Smart(er) Days: Things get real

By: Andrew Butcher

So…everybody and their grandmother seems to ride a bike in Amsterdam.  No joke.  There are close 800,000 residents of Amsterdam and over 900,000 bikes.  More bikes than humans…that is how this place rolls!  Literally.

Not only are there a lot of individuals in physical – self propelled movement, but also there are surging levels of energy from the entrepreneurs and start-up community focusing on sustainability, climate resiliency, renewable energy, smart energy and systems design and behavior change. To put this in perspective we visited Amsterdam’s Green Metropole – New Energy Docks (NED) which is a unique entrepreneurial support program and physical incubator location to help “ecopreneurs” do their thing and connect to relevant resources.

(NED) is based in North Amsterdam in a neighborhood not unlike the Almono sight in Pittsburgh Inspiring companies like Metabolic described their innovative model for system’s design, a circle economy and their place-making closed cycle development project the De Ceuval Project – turning a former brownfield into a showcase of closed-cycle resource reuse, including: turning house boats into state of the art office space, phytoremediation and on-site bio-gasificaiton.  The brain gears couldn’t help but grind with the unique embodiment of innovation in action.  It is clear that we need to get this group to Pittsburgh.

We also had the chance to visit The Rockstart Accelerator partially funding, office space, and start up assistance to entrepreneurs working on climate and energy solutions.  The program is partially funded by the City of Amsterdam’s Climate and Energy Fund and attracts hungry entrepreneurs and early stage companies from around the world.  Once again – it’s hard not to see how Pittsburgh could do some great match making.

That said, we couldn’t help but notice a constant sentiment that appears to be missing from the dialogue about the innovation economy and sustainably-driven entrepreneurship –  Inclusion and social equity.  There is clear alignment about the potential and value of investing in smart, sustainable energy and innovative technologies, but there does not seem to be an orientation towards how these advancements in economic development impact or create value for populations excluded from the privilege of thinking about innovation and smart technology.  This is not a knock on Amsterdam, but an important reminder for all of us motivated by the promise of a green, innovative and resilient economy.

– Andrew

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