Is innovation a sleep robot, as developed by Julian Jagtenberg and his RCD-based company Somnox?

Or is it what our fintech love babies Adyen and bunq have pulled off? It strikes me that the word ‘innovation’ is most often used to refer to ‘something to do with tech’, typically endorsed by terms like ‘artificial intelligence’ and ‘big data’. As a freelance finance journalist, I receive a fair number of press releases with the word innovation in the title. It feels as if the concept has become a kind of catch-all.

In mid-September I was on Terschelling, where I spent three days attending the Springtij Forum. Now in its thirteenth year, this festival is about sustainability in the broadest sense of the word. On the first day, I joined the ‘Privilege walk: where do you stand?’ Inspirer Sarita Bajnath let me see and feel that the life path your traverse determines where you end up, and that it is a fight and a struggle. What privileges do you have? There was no trace of technology, let alone anything innovative: nothing but one foot in front of another across a field of grass, listening to each other and shedding an occasional tear.

A few days later, with this experience still resounding inside me, I sat in a Rotterdam crowd listening attentively to stories about greening the Port of Rotterdam and the Bospolder-Tussendijken neighbourhood, which is part of Delfshaven. It turned into a clash of incomprehension between the Port Authority big shots intent on ‘selling’ their heat – generated by port-based industry – and a neighbourhood with more pressing concerns than the efficacy of heat networks, heat pumps, solar cells and what have you. The word innovation was batted about, hollower than ever. Where was Bajnath? I looked around. Bospolder-Tussendijken is a low-income community. In these anxious and expensive times, people are struggling even just to get by. Sustainability is not foremost on their minds.

So, back then to RCD, where many very bright minds are busy behind their anonymous reflective windows. I say, let them reinvent and recharge the void of ‘innovation’. With something that can help Bospolder-Tussendijken, and many more hard-up communities in Rotterdam, in their grassroots activism. Maybe Julian’s sleep robot has something useful to teach them?


Eduard Voorn is a freelance journalist with a focus on economics, and first and foremost a Rotterdammer. He lives in the villagey outskirts of Rotterdam Central District, eats his pizza at Bird, raises a pint at Biergarten or Weena, gets his caffeine fix at Lebkov, catches the latest flicks in Pathé Schouwburgplein and sees Scapino at Theater Rotterdam. His kids were born in the now-famous Mecanoo architectural firm’s first project on Kruisplein.