Hamburg Innovation Summit 2021 focuses on innovation-making

Hamburg New reports on criteria and framework conditions highlighted during summit
25 May 2021
HHIS 2021

Not every strategy and idea has to be brand new, according to Ramon Vullings, a cross-industry expert and idea DJ. However, ideas that work should be identified and adapted. Vullings was among the keynote speakers at the recent Hamburg Innovation Summit (HHIS) on May 20, 2021. Vullings, who joined the conference from Antwerp, came out in favour of broadening one's horizons. Look to outer space for inspiration and query how crews in space stations, submarines or research stations work in perpetual ice and what we can learn from nature? The solution lies in "working smarter not harder" and ideally in a stimulating environment e.g., an innovation hub, campus or valley with other bright minds, he opined and urged delegates to "get together!"

Where and how does innovation come about?

The emergence of innovation dominated this year's agenda. The annual summit functions as a bridge between research, business, politics and society. Organised by the Ministry of Economics and Innovation (BWI), the Hamburg Investment and Development Bank (IFB Hamburg) and Hamburg Innovation GmbH, the motto of "Ecosystems for Innovation - Cooperation as a Model for the Future" dominated.

The entirely digital, free livestream event included talks on real labs, panels with senators in Hamburg, webinars, a startup area as well as virtual exhibition booths focusing on innovation. Experts at the digital Captain's Lunch and the conference streamed from the Altonaer Kaispeicher presented their ideas to over 1,300 delegates. 

Among the eagerly-awaited highlights was the announcement of the ten finalists of the Future Hamburg Award. Presented by the City of Hamburg, the award fosters smart solutions for the city of tomorrow. Founders whose sustainable business models in mobility, logistics or green hydrogen help improve urban life had entered the competition.

Exhibition at HHIS 2021
© Yvonne Scheller
Exhibition at HHIS 2021

Taking to skies over Hamburg

Sabrina John, Project Manager at Medifly Hamburg, illustrated how clever ideas literally take off as exemplified by drone deliveries of medical goods. "We entered entirely new territory by simply letting drones into the air as part of a real-lab project funded by the German Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure." Hamburg's urban space is a particularly interesting real lab, John stressed. "Every minute counts when transporting medical tissue samples. Moving into a third dimension is a good way of avoiding traffic jams."

AI's key role in medicine

Medicine is being driven forward in the "AI Space for Intelligent Health Systems" (AI-SIGS). Dr Tim Suthau, Project Manager of AI-SIGS, pointed to AI's key role in medicine. However, many obstacles including data protection, security and sovereignty as well as regulations have yet to be overcome. "Co-operation is crucial. We want to create networks that offer forward-looking synergies," he added. North German AI institutes in Hamburg, Bremen and Schleswig-Holstein are co-operating with medical technology companies and university hospitals. "Our vision is to build an ecosystem that adapts all requirements and serves as a blueprint for new projects. We want to be the point of contact when it comes to obtaining data on health and guidelines in other countries."


Hamburg's ApoQlar startup uses mixed reality in surgery
© Yvonne Scheller
Hamburg's ApoQlar startup uses mixed reality in surgery

Thinking globally from Hamburg

Going international is particularly important for ApoQlar - one of the partners to the AI-SIGS project. The Hamburg-based start-up develops imaging processes in medical technology and relies on mixed and augmented reality as well as data evaluation through AI. ApoQlar creates medical 3D holograms that convert MRIs or CT scans into three-dimensional models that can be projected straight onto the patient with mixed reality headsets. Surgery becomes easier and safer. 

Sirko Pelzl, a joint founder of ApoQlar, stressed: "Our goal is to become the world market leader. For us, that means thinking globally from Hamburg." ApoQlar has already set up an international association which now includes 50 doctors worldwide. "And Microsoft is also on board," said Pelzl.

Inspiration and innovation through interaction

Melanie Parr, who is tasked with the overall coordination of Science City Hamburg Bahrenfeld, one of Hamburg's most ambitious foward-looking projects, noted: "Research must leave its ivory tower and become part of the city." A mix of science, business and housing complemented by eateries and social facilities will be created on a 306-acre site in Bahrenfeld by 2040. "Interaction is inspiring and thus innovating," Parr stressed. Dr. Arik Willner, Representative of the Directorate for Innovation at DESY, added: "Research and development needs special infrastructure, an innovation ecosystem that also interests investors. Such an ecosystem should help people to think like an entrepreneur. Many young people take a keen interest in scientific research and do so with the aim of later bringing their ideas to market.

HHIS 2021 V. l. n. r.: Moderatorin Tijen Onaran, Dr. Arik Willner und Melanie Parr.
© Anne Gaertner
from. l. to r. in Altonaer Kaispeicher: Dr. Arik Willner, Tijen Onaran, presenterm and Melanie Parr

Hamburg's innovation strategy

Katharina Fegebank, Senator for Science, Research and Equality, stressed the iomportance of Science City Hamburg Bahrenfeld: "Urban development there is driven by research and innovation. This approach is attracting national and international attention." The City of Hamburg is currently driving the topic of innovation development through its own innovation strategy. Fegebank added: "The focus is on five forward-looking issues namely health, climate and energy, mobility, data science and digitalisation, as well as material sciences and new materials." Lutz Birke, Head of the Port and Innovation Office at the Ministry of Economics and Innovation, noted: "To this end, we have delved very deep into the fox's den to gauge the various stakeholders' real needs and and to find out how we can help them with tailor-made strategies." This resonates with the senate and those behind HHIS who believe in the "power of innovation ecosystems to change the world."