GES: The Hague, June 3rdto 5th, 2019
I was delighted to have been invited to attend this prestigious, invite-only event run by the US Government. It runs once a year and visits a different country around the globe each year. This year it was the turn of the government of Holland to co-host this event in conjunction with the US government
GES aims to showcase inspiring entrepreneurs and investors from around the world creating new opportunities for investment, partnership, and collaboration; connect American entrepreneurs and investors with international counterparts to form lasting relationships; and highlight entrepreneurship as means to address some of the most intractable global challenges.
The summit typically includes a wide range of workshops, panels, ignite talks, pitch competitions, mentoring, and networking sessions aimed to give participants tailored opportunities to gain skill and relationships that will help their ventures grow. There are also demonstration areas and experiential learning exhibitions to create opportunities for participants to connect with industry experts.
This event enjoys very high-level support from both Government and royalty. It was launched on the evening of June 3rdat a reception attended by high-level dignitaries. Opening speeches were given by the mayor of The Hague as well as the Dutch Prime Minister and the US Secretary of State (who then flew to England to attend the state dinner with our Queen and President Trump). And, if that wasn’t impressive enough, the conference itself was opened by no less than the Queen of The Netherlands (see above picture) who, believe it or not, spoke about micro-finance! Trump that 😉
Two thousand people attended the event from over 130 countries.
What follows is my summary of the sessions that I attended. There were multiple streams at any one point in time so my write-up will not reflect all that took place.
Main take-away points
- There was a huge emphasis on creating smart cities and why this was necessary.
- 5G will change our lives by providing very high bandwidth with very low latency and high resilience, facilitating a highly connected world. It will drive up the use of sensors of all types.
- Autonomous vehicles of all sorts are coming, across land, sea and air.
- Big money is being poured into AI (Softbank is investing $100bn in AI tech firms!!!).
- The quality of the sessions varied enormously. Some had industry heavyweights participate and these were the best. Less impressive were those sessions which involved less experienced and less well qualified speakers.
- A big opportunity was missed at this event. There was a GES app but it did not have a match-making capability as part of it which meant it was nigh on impossible to connect with the right people from the event. It came down to sheer luck if you met the right person, over coffee for example. Massive shame!
2 out of 3 people will live in cities before too long leading to massive challenges for people living in those cities and the people responsible to ensure their smooth running. We all know how congested cities have become and how much strain has been placed on vital services such as waste removal. There is also a move towards local sourcing so how can this be best accommodated?
Subsequent discussion on this subject covered the following points:
- Building more roads is not the answer as this causes disruption
- We need more intelligent traffic lights that change according to traffic levels and not pre-set time intervals
- Cities need to get more people into alternate forms of transport. The Haque are massive users of bicycles but there was a lot of conversation and hope around electric powered scooters from people like Bird, available to buy or hire – https://www.bird.co/
- We need to make cities more walkable and more liveable and encourage the use of last mile systems like Bird
- There is a need to build more bridges, actually and metaphorically
- Data sharing remains a big issue. “If we get your data, we can guide you and others better”
- 5G is seen as a major enabler towards smart cities (read next section)
- Connected city pre-requisites are:
- A major thing for cities to do is look after the safety of people, especially at night
- We also discussed the use of drones to get things to people in cities more quickly
This next session was led by no less than the chairman of Korean Telecom, who gave a mighty powerful presentation on 5G:
- 5G is 100 times more powerful than 4G and has practically zero latency which means it can be used for real-time decision support
- It has just been launched in the UK but wait till you read about progress in South Korea…
- South Korea has already achieved 60% penetration of 5G within country and expect to reach 80% by year end!
- They were the first country to launch 5G on a commercial basis
- They are rolling out many powerful apps that utilise the power of 5G already including remote surgery and autonomy
- Because the bandwidth of 5G is so high they can split it into dedicated slices. They can also create private 5G networks and deliver ultra high levels of security
- The Chairman sees far more B2B applications than B2C in areas such as Health Care, Manufacturing and Transportation
- He sees 5G as a platform for radical change. It will drive the fourth industrial revolution
Autonomous mobility, across land, sea and air
This was a plenary session and looked at the state of play of autonomous mobility:
- We had a representative of a hyperloop company talk about his hopes and ambitions for a system that will transport people at the speed of sound!
- We had a Dutch professor, a pioneer in autonomous cars, show us a video showing three autonomous and connected vehicles negotiate a crossroad without signals and human involvement. They just figured this out themselves without any of them coming to a halt! It should be noted that 1m people per annum die in road traffic accidents with ~80% of these being attributed to human error!
- We were told how easy it was, relatively speaking, to make existing sea craft partly or fully autonomous and how much easier it was to achieve this vis-à-vis air or land. 90% of global trade is still carried by water btw.
- We had a senior representative from Bell Helicopters talking about their prototype, electric powered helicopter intended for cross city journeys. It would carry up to four passengers. Bell calculate that each helicopter would make a journey of between 15-25 miles and so four such journeys would could be undertaken before a (fairly quick) recharge would be necessary. For longer distances they would use a hybrid vehicle. The issue though is not the helicopter per se but the end-to-end system needed to make this easy and safe (including improved air traffic control).
Solutions for connectivity
This session was led by the Global CFO of Nasa who has 2300 people work for him! Nasa is on a mission (pardon the pun) having been given the go ahead to put people on the moon again by 2024, for the purpose of determining whether they can produce materials on the moon that would then allow them to power missions to Mars and back. Nasa will spend approx. $21bn in achieving this mission with 85% of this money being spent with suppliers. As part of this, Nasa has established a lab (iTech) that is looking for ways in which start-ups and scale-ups can contribute to, and benefit from, this mission.
Funnily enough, we put a man on the moon before we designed wheels for luggage!
As part of this session we also heard about:
- An initiative to provide internet access to everyone on the planet using satellites. Even when fully deployed, 5G will only serve 10% of the world’s population. This company (called Hiberband) was declared the AWS start-up of the year in 2018 and wants to provide for the remaining 90% of the population, cheaply. They plan to charge only Euro 6 per annum to use this service. They also plan to use this service to monitor the earth and spot disasters (e.g. forest fires) before they happen/take root.
- Another company called Airhub that is using drones to deliver defibrillators to people having a heart attack. If untreated quickly, a heart attack is usually fatal. But if a person is connected to a fibrillatory within 6 minutes, the survival rate goes up to 90%. It takes too long to get a person to a hospital or an ambulance to a person but a drone can get to a person in minutes!
Connecting start-ups to corporates
This is a just a brief write-up of a session that did help start-ups meet with corporates and investors.
Firstly, we had a senior executive of Bird (the scooter company I mentioned earlier) talk about her company journey, along with their main investor. The most interesting question she was asked was “why did you launch in San Francisco, a town with so many steep hills that your scooters weren’t able to go up them (going down was not a problem 😉)?”. Apparently, they now have a more powerful scooter that can (as well as a two-seater). The main point the investor made was that after attracting serious money you can’t afford to miss your forecasts, even once!
Secondly, we had the heads of innovation for Ericsson, Unilever Foundry and Google Labs speak. It was refreshing (encouraging) to hear the guy from Ericsson talk about the importance of solving tricky business problems and focussing on these, rather than the underlying solutions. All speakers also spoke about the need to gather diverse inputs and look beyond their normal domains for solutions but surprisingly, none of them placed any emphasis on drawing their customers into solution design. I challenged them on this but I am not sure they really got the point. Sadly, this seems to be the case with most large corporates I speak with. It really staggers me!