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European Capital of Innovation Awards 2021, German town wins

Laura von Puttkamer

German town wins European Capital of Innovation Awards in 2021: The awards are an annual recognition prize awarded to the European cities that best promote innovation in their communities.

The Dortmund U is a landmark of the city. It stands for the successful structural change. (Photo: Lemon Pepper Pictures, Unsplash)




The awards are an annual recognition prize awarded to the European cities that best promote innovation in their communities. The seventh edition of iCapital awarded a German city, joined by Dublin (Ireland) and Málaga (Spain) who won second prizes, whilst Vilnius (Lithuania) finished in the third position. Find out here which German city received the award.

The seventh edition of the European Capital of Innovation Awards

On November 24, 2021, the European Commission announced the winners of the seventh edition of the European Capital of Innovation awards during the European Innovation Council Summit. The competition is known as “iCapital”. The jury awarded the German city of Dortmund the title of European Capital of Innovation 2021.

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Dortmund is joined by Dublin (Ireland) and Málaga (Spain), who share the second prize. Vilnius (Lithuania) won the third price. The cities wining second and third places received 100,000 Euros each, while Dortmund was rewarded with 1 million Euros.

The European Capital of Innovation Awards featured two categories in 2021: One was the European Capital of Innovation category, and the other was the European Rising Innovative City category. This latter award was won by Vantaa in Finland, which resulted in a reward of 500,000 Euros. Cascais (Portugal) and Trondheim (Norway) won second and third places and received 50,000 Euros each.

The iCapital award is funded under the Horizon Europe programme and managed by the European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency (EISMEA).

Dortmund: European Capital of Innovation 2021

Dortmund, the winner of the European Capital of Innovation title, is one of Germany’s largest cities. With a population of more than 580,000 inhabitants, it is also the third-largest city in North Rhine-Westphalia after Cologne and Düsseldorf. As part of the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Region, Dortmund has a long history of industry and trade. It was heavily bombed during World War II.

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The city of Dortmund is known for its soccer club Borussia Dortmund. (Photo: Waldemar Brandt, Unsplash)

Historically, the city is known for heavy industry such as coal and steel, beer brewing and the soccer club, and the Bundesliga football club Borussia Dortmund. However, the city’s municipal government is trying to change this image. The award proves that efforts have been successful: By now, Dortmund’s success is attributable to innovative companies and start-ups in particular.

A city dominated by start-ups

In short with 55,000 students, 2,500 new start-ups in 2020 alone, 20 research institutions, 17 start-up centres and 7 different universities, Dortmund is reframing itself as a science and technology city. The Science and Technology Campus houses more than 300 tech companies and draws inspiration from Eindhoven’s High-Tech Campus.

Some popular sectors of Dortmund’s many innovative start-ups are IT, logistics, green tech, smart city, and production technologies. For example, Comnovo GmbH is a successful local start-up that has developed a vehicle localisation system to alert workers in hangars or warehouses of approaching vehicles by using high frequencies.

The city has managed to not just establish a tech scene, but also to transform the tech campus into a vibrant urban area. The many small start-ups themselves drive the city much more than a single big business, such as Siemens in Munich or Daimler in Stuttgart. Therefore, knowledge circulates quickly and flexibly in Dortmund.

A city of resilient neighbours

Apart from the innovative spirit fostered by start-ups in Dortmund, the city is also known for its resilient spirit. Its message is “We are the normals” – if we can do it, any city can do it. Therefore, Dortmund intends to act as example for the European Capital of Innovation Awards, emphasising that any city can win if there is enough innovation.

But resilience also plays an important role in Dortmund’s success. The city has rebuilt itself several times already. In 1997, about 20 percent of its residents were unemployed. Today, less than 10 percent are unemployed, a considerable improvement.

Dortmund’s resilience and neighbourly spirit is also visible in its “New Strength Strategy” that was launched at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Wir stehen hinter dir” (we stand behind you) was the municipality’s slogan for this strategy, which raised close to a million Euros to support the local economy in the city.

In terms of climate change, Dortmund is aiming to increase its resilience to phenomena such as long-lasting high temperatures and heavy rainfall. Volunteers are invited to run pilots and contribute ideas. This resulted in a heat information campaign in 2021.

About the European Capital of Innovation Awards 2021

The European Capital of Innovation Awards intends to showcase how cities overcome societal and sustainability challenges through innovative solutions. The jury see cities as “a playground where breakthrough innovation can flourish. With their capacity to connect people, places, public and private actors, urban areas can substantially enhance innovation in Europe, improve the quality of citizens’ lives and provide ground to experiment with new technologies and products in a real environment.”

The seventh edition of the European Capital of Innovation Awards in 2021 recognised cities’ contribution to developing local innovation ecosystems that benefit innovators as well as citizens. Above all judges looked for the most innovative city practices that can boost game-changing innovation. As is the case in Dortmund, for instance.

The next edition of the iCapital European Capital of Innovation Awards will be launched in 2022.

Also interesting: Indonesia plans a new capital. At the beginning of January 2022, the mega-project called “Nusantara” moved one step closer.

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