Dr. Henning Heppner ist not only a partner of NION. He’s also a founder of greenbox, a co-creation lab focussing on energy and infrastructure sectors to establish leading smart city concepts. In this interview he talks about the connection between Japan and Berlin – and how working together in creative tech hubs can help to find innovative solutions for our future.
NION Berlin is on many levels an incredibly innovative project and you have been on board from the very beginning. You know the Japanese working culture well, so we would like to hear from you the reasons for opening upa location in Berlin to bring Japanese and German culture together?
Dr. Henning Heppner: For me the question is not only why Japan in Berlin, but also why Berlin for Japan. The two countries have a long relationship: as Industry nations they have a strong and proud heritage of cooperation. When I was working for Siemens Japan, we celebrated a 100 year relationship with Japan. That is a really long time. We are dealing with a rich and industrial heritage with the same kind of high focus on quality.
I learned hands on how Japanese people make business. While it may take a lot of time to warm up, to gain trust – which is fine, you also need to do that in Germany – once you get that agreement and trust, you know that you can trust and rely on the other party. I see it as a long mutual and beneficial relationship: if you have established the trust, the network works, no matter what.
Similar to InfraLab and greenbox, which you have founded, at NION Berlin you are working on creating a lab situation, where Japanese entrepreneurs, big and small companies and researchers can get together with German experts to focus on the challenges for our modern world.
Dr. Henning Heppner: When we talk about NION Berlin I do not see a project that is small but a project embedded in a bigger picture. On a global level we have a lot of challenges but also a lot of opportunities ahead of us. We are talking about urbanization, we are talking about mobility, health and energy. These are all Mega-Trends. At the NION Berlin Lab we pick them up and ask: who has a lot of background and the right kind of platform to develop it further? Then we develop, we meet again, and then we see who can bring what to the table.
It will be a hub situation: The hub is for me the place where traditional and modern technologies come together, not in a conventional way, that everybody does whatever he did before, but where we have the chance to put together and merge di erent markets, players and technologies. Our role is to bring them together. How? I would put assets together in elds where both parties are strong and then identify the clusters instead of pu ing something arti cially together where nobody has a clue. It could be Block chain, digital tech, FinTech, whatever it is. For you can only be competitive if you are playing at the right level.
That ́s why I believe we have a good chance to work together with Japanese companies and its government to create something that is the right answer for the challenges that we have. Japan has on a global scale a similar role as Germany: While Germany is strongly involved in the European Union, Japan is embedded in the Asian market. Together they could be a harmonious balance to other global markets, like North America.
Why is the hub situation so important to you?
Dr. Henning Heppner: It is something I learned through my involvement with InfraLab: here we can test out things without disrupting the whole industries by being just a bit separate. We do it on a small scale, we show things relatively quickly – which is also good for the people who invest money. And when we are ready we can introduce our solutions to the stake-holders and let them see: People can see it, feel it, taste it, smell it. Usually we come up with something that is ready for the next generations, because in the background there needs to be the big picture.
When you talk about the hub or Lab at NION Berlin you introduced the term “comfort level”. What do you mean by that?
Dr. Henning Heppner: At NION Berlin at a small scale everyone can experience the path of what is possible. People can see Japanese food and technologies and they are good. People will realize: I know my things, but other things also work and are not bad, and I can combine them in a way that is even be er. We have created a comfort level and can expand from there, because if new things are happening it is always a bit scary, but you try it and show it and realize: it is not scary. Just then you are ready for the next step.
NION Berlin will be far more than the sum of its parts. How do you feel about the idea of a Japanese Sento within the development? How does that feed your idea of the Lab or hub?
Dr. Henning Heppner: There was a trend in Berlin already 250 years ago, where people had a natural synergy of working and living together: you even call it the Berlin model. Here we have a big chance with NION Berlin! Separation of work and life and private life is not there anymore. That is the element which is represented by the Sento and many other parts of NION Berlin. People who look for jobs these days are not just a racted to money. They look for a complete quality of life. That is what we try to establish here.
Since we are talking about the creation of NION Berlin, what kind if housing do you envision for your Lab/hub?
Dr. Henning Heppner: What I see is always some sort of organism, something that lives. For me the physical environment is a modular and exible space. That ́s something I would strongly vote for, that we start immediately in some sort of temporary environment and see what works. Here at Infralab we are very proud of our containers, because they are a representation of our temporary environment. You live in there, you need some more space, you just stack another container. If you say, okay, now I need a bigger building, then that also works: you put the containers away and build your beautiful big building. So you can see the architectural process go hand in hand with the project. We need to be able to be dynamic, and the building environment is an element of that. It needs to be always unfinished.