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Share or die – debate about future business models for production companies
26. July 2016
In June, the Danish Design Centre and UNDERBROEN, Copenhagen’s new workshop for urban production, held the second debate in the series Debates UNDERBROEN (Debates UNDERTHEBRIDGE). Under the title Share or die, the event addressed how we can design business models for production companies based on open-source principles. The result was an inspiring discussion that engaged the full-capacity audience and a spirited international panel of experts.
Share or die

With the activities on the Future Fabrication platform, we address the capacity of design and new manufacturing technologies, especially from the maker field, to transform and stimulate the manufacturing sector – including the potential of the undercurrents that drive the new technologies. One of these undercurrents is the open-source concept, which, among other impacts, has been involved in shaping new trends such as the sharing economy, co-creation and, not least, knowledge sharing as powerful sources of innovation. But how can manufacturing companies implement open-source principles without compromising their business model? That was the crucial issues addressed in this debate.

To find answers to the key questions raised by these new developments, we had invited an international panel of experts: Tomas Diez, the head of FabCity Research Lab in Barcelona; Erick Thürmer, managing director of Thürmer Tools just outside Copenhagen; Peter Baeck, head of Collaborative Economy Research at NESTA in London; and last, but not least, Magnus Christensson, CEO of the Danish firm Socialsquare. The event was moderated by Vanessa Carpenter, a technological interaction designer at Idemolab.

With a full-capacity audience seated among the machinery in UNDERBROEN’s workshop space, the spirited panel was ready to address the challenging and hugely exciting topic – and engage in the debate about the possibilities and challenges of open-source business models.

How can we make it profitable?
The challenges were soon put on the table: how can it possibly be profitable to share ideas and designs as opposed to keeping them to oneself? Here, one of the interesting points offered by the panel was that value creation relies to a large extent on the ability to use technology to build a community of co-creators – designers, developers, coders and so forth – around one’s product to bring in outside innovation rather than innovating from within. To facilitate accelerated product development via co-creating instead of running a costly in-house development and innovation department. To get by with just a couple of engineers instead of needing to hire fifty – and to enrich the process with community managers capable of boosting and activating a global community around the creation of a product. But naturally, this is a difficult, perhaps even daunting, field for a company to enter. And, as one audience member asked, can we afford to be among the first to engage in this type of experimentation? To which, of course, the answer was: Can we afford not to?

As an extension of this discussion, the panel added that the question is not whether companies need to adapt to these new technological and market-defining trends. The only question is when. Companies that choose to ignore this trend do so at their own peril – as the title of the event aptly suggests, it: ‘share or die’. There was clearly no doubt, among the audience or the panel members, that this approach is going to become an integrated part of the market norm and a natural way to build an agile business. One example of a similar, recent trend is the sharing economy, which only a few years ago appeared as an absurd and fundamentally unviable concept yet which is now a fully mainstream approach – and a substantial and growing economy.

The economic side of the equation was a recurring topic. How can a company afford to take the economic risk involved in experimenting with open-sourcing its products? The debate highlighted some of the other new trends that are currently gaining traction – such as crowdfunding, where brand-new companies sell their products in advance and sometimes even ask the buyers to act as co-developers within an open-source framework. It is not unusual for developers with a strong product concept to be able to raise hundreds of thousands of euros directly from consumers, and big companies are now also investing in crowdfunding projects. The open and user-oriented approach, driven by strong design processes, provides access to new markets and generates new possibilities that are only available to those willing to accept the attendant risk.

The essential role of the design angle featured prominently in the debate. These new and fairly radical market trends are, of course, part of the evolution and larger perspectives that are continuously shaping the development of our society. To not only keep up with this trend but also influence it, companies need to adopt a design-driven approach that uses the qualities of design to make the unknown known: embracing it as a natural part of their business approach to venture into these new fields while continually testing their assumptions to minimise the unknown and maximise their chances of success.

Overall, the ’share or die’ themes brought out intriguing perspectives, which were in no way exhaustively explored by the debate. At the Danish Design Centre, we continue to address these issues – from a general perspective in our strategic focus on Future Fabrication as well as in a more specific sense in the RE:MODEL project, which you can read more about here.

Part of a global knowledge network 
The event was part of Open Source Circular Economy Days (#OSCEdays): an open, distributed and globally connected event that ran from 9 to 13 June 2016, where experts, enthusiasts and innovators from all over the world worked together in more than 100 public events – including Share or die, which represented Denmark – with the aim of exchanging ideas and solutions, prototype systems, products and designs, based on the concepts of open-source and circular economies.

The next theme: Builders of the Future
As mentioned above, this debate was also part of the series Debates UNDERBROEN, where the Danish Design Centre and UNDERBROEN zoom in on possibilities and challenges in an era shaped by digitised and high-tech production, where we are constantly challenged to innovate and remain on the cutting edge of development. Join us for the next event in the series, which takes place on Thursday, 22 September 2016, at 16.00-18.00 under the theme ‘Builders of the Future’.

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