On November 30, Bratislava’s Crowne Plaza Hotel hosted a GLOBSEC-co-organized event together with IPM and the Slovak Alliance for Innovation Economy (SAPIE) event that highlighted the Danube Valley’s growing reputation as a hub for technological innovation and agile business development. The event attracted a diverse crowd of entrepreneurs who were keen to learn more about the region’s success stories and opportunities for further growth and development.

The evening was divided into two expert panel discussions in which the audience was warmly invited to pitch in with comments and questions for the speakers. Proceedings began with a discussion on the future of energy and mobility. A rapidly growing world population, increased global warming and finite supply of fossil fuels highlight the urgent need for fresh and innovative thinking on this issue.  Indeed, industry’s search for alternatives to conventional means of transport and energy production has been tireless and relentless.

It’s undoubtedly encouraging that some of the most innovative and ground-breaking solutions concerning energy and mobility can trace their origins to the Danube Valley. Take, for instance, the work of GA Drilling. With its unique technology known as Plasmabit, it aims to produce affordable geothermal energy for up to 70% of the global population. Plasmabit’s goal is to revolutionise the field of energy production by spreading this unique technology from Slovakia to the rest of the world.

Another company making waves in the field of energy efficiency is ESS, a low-cost, environmentally-friendly, utility-scale energy storage technology producer. Their unique battery technology has wide-ranging energy market disruptive potential such as balancing peak and off-peak electricity prices for behind-the-meter commercial-scale customers. ESS brings a revolutionary product to Europe that will change the way in which renewable energy producers operate.

And let’s not forget about Tachyum. Its ground-breaking semi-conductor chip aims to unlock unprecedented performance, power efficiency, and cost advantages, that will eventually save cloud computing service providers billions of US dollars annually. To this end, Tachyum’s unique product combines experience from both Silicon and the Danube Valley.

These three companies offer complex and globally applicable solutions that combine energy production, efficiency and storage. However, a much-needed breakthrough in the mobility sector comes from AeroMobil, which has developed the first flying car at ready-to-use stage. Its five-year strategy includes a door-to-door transportation service solution for mid-range distances –  i.e. a “Flying Uber”.

Clearly, the Danube Valley’s tech industry does not lack the ambition to tackle real world problems. The next logical step is to gain global recognition. This challenge formed the basis for the second panel discussion. The dynamics and rapid pace of today’s entrepreneurial ecosystem confirms that investing in innovation is not a luxury, but a necessity. However, as the world’s biggest car producer per capita, Slovakia needs to be aware of the Detroit Syndrome and exploit the potential for innovation within the region.

The Danube Valley is ideally placed to stimulate this innovation and build upon already promising forms of regional cooperation.  Its close proximity to Bratislava, Vienna and Budapest create the ideal conditions for stimulating positive synergies in an innovative economy and outward looking civil society. To assist, the Danube Valley Innovation Cluster aims to connect innovation leaders with corporate partners, policy makers and society builders to mitigate a brain drain and promote diversity. The key to its success is a private-led, public-supported partnership of ecosystem leaders with the ultimate goal of maximising innovative GDP by helping local innovative companies to grow.

A diverse array of questions was pitched to the guest speakers over the course of the event. Many of them addressed several key themes, specifically:

  • Does Slovakia have what it takes to take the lead in developing the Danube Valley Initiative?
  • What role should Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary play in fostering and promoting regional development?
  • What are the most promising opportunities for cooperation and pilot projects?
  • What type of cooperation models would help to intertwine the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystems and harness further innovation?

The guest speakers’ responses to these questions ranged from optimism to cynicism. However, one thing is certain: the Danube Valley has vast potential as entrepreneurial and innovative region. It’s up to entrepreneurs at home and abroad to harness its full potential. Many of tonight’s audience seemed up for the challenge.