.

Eindhoven can boast that it is the hometown of the worlds most advanced lithographic equipment company, ASML; one of the world’s leading semiconductor companies, NXP; while Philips today focuses on medical imaging equipment and lighting systems. Brainport consists of a well-oiled ecosystem of companies like these, mid-sized suppliers, and knowledge institutes like the Technical University Eindhoven and TNO Industries. The core competencies of the region are sophisticated systems engineering, mechatronics, electronics, signal processing, and embedded software. The ability to integrate technologies into systems that push the boundaries of what is possible is outstanding.

However, the next wave of innovation will be about systems of systems – ecosystems of digital propositions on a common digital platform – that together address significant societal challenges and unmet end-user needs. In healthcare, it will no longer be enough to create the world’s best imaging equipment; we need to bring enterprise-wide solutions to hospitals and to emerging healthcare systems that are accountable for the care delivered to entire populations. In lighting, it will no longer be enough to create the most energy efficient lamp with the best quality of light; instead, we need to bring connected lighting solutions that operate seamlessly as a sub-system of a smart building or smart city solutions.

Brainport Eindhoven is proud of its open innovation culture of companies and universities but the next wave in open innovation will require embracing co-creation of solutions together with leading customers like cities or healthcare providers who experience the need to reinvent their own future.

No single company will be able to create such solutions alone, so it will need to be done by working closely together with other companies. Co-creation or ecosystem innovation is the way forward, leveraging common digital platforms. This will also enable entirely new ways for large companies to work together with innovative start-ups. Like a pilot fish swimming alongside a whale, new forms of symbiosis can be established in the digital ocean.

An innovative region cannot survive on the basis of enabling technologies alone – it must host the end customers that are ready for change, as well as a critical mass of complementary companies that together are able to pioneer innovative societal solutions.

Henk van Houten

Executive President & General Manager Philips Research

Dutch-born Henk van Houten joined Philips Research in 1985, where he investigated quantum transport phenomena in semiconductor nanostructures – work awarded with the Royal Dutch Shell prize.


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