What I know about building a living lab: Ersin Pamuksüzer

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Aside from R&D centers and fablabs, open spaces to test, research, and apply new technological products or services are distressingly scarce in the MENA. Moreover, fablabs generally fall short of involving ordinary individuals in development and testing. This is where living labs make a step forward.  

These entities embrace an open innovation ecosystem based on the concept of user co-creation, in order to better integrate research and testing processes into real-life host communities. Living labs tailor opportunities offered by new ICT concepts and solutions to the specific needs and aspirations of their surrounding society.

In 2010, the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL) was founded as an international nonprofit association in Brussels, Belgium. It aims at supporting the evolution of living labs in Europe and worldwide. It now boasts over 350 active member labs around the globe.

Currently, 52 percent of ENoLL labs devote their activities to health and well-being, with the rest mostly focusing on social innovation and programs for smart cities.

One of ENoLL’s members is Turkey’s Başakşehir Living Lab (BLL), launched in May 2012, by Ersin Pamuksüzer, who recently shared with Wamda his thoughts on the main requirements of building a successful living lab.

Students during one of the BLL trainings

Define and meet market needs.

The markets in which living labs operate, include public services, the private sector, and educational institutions of all kinds. Identifiable needs? Everything from solving myriad technological problems to improving ordinary people’s medical awareness. Ideally, living labs provide incubation, development, and a hands-on work environment for entrepreneurs to nurture their projects.

Once you attain a suitably high threshold of competence and efficiency, you go public.  An example of a market-driven technological innovation implemented by BLL is the Smart Rubbish Collection System. “This system benefits the citizen as an...environmental solution, while it benefits the municipality as a cheaper and faster solution for rubbish collection,” Pamuksüzer said.For social innovation geared toward helping people remain hale and hearty, there’s a BLL Mobile Health Station that measures over 30 of health parameters in fewer than six minutes; all that’s required is a mobile communication environment, to allow people easy and fast access.

“More than 40,000 [people] have been provided this service free of charge by BLL,” said Pamuksüzer, explaining that the procedure is performed in mobile medical vans on loan from municipalities as well as in shopping malls. He added that those who undergo the tests can subsequently consult a website for more information on what their results mean. 

At the Başakşehir Living Lab (Image via BLL)

Create sustainable and value-creating operations.

The main areas of focus for a living lab management team should be: attracting innovative projects of social value; embedding experimentation in user-intensive environments that closely resemble their real-world counterparts, to facilitate a smooth transition into the ecosystem at large when the time comes. They also focus on forging professional partnerships that ensure development of high-quality innovations and prototyping. In addition, they focus on providing training to the general public as well as to entrepreneurs in areas such as startup development, entrepreneurship, and ICT.

Cultivate shared ventures with public and private entities.

This is not an easy task, as it is predicated upon the participation of outside parties. In order to enlist the involvement of such entities, consider asking them to host tours of their facilities and grant internships, among other projects that serve to involve people associated with living labs into real-life work scenarios.  “At BLL, we are at ease with involving public authorities, since our lab belongs to the municipality,” Pamuksüzer pointed out. “We have partnerships with...universities which support BLL in developing certain technologies and providing training. We also have an MoU with one of the largest organized industrial districts, İkitelli Organized Industrial District, which we use for getting SMEs involved in innovations.”

Equip yourself with the necessary tools.

Certain basic amenities are essential for the success of any technology-driven outfit, including a living lab. For example, an electronics laboratory, a design factory, and a 3D printing facility, all help lay the groundwork for startups to develop prototypes. In addition, certain areas of the lab should be designated for structural support mechanisms, including design management; electronic card production; and circuit-board testing.Finally, don’t forget templates and training programs, the likes of which shore up startups’ abilities to construct sound business models, draw up balanced financial tables, and review overall strategy.

Select your location carefully, and make optimal use of space.

The general location as well as floor design play a critical role in enabling a living lab to achieve its goals. BLL’s  3,000 square meter living lab, located in a calm environment on the outskirts of Istanbul, is designed in such a manner as to allocate ample space to offices, program-specific laboratories, training quarters, user experience areas, incubation rooms, and conference halls.

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