What do a People Pod, a man-made mountain and gazpacho made from ugly tomatoes have in common? They’re all projects that were proposed one crisp autumn day at the TEDxAmsterdam Award pitching event.
Thirty enthusiastic hopefuls pitched their pet project in an event that was part X-factor audition and part job interview, but all energy. There were only 10 finalists, so it was a tough call.
“The variety was impressive”
Participants faced a jury comprised of elder statesmen from a range of national and international corporations – TEDxAmsterdam sponsors – and universities from Philips and ING, to KPN and TU Eindhoven.
As Brian Bogaerts, General Manager Strategic Innovation at KPN said, “it’s phenomenal to see young people taking their ideas or concepts or even real businesses to pitch in front of a real audience.”
“I was really impressed by the quality and preparation of people,” said John Bell, VP Head of Strategy & Partnerships at Philips. “Many topics that I hadn’t thought about were presented; the variety was impressive.”
Ton Backx, Dean Faculty of Electrical Engineering at TU Eindhoven echoes John and Brian when he says “I’ve heard quite some marvelous ideas; yes I have been inspired!”
We all want the same… or don’t we?
Despite the different backgrounds and life experiences of the entrants, some strong themes did emerge during the day, proving just how interconnected we are on matters affecting our future.
For John Bell, “everything [was] about energy – it came across in many different facets from saving, to replacing energy sources.”
Says Brian Bogaerts, “there was definitely a shift towards social – energy, responsibility. With the crisis in motion, the ground is fertile to make these things happen.”
What it takes to be a winner
But what makes a winning idea? In the end, 10 finalists were selected, but what separates one idea from the next in the eyes of these jurists?
“Winning ideas are not just about the idea but about the feasibility,” says Brian. “Do you have a marketing plan, do you have partners, has it been tested? And very important these days – are customers part of the ecosystem yet? That makes it land within an environment,” he says.
For Nico Baken, a winning idea is simple – it’s one where “everybody says ‘wow,’ something that appeals to what everybody wants, and that’s a good life.”
“A winning idea is something that is really unique,” says Paul van der Schoot, Bestuursadviseur at McKinsey, adding that it’s “something really special and original either in the product or in its application. That’s where it starts.”
Every story is personal
But what, in particular were the jurists looking for on the day? Was it about presentation, confidence, the idea itself? Well, perhaps a little of all three:
“I hope to find ideas where people find a different way of looking at a problem,” says Robert Specken, Managing Director, Corporate Finance Netherlands at ING. “I think that most people will agree that the way we’re living in the world cannot be everlasting, so we need to change. We’re seeking today ideas that help us change our behavior.”
It’s also about convincing people, adds Ton. “That’s very important. If you have a bright new ideasyou have to be convincing, there were some ideas presented which had just that, both in the idea itself and the way it was presented.”
For Paul van der Heijden, Rector Magnificus at RU Leiden, “teamwork is important,” as is being able to motivate. “I’m always looking for inspiration,” says Paul. “That’s what TED is all about. But after inspiration comes hard work, and of course results.”
Influences matter to the influencer
Inspiring ideas and hard work are certainly important, but critically it’s also the environment in which it happens – or not. And on this, the jury members had mixed thoughts. Is the Netherlands the right environment for new ideas and risk-taking?
“We’ve been very active in innovation for decades,” says Paul van der Heijden. “This ‘TED’ way of presenting ideas is rather new for the Netherlands, and it’s working well – from time to time you have to change your methods.”
Nico agrees, admitting that especially in a climate of so-called ‘economic crisis,’ “we can’t stick to business as usual.” We’re having to rethink the way we approach traditional business, encouraging risk-taking. “Business cases no longer suffice,” he argues. “We need value cases that can help a ‘good life’ emerge.”
Paul van der Schoot also concurs, but with a caveat. “I think there is a culture of innovation but you have to really figure out where it is – you have to know where it is. I think the barrier is that the reward for diving in is not really recognised. I think prize winning is a fantastic way to encourage innovative ideas – very much so.”
But ING’s Robert Specken disagrees – the foundation simply isn’t there, he says. “We’re a rich country so the incentive for people to seek alternatives is not there.” He stops short of dismissing Dutch innovation altogether, saying that there is potential. “We’re an educated country and in Amsterdam in particular there’s a very creative community, which allows for all sorts of problem solving.”
Ton Backx concludes, “I think there is [a culture of innovation in NL], I think a lot of people talk to each other, it’s an environment where people are eager to belong to a winning team. In that respect we might be a place where things can start happening.”
30 shots of inspiration worth doing
The 10 finalists will go on to the final jury on 1 November, deciding who will pick up the Award on 30 November in the Stadsschouwburg. In all, the TEDxAmsterdam Award pitching event was one day full of keen energy, and new and surprising ways of thinking. In the words of Paul van der Heijden, “I expected to be inspired, and it happened!”