Boosting the Innovation Hub Network


The international Built Environment Innovation (BEI for short) Hub network is slowly emerging. We have identified several suitable candidates for the BEI Hub-network. These hubs are mainly national hubs:

In addition to these countries, Sweden, Estonia, Scotland, UK, Germany, and China are planning to launch their hubs. Finland is also developing its own Built Environment Innovation Hub (KIRA-InnoHub) which starts operating this fall and was presented to a broader audience at the WDBE summit. The Finnish KIRA-InnoHub will concentrate on improving the flow of data, providing learning and research opportunities, and helping companies to develop new business from digital technologies. The second development workshop of the KIRA-InnoHub was held in May 2018. You can read about the results of the workshop here.

The aim of the innovation hub workshop at WDBE

Innovation hubs around the world help companies to create new business around digital services, spread technological innovations in the architecture, engineering and construction sector, and develop the innovation and entrepreneurial mindset and skills.

It’s great to have national hubs, but the hubs can provide more value to hub members and gain more momentum by collaborating with each other. By collaborating, the hubs can learn from each other, spread best practices, and help companies to create international business with the help of the international hub network.

But…collaboration does not happen by itself. The collaboration between the hubs of the international Hub-network needs to be developed and coordinated. That is why we organized an innovation workshop for developing collaboration between the international hub organizations at the World Summit on Digital Built Environment (WDBE).

The workshop was organized at the Finlandia Hall on Tuesday 11, September 2018, and it focused on understanding the need and means for global collaboration between the innovation hubs. At its best, global collaboration could accelerate matchmaking both on global and local levels and enable innovations on a global level. The workshop was divided into three parts:

  1. get to know each other
  2. understand the collaboration possibilities, and
  3. agree on the next steps for collaboration.


Antero Hirvensalo and Rita Lavikka from Synecon Ltd gathered hub organizations and their key actors together to understand how to collaborate between the hubs. We had twenty-two participants from several public and private organizations from several countries:

  • IDEAbuilder and the global AEC Hackathon community from the USA
  • Join inc. from the USA
  • BLOXHUB from Denmark
  • Digital construction cluster from Estonia
  • Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications for Estonia
  • ETH Zürich from Switzerland
  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology
  • Owners association Rakli from Finland
  • Suomen Tilaajavastuu from Finland
  • Sweco from Finland
  • Ministry of Finance from Finland
  • Huido from Finland
  • Lexia Attorneys from Finland
  • National Land Survey of Finland
  • Aalto University from Finland
  • KTI Property Information
  • The Finnish Government’s KIRA-digi project
  • Jalecon from Finland

Keynotes from innovation hubs


Three keynote presentations exposed the audience to the global arena of innovation hubs:

  1. Torben Klitgaard (in the skype) brought up that Bloxhub in Copenhagen has established brilliant facilitated processes for matchmaking.  In addition to matchmaking, Bloxhub offers a space and a community to its members. Bloxhub builds a cross-disciplinary community of companies and public stakeholders in the built environment. Currently, there are roughly 200 companies across architecture, design, urban development, research, engineering, consultancies and construction. Bloxhub is setting up an urban tech accelerator program where it matches international and Danish tech startups to incumbents.  Bloxhub has ambitions to co-create at the global network level. Bloxhub sees hubs as assets for each other and would add Bloxhub as an asset to the international network of Hubs. Torben wished that the innovation hubs would have flexible agreements between them to enable global collaboration.
  2. Greg Howes (in the above picture) from AEC Hackathon brought up the booming construction market in Seattle. Let´s pick it up! The challenge is that the AEC industry is fragmented and needs a network of digital people with whom the IT industry can work with. That is a job for our global network.  Greg invited us to work with the U.S. for three reasons. First, the USA has an unlimited market, construction is amazing now. Second, Greg knows many people in information technology companies and can introduce us to them: the Hololens team, Alexa, Grasshopper, Valve, Unreal, Unity, Facebook, Amazon. These people need help in working with the construction people. Third, to sell a technology to the AEC industry, you need a local partner. The Nordic region is ahead in many ways and Greg wants to bring its developments to the U.S. market. Greg wants to go back and talk to Autodesk or Hololens and Trimble and say, “here is a global network that wants to implement these new technologies, please support this”.
  3. Teemu Lehtinen from KIRA Digi project told that the KIRA Innovation Hub will start operating this fall. It has 400 organizations doing experimental projects and experimenting with new digital tools. KIRA Digi has started matchmaking new companies together as well for existing projects. Now they are looking at the next step, how to take the community to the next level, and get a space for the KIRA Innovation Hub. The Finnish Hub actually wants to offer itself as a sandbox for experimentations globally, and help to form this international hub network. The ideal way would be that the hub network would start co-creating new solutions on a global level within this network. And then locally implementing those with the players that are local. WDBE summit is one example of an international collaboration, and the idea is to take the summit around the world.

