Peers around the world: Technoport as a pillar of national innovation strategy
In this month's "peers around the world" feature, where we interview leaders of global innovation spaces, we're in conversation with Diego de Biasio, CEO of Technoport (Luxembourg) as he talks joint ventures, being part of a blossoming national innovation ecosystem, and what Luxembourg has to offer delegates at our upcoming World Conference.
You’re hosting this year’s IASP World Conference in September: can you tell us a bit about why you wanted to host the event and welcome IASP members to Luxembourg?
The Luxembourg national innovation ecosystem with all its components (research, industry, university, startups, investors, service providers…) is rather young and has gone through some major positive developments over the last decade. The ambition now is to bring it to the next level and there are some great projects in areas like space, health or automotive/mobility where the government is planning specific Areas of Innovation (AOI) after the success of the Science and Innovation City campus in Belval. We are still in the early stages of these projects and for me, hosting the IASP world conference was a unique opportunity to bring a great diversity of knowledge, expertise and lessons learned from all over the world to us. Building new relationships and collaborations will also be a goal of this conference. This is important for a small country like ours which has historically always been very open.
IASP Luxembourg will focus on megatrends and their impacts for STPs and AOIs: which are the key trends for you at Technoport, and in Luxembourg more widely?
By definition Megatrends are supposed to impact all of us, although sometimes at different degrees and/or speed. There is a limited number of megatrends as such, but each of them have key sub-trends which are very interesting to analyse. As a small country we are heavily impacted by some of them and I must say that several are nicely covered by the different sessions during the conference program. We have those related to energy transition, health and aging population, talent accessibility, sustainability and growth, digitalisation and Data economy. But also connectedness and internationalisation are pretty important for us, just to name a few. All these sub-trends have major impacts in changing our society and economy and it is super interesting to learn how different cities, areas, countries on different continents are dealing with it too. If on top of that you add these scenarios of possible futures it gets even more intriguing.
10 years ago Technoport moved to Belval, an ambitious urban renewal project transforming a former industrial wasteland: why did you decide to base your operations there?
We actually joined IASP 15 years ago thanks to this ambitious urban renewal project. It encompasses all major ingredients of an AOI that aims to foster and support technological innovation. You have the university with several faculties, you have research centres with whom startups and companies can collaborate and develop projects, you have other public and private organisations supporting innovation and research and also the whole ecosystem around supporting living and working on site. So for us it was an obvious strategic move to be positioned here. The government recognised it pretty early too and planned the refurbishment of an old building to an operational business incubator. Today we have operations in two geographical locations and we plan to expand further in the coming years in some of these new planned Areas of Innovation that I was mentioning before.
What hotspots or initiatives in your innovation ecosystem are you most looking forward to showcasing to international delegates?
Very difficult to say. The Science and Innovation City in Belval is certainly one of them. The most advanced and concrete project. The other AOIs are still in their initial phases so it will be much more around brainstorming and exchanging good practices and lessons learned. Generally speaking I hope participants will be able to grasp the opportunities of collaboration that exist here in Luxembourg, either through participating in some of the technical tours we have or by exchanging and mingling during the conference. I believe the program is filling up with very interesting topics and contributions from the network and it will be up to us to position our flagship projects and make sure some participants will come back for concrete projects in the future. Now beside the professional dimension I hope that many will also have time to discover the beauty of our country which is still not enough known abroad.
Technoport was in the vanguard of successful collaborations with corporates – I’m thinking particularly of your joint venture with Vodafone to set up Tomorrow Street, specifically – what were your key success factors there?
The collaboration with Vodafone Procurement Company (VPC) is a great example of a combination of different factors and I think that for making such a project successful the most important ingredients are: people, trust, commitment and openness among involved parties. I was personally positively surprised how quick such an important project has been implemented, showing that both large corporates and also the government were able to align and take strategic decisions very efficiently. The goal of this accelerator is to focus on attracting scale-up companies from abroad and reinforce the national ecosystem with a missing component. This project gave us insights in how such large corporates work and their priorities which was extremely interesting and rewarding. Last year we celebrated 5 years of collaboration and knowing what is planned I’m pretty sure the best is still to come.
Technoport is an incubator, but I think I’m right in saying you’re more than just an incubator: how would you describe your role within Luxembourg’s national innovation strategy?
Yes you are right. We are known as a technology business incubator and it is true that since 2012, when we span-out of the Public Research Centre where we were originally set-up, we positioned ourselves slightly differently for obvious reasons. We started to operate on different locations, we expanded our target segments to include research and innovation centres from foreign corporates that wanted to set-up activities in Luxembourg, we got more autonomy to design, test and implement specific activities for our ecosystem like hackathons, a digital fabrication lab, cross-border living labs etc. We continuously try to detect new ‘best practices’ within our industry and see how we can implement them in, and for, our ecosystem. After 25 years of operations I think Technoport has established itself as a renowned organisation within the national innovation strategy. Our goal is to increase our footprint in the coming years by expanding further our presence in some verticals and also our geographical presence.
A more personal question to finish: I’ve heard you have a policy of never wearing a suit and tie, why is that?
(laughing) Don’t know who told you that but it is certainly not a policy. Neither personal for me nor at the level of the company. I’m occasionally wearing suits when I have to but it is true that I think very few people saw me wearing a tie in my career. Probably those in the early years when I was younger. I’m simply not a big fan of wearing ties, but who knows, I might surprise you in September.