It’s 8:45 am, cold, and rainy, and William Hurley is riding to a press interview on a bicycle, wearing a suit. Not something you normally do as a guest of honor brought to tour a major city–unless that city is Amsterdam. And he thinks it’s brilliant.
Appsterdam International Genius–Whurley
In December 2012, Appsterdam and the City of Amsterdam Economic Affairs invited William Hurley (a.k.a. “Whurley”) to receive the International Genius Grant. He is the second recipient of the honor, which brings one of the “world’s smartest and most interesting people” to share knowledge and learn about the creative, business, and technology opportunities in Amsterdam. Last year’s recipient was Dom Sagolla of Twitter fame.
Whurley is co-founder of Chaotic Moon in Austin, TX, which develops mobile apps and launches hardware and software innovations. He is a leading authority on open source, open innovation, and augmented reality. He is also a popular public speaker with a lot to say about the business of innovation and how to make cool stuff as quickly as possible. For example, the Board of Imagination, a mind-controlled skateboard that he made with his team in a few weeks, and The Smarter Cart™, the “shopping cart of the future,” which follows you around the store and makes suggestions for what to buy. Both have been featured on TV shows like The Gadget Show and Gadget Man.
Austin and Amsterdam
Whurley is also an established member of the Austin “Silicon Hills” tech scene. He came to Amsterdam with hopes and ambitions for increasing commercial ties and cultural relationships, having recognized the many obvious similarities between Austin and Amsterdam. “In both cities, there’s an openness to international trade, a liberal atmosphere with a high level of social contentment, and the arts and sciences are highly valued,” he said.
He also noted how similar the people are in the two cities–creative, open-minded, and progressive. “By the second or third day, I stopped feeling like I was traveling, because everyone I met reminded me of someone back home. I felt like I was in an alternative universe version of Austin.”
As an avid cyclist and skateboarder in Austin, Whurley especially noticed the ubiquity of bicycles in Amsterdam. “I thought there were a lot of bikes in Austin, but, wow! The extent of the cycling infrastructure here and the way it’s integrated makes such a huge difference. If we had this number of bikes in Austin with our existing infrastructure, it would be chaos.”
A Week in Amsterdam
Along with plenty of time on the bicycle seat, Appsterdam and the city scheduled Whurley for back-to-back meetings with some of the most innovative companies and people in Amsterdam. They also put him to work–giving talks and lectures, and interviews with the media. (See the full schedule here.) His days were filled with a variety of activities around the city, from hobnobbing with app makers and people in the Amsterdam startup scene, to visiting the Waag Society’s FabLab to check out the 3D printers and milling machines.
Whurley with his key to the city–made in the Waag Society’s FabLab maker space.
Talking with students at Hogeschool van Amsterdam.
Whurley at One More Thing Live broadcast in Rotterdam
Vaporware to Makerware
The biggest event of the week was “Vaporware to Makerware”. The event was moderated by Kerrie Finch of FinchFactor, who joined Whurley along with two Dutch innovators:
- Daan Roosegaarde (Studio Roosegaarde) creates “interactive landscapes,” from women’s wear that responds to intimacy by becoming more transparent, to smart highways that are interactive and sustainable.
- Antoinette Hoes (Tribal DDB Amsterdam) is an expert in digital strategy for established global brands, who provided a corporate perspective for the discussion.
The evening centered around the rise of the “maker movement” and what it means for innovation and the way we create things. The topic was inspired by the maker culture in Amsterdam and the recent announcement that Wired editor Chris Andersen is leaving the magazine for his own DIY firm, 3D Robotics. The panel took questions from the audience, which covered everything from 3D printers, community access to tools, creating your own weapons, and what it all means for brands.
“I think the way we’re experiencing information and consuming things is going to evolve enormously,” Roosegaarde said on-stage. “We often talk of technology as if it’s mysterious, which of course it’s not. We are fortunate to finally be emerging from an era where technologies were both alien and rapidly obsolete, to a time when new materials and fabrication methods enable technology to be reliable and accessible once again.”
Hoes spoke of the impact that personal products being made at home will have on big brands. “The coming argument from your average customer is going to be ‘I’m an adult, and I don’t want to be beholden to anyone to buy what I want to make or have’,” she said. “But until the day that the material capabilities of the individual at home exceeds that of the big brands, brands will continue to have a dominant impact on retail commerce.”
The Panel: Daan Roosegaarde, Whurley, Antoinette Hoes.
They also discussed the more inspirational aspects of the emerging maker technologies. “It’s very important for people to understand that we live in the greatest time ever as makers–as people who have ideas,” Whurley said. “Never before has there been such easy access to technology, hardware, and being able to be creative. People who may not think they are creative, but who have ideas, are now able to take their ideas and make them into creations. It’s incredibly powerful.”
Experience the Ecosystem
Even with his packed schedule, Whurley always found time to talk to people. It was amazing how he brought out the tech and creative communities and stimulated discussion and ideas. After every presentation, people stayed afterwards because they wanted to keep the conversation going. Each night you could find people hanging out around the fireplace at his hotel, chatting with him until the wee hours of the morning.
“Everything is so close here, and people can just hop on their bikes or on a tram to get together on a whim to share ideas,” he said. “And that’s what makes Amsterdam such a perfect ecosystem for entrepreneurship and innovation. It facilitates ideas and collaboration, which I love to see, and it attracts a goldmine of energy and talent.”
Just the Beginning
On his last day in Amsterdam, Whurley and his partner Pamela were greeted with snow and an orange weather alert. By then they had fallen in love with Amsterdam and their OV-Fietsen, and they had a blast riding their bikes to Central Station–even through the snow and slush.
“Amsterdam is a perfect combination of the best parts of cities around the world: freedom, safety, tolerance, art, and business- and tech-savvy,” he said. “It’s also proof that committing to solid urban design principals has commercial, cultural, and health rationale.
“I now understand first-hand why for centuries it has been a place where people from around the world come to live, learn, and do business–and it feels like home.” (Appsterdam Mayor Mike Lee agrees.)
And on his way out of town, he was heard saying, “I’ll be back sooner than you know.”
Whurley and Pamela loving their OV-Fietsen, their main transportation for the week.
Whurley’s International Genius Grant Week
Sunday: Appsterdam Game Day, Trans-Dimensional Portal demo, tour of the Waag Society FabLab, dinner and networking with Appsterdamers
Monday: City of Amsterdam Economic Affairs meetings with local businesses
Tuesday: City of Amsterdam Economic Affairs meetings with local businesses, lunch with leaders in the business and startup world, presentation to Amsterdam Makers event, tour of THNK Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership, dinner with leaders in design and innovation
Wednesday: Interview with sprout.nl, interview with Virtueel Platform, Appsterdam Weekly Wednesday Lunchtime Lecture, Appsterdam Meeten en Drinken
Thursday: Lecture for Strategic Management Students at InHolland University, presentation to students at Hogeschool van Amsterdam, presentation to students and staff at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam INTERTAIN Experimental Research Lab, Vapoware to Makerware event at Pakhuis de Zwijger.
Friday: Interview with CiaoBasta, meeting with Alexander Klöpping from De Wereld Draait Door, tour of Studio Roosegaarde in Gouda, One More Thing live broadcast in Rotterdam.
One More Thing Live broadcast interview (video)
Vaporware to Makerware event (video)
Sprout.nl interview (video)
Sprout.nl interview, pt. 2 (video)
Austin American-Statesman Article
Austin Chamber of Commerce Article
Profile on CiaoBasta
Urban Times Vaporware to Makerware Review
Urban Times Board of Imagination Article
Check out the Appsterdam Meetup page for more information on their events.