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Where good ideas come from

Minister for Higher Education and Science Jesper Petersen's speech at DTU Green Challenge, June 24th 2022

Check against delivery. 

Jesper Petersen at DTU's Green Challenge 2022
Jesper Petersen at DTU's Green Challenge 2022

Thank you for inviting me to be part of this exciting day.

I can feel the anticipation in the room. The eagerness to show all your ideas on how we make the world a better, greener and more sustainable place.

This is the 10th green challenge here at DTU and it’s amazing to see so many of you here and ready to pitch a new idea.

An idea is a network

I would actually like to talk about ideas today. And where good ideas come from. Many have tried over the years to figure this out. And it’s of course not something you can find a simple answer to.

But the American author Steven Johnson has done a lot of research on the subject. Specifically to find out what kind of environment leads to unusual levels of innovation and creativity.

His research shows that good ideas don’t exist in a vacuum. This notion we have of the lone genius. Einstein, Bohr, Curie, Darwin. Sitting alone in a dark study and suddenly a lightbulb turns on above their head. And they’ve solved some of the world’s great mysteries. That’s not how it works.

According to Johnson, an idea is a network. A new network of connections in your brain. And to create a new network in your brain, you need the right network in the world around you: A network of inspiration, ideas, people, opinions.

A place where you’re challenged and inspired. All of this combined creates an innovative environment where creativity can grow and new ideas take form.

The type of network he describes is exactly what you do so well here at DTU. You create an environment that fosters creativity and innovation in your excellent facilities at DTU Skylab, DTU Entrepreneurship. And at today’s Green Challenge.

Green challenge is a network of ideas

This competition has generated many interesting ideas over the past 10 years. I am especially amazed at the range and diversity of the different ideas that has emerged from Green Challenge. Some examples are:

  • A new and sustainable design for paint buckets.
  • Homeless shelters in India built from plastic waste.
  • A method to make vegan cheese from the water in chick pea cans.

An idea might be a network but Green Challenge is a network of ideas.

Some of today’s ideas will be great. They’ll become new start-ups or products. They’ll bring us new knowledge, technologies or solutions. Some of today’s ideas will inspire others. Will lay the groundwork for future ideas and discoveries. And some of the ideas today will fail. But some of the failed ideas will return new and improved. That’s a part of science.

No matter who wins today or which ideas stand the test of time - you can all be proud of yourselves. For trying to make a difference. For working hard on your ideas. If it’s not the one today, it’ll be the next one. Or the one after that.

We are on a green mission 

What you are doing here today is actually very similar to what the government is trying to do with our green politics.

In 2020, the government presented a green research strategy. Denmark's first strategy for investments in green research, technology and innovation. And with significantly increased public funding for green research.

The purpose of the strategy is to get better at translating our strong knowledge and research position into green innovation and real world technologies. We need to think about green research, innovation and development as different sides of the same coin.
We chose to do this with 4 missions that will affect how we collaborate – between researchers, GTS Institutes, businesses and authorities on a long-term and strategic effort. All the way from basic research to commercialisation.

The missions are carbon capture, Power-to-X, agriculture and food production, and recycling and reduction of plastic waste.

These four missions originate from where we already have positions of strength of knowledge, business and collaboration. Where there are export opportunities. And where there is a potential in relation to achieving our climate goals.

Bringing science out into the world 

A key part of the strategy is getting the research out into the world.

We have a great starting point. We have a world of excellent cutting-edge green research. We have a world of innovative companies not afraid to take risks and try new technologies. But there is still too much being lost between these two worlds.

But a day like today makes me confident that we are on the right track. I know many of you today have already teamed up with companies and businesses. Maybe some of you have or will build a start-up around your idea.

It’s when we join forces between sectors and areas of expertise we not only come up with the best ideas but also get them from the universities and out into the world.

In the end, it won’t be science alone. Or politicians alone. Or start-ups and businesses alone. Who make the world more sustainable. It will be all of us together.

You can make a difference

The inventor Thomas Edison said:

“The value of an idea lies in the using of it“.

You are here in this amazing innovative environment at DTU. According to Steven Johnson you are in the perfect network of inspiration, people and opinions to make your brains ready to come up with amazing new ideas.

And the next question proposed by Edison is: How are you going to use these ideas?

Thank you, DTU, for hosting this inspiring challenge. Good luck to everyone on your pitches today. And thank you so much for participating.

last modified Jun 27, 2022