The first contacts between the City of Dudelange and Luxinnovation for the implementation of this Innovation Hub date back to the preparations of the NéiSchmelz eco-district project at the end of 2015. This project focuses on transforming some 40 ha of neighbouring brownfields into an eco-district powered by CO2-neutral energy.
“The aim of the Innovation Hub is to develop an eco-technology pilot project that would contribute to the local, regional and national development by supporting the development of innovative technology companies,” explains Dan Biancalana, Mayor of Dudelange.
The project quickly took shape with the support of the Ministry of the Economy, Luxinnovation and Technoport. It was approved by the municipal council of the city in July 2017 and presented to the general public two months later, in the presence of Secretary of State for the Economy Francine Closener.
“Even if we have the support of the Ministry of the Economy, at this stage, the Hub is the only one to be managed by a municipality and to cover the field of eco-technologies,” says Mr Biancalana.
The Innovation Hub is housed in the last administrative building occupied by the Arcelor steel group in Dudelange. This site had not been used since the closing of the last rolling mill in 2005. It belongs to the Fonds du Logement. The City of Dudelange rents it and makes it available to start-ups in the form of a sublease at preferential rates: €15 per month and m2 for companies less than two years old and €20 for the older ones. The lease term is limited to 5 years.
The hub today comprises twelve workspaces with 2-4 places. Seven are currently occupied by start-ups selected by a committee including representatives of the city, Luxinnovation and Technoport.
“At our level, we act as a first filter: we receive the initial applications and make a first selection,” says Valentin Rongoni, Advisor – Start-up Acceleration at Luxinnovation. “We have already analysed around 20 applications and it is only in a second step, when we see that there is a real interest, that we bring the complete selection committee together. Our role is also to follow up the start-ups once they are there. We help them with contacts, fundraising and additional complementary services that other Luxinnovation departments can provide.”
Although the eco-technology field is quite visible in media, it is not frequently targeted by entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, the interest is growing. “Having been able to select seven companies in one year is not bad at all,” says Diego De Biasio, CEO of Technoport. “We feel that things are moving and that companies with innovative and technological connotations are interested in the ‘eco’ aspect.”
For the City of Dudelange, the possibility of setting up close collaborations with the hosted start-ups is also interesting. “It is a win-win situation,” explains Nic Krumlovsky, engineer at the City of Dudelange. “On one hand, products and services developed by the start-ups can be useful for us, and on the other, we serve as a full-scale testbed for them.”
This is already the case for three of them.
- Frontier Connect, for example, is developing an intelligent irrigation system that adapts the volume of water used according to parameters such as soil moisture and temperature. A test phase is currently running in the city’s Émile Mayrisch park.
- RSS-Hydro is active in mapping flood zones and collecting and processing multiple data. Using drones, the company has produced a very high-resolution topographic map of the Diddelenger Baach stream in collaboration with the University of Luxembourg. The map will be used for the future water sanitation of the stream.
- WeThink, works on circular LED street lights with sensors to adjust the light intensity according to the time of day and the flow of people on the site. “Tests are underway with the city’s teams of electricians. Some streets will soon be equipped with these street lights,” says Mr Krumlovsky.
The other four start-ups hosted at the Innovation Hub are:
- GreenBeHave (dedicated platforms allowing everyone to reduce their ecological impact);
- LuxEm (that markets 100% ecological cleaning products to communities and companies);
- Spinfield (ecological treatment of wastewater to restore its natural properties);
- Technogreen (eco-innovative solutions such as urinals without water and 100% sustainable “cradle-to-cradle” toilet paper).
“We know that we are pioneers in this field, and the results of the first year are very positive,” says Mr Biancalana. “The stability of the hosted companies is very interesting. We intend to continue in this direction, especially in view of the development of the NéiSchmelz district.”
Photos: (c) Ville de Dudelange