Research & Science

Picture (Licence/photographer/designer): Dortmund-Agentur / Roland Gorecki

iCapital Award: Dortmund wins international competition and is European Capital of innovation

Dortmund has won the competition "iCapital Award 2021 - European Capital of Innovation". The European Commission announced the result at the "European Innovation Council Summit" in Brussels. Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for Research, Education, Culture and Youth, presented the award on November 25. Due to the Covid19 pandemic, the delegation decided to participate in the Award Ceremony via video link – streaming live from a rooftop overlooking the city’s panorama, including Dortmund’s iconic U-tower that was especially illuminated with the EU-flag.

iCapital-Award 2021: Dortmund - Innovation next door source: YouTube

Dortmund is now the European Capital of Innovation and was able to compete in the final of the most innovative cities against Dublin, Malaga (2nd) and Vilnius (3rd). EU Commissioner Gabriel praised the remarkable efforts of the city of Dortmund for a policy involving the urban society and the vision of a “City of Neighbours”. Gabriel also highlighted in this context, among other things, the concept of Dortmund´s Smart City Alliance and the Science Master Plan 2.0.

International recognition

Mayor Thomas Westphal is enthusiastic about this award:

"The award is a result of great teamwork in Dortmund as a City of Neighbours. Many committed partners from the fields of science, business, urban society and administration have built up a sustainable innovation ecosystem. A breeding ground for start-ups and companies, for research and development, for education and culture. But also for the implementation of good ideas, social projects, and creative solutions in our neighbourhoods. We are very pleased that these efforts have now been recognized at a European level. It is a success that will spur us on to continue on this path. We are very proud to be the first German city to have won this award!"

Mayor Thomas Westphal

Professor Dr. Herbert Waldmann, City of Dortmund Commissioner for the Science Master Plan, comments: "Being awarded as European Capital of Innovation will enhance the international recognition of Dortmund as an innovative science and technology location.” The European Capital of Innovation Awards is an annual recognition prize awarded to the European cities that best promote innovation in their communities. The European Capital of Innovation category addresses cities with a population of minimum 250 000 inhabitants and rewards the winner with EUR 1 000 000 and two runners-up with EUR 100 000 each one.

Find out more about Dortmund’s innovation model: Dortmund: Innovation Next Door

A City of Neighbours where an idea for the neighbourhood can become a model for the future Dortmund is young German innovation location in the heart of Europe, with a coherent, grown innovation network that includes social, cultural as well as technological innovations: an innovation ecosystem, built on trust and solidarity.

The European Capital of Innovation winner

The European Capital of Innovation winner
Picture (Licence/photographer/designer): All rights reserved European Innovation Council

Innovation through collaboration

INNOVATION NEXT DOOR is the motto of Dortmund’s proposal. Neighbourhood values such as strong relationships, trustful communication and active participation characterise the city’s innovation ecosystem: a strong network of reliable partners, people with different backgrounds, working together locally towards a joint vision. Good ideas arise in the neighbourhoods, in backyards, in living-rooms, in laboratories and workshops. Citizens, scientists, students, entrepreneurs, city-planners and administrators work together in ecosystems that facilitate innovation through collaboration.

Story of transformation

Dortmund has undergone a massive transformation, it has reinvented itself again and again, e.g. by turning an industrial wasteland into a beautiful lake (Lake Phoenix), or by turning an old brewery tower into a lively centre for culture, education and digital art, the Dortmunder U, including the kiu Storylab which develops spectacular new methods of digital storytelling. Being a young university and science location, Dortmund literally “started from scratch” and has been successful in creating one of the biggest technology parks in Europe (TZDO) with distinctive competence centres, establishing 7 universities, attracting around 55.000 students and providing a hands-on support system for start-ups, including the Excellence Startup Centre at TU Dortmund University (TOP 5 in Germany) and the start2grow business plan competitions with more than 14.000 participants in 40 rounds, 600 voluntary coaches, resulting in 1.500 actual business foundations. Pioneering research centres, such as the Competence Centre for Machine Learning Rhine Ruhr (ML2R) or the German Rescue Robotics Centre (DRZ) feel at home in Dortmund. The competition fosters social innovation projects.

Science, economy, culture, administration as well as civil society work together in strong networks such as the Smart City Alliance, the Science Masterplan or the “nordwärts” participation initiative. In addition to the big innovation structures and strategic alliances, there are plenty of local, informal innovation hotspots and grass-root initiatives with open workshops, labs and citizen science spaces such as the DEZENTRALE or the inclusive SELFMADE makerspace.


Innovation next door: Prof. Herbert Waldmann, Angela Märtin, Mayor Thomas Westphal and Heike Marzen joined the Award Ceremony digitally, via video-stream over the roofs of Dortmund
Picture (Licence/photographer/designer): Dortmund-Agentur / Roland Gorecki

A City of Neighbours

Dortmund’s approach of being a “City of Neighbours” also extends to sharing experiences with partner communities on a regional level as well as internationally. Projects such as "iResilience" aim to strengthen the city's resilience to climate-related phenomena, including persistent heat and heavy rain – with the help of citizens collecting ideas and implementing pilot measures in their neighbourhoods. Dortmund is not only cooperating with other cities in North-Rhine-Westphalia, but also internationally, e.g. with the city of Cluj in Romania. Dortmund’s people have a great sense of cohesion which is being expressed in devoted volunteer work and active engagement, for example in digital “Helpathons” during the COVID 19-pandemic. Dortmund marked the way out of the crisis at an early stage with the "New Strength Strategy" developed by the Economic Development Agency. One concrete measure from this is the digital platform “we stand behind you” (#wshd), through which over € 800,000 was raised to support the local economy.

Bold visions for the future

Dortmund has also developed bold visions for the future. Examples are the concepts for a new “Green Main Station” which is being co-designed by engaged citizens, the transformation of Dortmund’s harbour district which will also be home to the Academy for Theatre and Digitality, or the “Smart Rhino” collaborative urban development project that takes up the idea of a “new European Bauhaus”, bringing different disciplines together in order to create a sustainable urban quarter that will be a testbed for Smart City tools.

Dortmund’s application:

Project contributions come from the entire innovation network in Dortmund. This takes account of municipal and civic initiatives as well as the science and business landscape. In the context of the application, a project website has been created where citizens are invited to discover innovations in their neighbourhoods and to share what makes Dortmund innovative for them.

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