Idea Challenge Finals: Showcasing the Smartest of Energy Solutions in Berlin

By David Knight |

All things considered, it’s a bit of a trek out to Adlershof, a part of Berlin on the periphery of the city close to the (hopefully) soon-to-be-closed Schönefeld Airport. And you would probably expect it to be as far from the usual tech neighbourhoods of Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg metaphorically as it is geographically.

But rather than a grey and depressing outskirt still suffering from Communist-era architecture, parts of Adlershof are really quite shiny and modern – and provides proof that the tech revolution sweeping through Germany’s capital city is expanding beyond its original borders.

The current tech presence in Adlershof can be traced back to the initial post-Berlin Wall era, when the (East) German Academy of Sciences was shut down and the WISTA Science and Technology Park was established. Over the years, it has developed into a cluster of tech-related activity, including a startup hub – in particular, there are close links with universities and research centres such as the Humboldt’s natural sciences departments, which are located in Adlershof.

And just as Adlershof was the setting for a momentous occasion in the history of transport in Germany – the country’s first ever motorised flight took off from the Johannisthal Air Field, which formerly occupied the site – so it now hopes to be at the centre of future technological achievements.

All of which made it an interesting place to host the smart energy systems final of the Idea Challenge, a pan-European competition organised by EIT ICT Labs. As mentioned previously, Berlin is a fitting place to look at the future of energy and showcase some of the best ideas in the field.

A total of ten teams made the final, out of 62 smart energy systems entries, and pitched in front of an expert crowd as part of the Smart Energy Community Event.

The Idea Challenge has seen startups and entrepreneurial teams with the drive to found an ICT-driven business compete in eight categories in total, with finals in different European cities which play host to an EIT ICT Labs presence. Three winners are picked from each final, receiving €40,000, €25,000 and €15,000 respectively as well as coaching and mentoring from business development experts, integration into future EIT activities and office space for six months. There is also access to some of the world’s leading universities, research institutes and companies, such as Siemens, SAP, IBM, Intel and Philips.

The hope is that the contest can help break down the barriers to true innovation within Europe a little, especially given that EIT ICT Labs – which is partly financed by the EU – won’t take any equity from the winners and therefore does not measure success in terms of seeing the startups exit for a huge profit, but rather by factors such as job creation.

In the first round of the Idea Challenge, 12 startups in the health and wellbeingcyber-physical systemssmart spaces and future cloud categories won a total of €320,000, and are already working closely with the EIT ICT Labs Business Accelerator to further develop their ideas.

Smart energy systems was first up in the second batch, and hopefuls from Italy, Germany, France, Spain and the UK gathered in Adlershof hoping to take home the prize.

The finalists had to pitch their ideas in front of a jury consisting of experts from Siemens (including its venture capital branch), Startupbootcamp, the High-Tech Gründerfonds, Vattenfall and EIT ICT Labs itself. The participating teams included:


A German startup, Brightup is a smart management system for energy consumers with a focus on usability, which manages devices around you based on the information available. The first product is a smart home lighting system that is compatible with your existing lamps and bulbs.

Earth Wind and Sun

This team from Italy has built an innovative prototype for monitoring and assessing power quality – as pitcher Cosmo di Perna said, one kilowatt hour is not necessarily the same as another. The solution provides different methods of evaluation, and the implementation of custom power solutions.

Easy Smart Grid

Easy Smart Grid is a company from Germany which is enabling a real-time market for electricity, in doing so increasing the share of renewable energy and lowering the cost to consumers. The startup’s technology reduces infrastructure and operation costs and provides higher resilience and customer data protection.


Ecogriddy solves the problem of small renewable energy produces and consumers not being aligned, which leads to a waste of both electricity and money. Its solution is to apply an Internet of Things architecture to mini and micro smart grids, with the expectation that efficiency rates will improve by up to 40 percent compared to present solutions.


Next up was another Italian startup, this time offering a novel technology to predict energy consumption patterns based on extensive human behavioural characteristics extracted from mobile network data. The technology was tested in the Trentino province, and provided predictions which were nearly two and a half times more accurate than existing solutions.


Housahedron is a simple solution providing detailed and accurate pictures of a building’s energy performance using real-time 3D visualisations. Data is collected from wireless sensors placed within a building and interpreted into a 3D model of the same structure showing, for example, where heat is being generated or lost. The initial usecase for the British team is data centres, where maintaining a constant temperature is vital.

ICE Gateway

With some 30 percent of street lights in Europe needing replacing, ICE Gateway wants to see its intelligent technology fitted in the new light ballasts being installed. The technology allows for the lamppost to be connected to a secure wireless infrastructure, not only allowing for energy saving and carbon dioxide reduction, but also to provide extra services such as traffic notifications.


There is no doubting the scientific credentials of the NNGC team – based in the UK but with an international feel – and its idea takes some explaining. Simply put, NNGC uses a neural network to create better power converters (that is, from AC to DC and vice versa). These smart converters will allow for the oscillation of current solutions – stemming form over-correction in trying to match the flow – to be eliminated, and help the efficient transfer of energy from a wind turbine or renewable generator onto a grid.


A French startup, Sereema is looking to improve the efficiency of wind turbines by making them smarter. Its large-scale solution sees the installation of sensors which will detect where turbine output is not being optimised, for example through deviation or drift, and the provision of detailed technical files for specialists to carry out corrective action.

Sprouting With Betta

Farms can be messy – so what to do with all that agricultural waste? Sprouting With Betta aims to find sustainable and efficient solutions for managing this material, and obtaining as much energy from it as possible. This will be achieved by applying a controlled sub-stoichiometric burning process by means of a spouted bed reactor using agricultural residues as feedstock.

And so to the winners…

First place went to NNGC, second was ICE Gateway and Easy Smart Grid came in third. For Michael Fairbank, who pitched on behalf of NNGC, it was a major surprise. When asked why he thought their idea had emerged victorious, Michael, who in his day job teaches teenagers at a school in London, told Silicon Allee: “Because it is small. There is nothing airy-fairy about it. It’s a device that does a simple well, so there are few unknowns.” And yes, he would be telling his pupils about his big win.

His colleague Eduardo Alonso said: “We only just won and were already introduced to venture capitalists. We’re very happy and hope that we can get more contacts like this in the future through the network.”

Udo Bub, the node director of EIT ICT Labs Germany, said: “In order to cover the smart energy field you have to bring four major players together – regulators and politics, big industry, startups and academia. We managed to do that, and the event was a big success. … All the winners are now invited to join our community and work with us more closely towards further maturation and market readiness.”

With the fifth Idea Challenge topic complete, the focus now turns to Stockholm for the Internet of Things final and Trento for cyber security and privacy, both of which take place on November 13.