Collaboration possibilities for the global hub network

After the keynotes and group discussion, we applied a facilitation technique to understand, as a group, what kinds of key questions we are facing, what kind of solutions we might use, and how to proceed with the ideas and solutions. The results of the facilitated discussion are listed below.

A global hub store for creating a global innovation market

A global hub store could be created for spreading digital solutions for the AEC industry. It would be open source, and everybody could add their own products and services to the platform. Startup companies need to find real clients that are interested to develop their work and find solutions. The store could connect startups and clients. The incumbents would also benefit from the store because data around this knowledge is doubling every year, and this kind of a platform could target startups to incumbents.

Look for references from other industries

It would save time and resources to find an existing community or a model in another industry that can be applied. And it has to be perceived as a good business opportunity for anyone to pay a membership fee or contribute to the global network.

Upskilling, “switching” employees (students and professionals)

One example of hub collaboration could be training. Companies could switch specialists for a while. A specialist could go working in another company and get ‘cross-industry upskilled’. Companies do training with students and summer workers. Could it be done globally?

Get EU funding together

We can become coordinators for innovation funding. Especially now EU encourages innovations and it wants to see SMEs and industries more involved besides research institutes and universities.

We need visibility

The whole idea is to start making everything that’s happening more transparent, so we get visibility on what’s going on in different countries. Then we actually can start matchmaking on a global level and a local level, and start accelerating innovation on a global level. What makes it all visible, transparent and open, is a key question for the development of the Network.

Built Environment is a hot spot for software developers

The built environment is where all other industries come together. The energy sector and mobility sector is claiming the same, but industry barriers will truly collapse in the built environment. If the software industry is going to crash into this beautiful chaos, then we have something going. But it can’t be done without facilitation and helping the startups.

Incumbents want to upgrade, not disturb

There are a lot of existing companies that just want to upgrade their processes and come up with new ideas, and not necessarily to become a startup. Hubs should have a solution for knowledge sharing or specialist sharing or some kind of scholarships or exchange of people that companies could benefit from.

Monopolies, big players dominate

A basic worry is that the built environment will be dominated by big players that create entry barriers to others. Hopefully, this kind of a global collaboration will enable smaller players to create a healthier environment and get the real markets started.

How to combine “hard” tools and “soft” working methods in hubs?

Hubs have two different elements: 1) Combining technologies with different actors and views, and develop tools. 2) Infrastructure and working methods for collaboration.
The soft part needs specific effort to develop further. As in Bloxhub, emphasizing the structures and processes for facilitating matchmaking. We need methods for global matchmaking!

How to unify global and local innovation, different standards?

One of the reasons why we need the global collaboration of hubs is that we have so many different ways of doing things and lack of unifying standards.  Local hubs know how the local markets work. In IT and software development, they use standards. This mindset should be applied more to the Built Environment as well.

How hubs serve the final customers?

How to make sure the Hubs work close enough with the end users of the built environment?  Let´s make sure the final customer is with us, developing this network.

Keep networking and financing separate

The value of global collaboration lies in the network and alliancing and finding local markets. But if you think it´s a platform for startups to find the funding you are going to find walls in many places.  We need to separate these two. The local hubs could offer and point in the right direction for finding funding, but it should not be part of the Hubs.

Next steps

A contact list

We now have an initial group of people building up the global network of Hubs! The information will be shared with you all.

AEC Hackathon in Bloxhub on January 25-27, 2019

The next AEC Hackathon will take place in Bloxhub in Copenhagen on January 25-27, 2019. Everyone is welcome. It will be a place for continuing the global collaboration.

Hub Store online conference

Anyone who is interested is welcome to an online conference. We are planning to pitch ideas and develop them further. Stay tuned, we will keep you updated about the conference date. The Hub Store will also be discussed during the next Hackathon in Copenhagen.

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