Collaborative Efforts, Market Development…then Competition?

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I know that the title statement may seem a little strange to many who read it but that is in fact the way the Danes think. This couldn’t have been represented any better by our visit to the Danish Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells during our trip. Much like many of the other meetings on our trip this one was absolutely fascinating. At one point during our meeting, one of the members of our travel group asked the representative from the Partnership how they protected their ideas during the developmental stages. The gentlemen simply looked back, tilted his head a bit and replied with “That’s not how we think about our ideas. We start with the formulation of the market and the competition will come later.”

It was amazing to me to learn that rather than individuals and companies protecting their ideas and developing them on their own, Danes work together to provide the best possible solutions and then allow the competition to come naturally later on. It seems that in the United States because of all the competition ideas don’t flow as smoothly as they do in Denmark. Because companies are worried about other companies stealing their ideas, the process generation and collaboration is effected in a negative fashion.

When describing what the Partnership does I found it hard to put words to their core values and ideas. For many Americans, it is a hard concept to completely grasp. Their collaborative efforts among all stakeholders and what we would call competitors is amazing. The State of Green website does an excellent job of describing what the Danish Partnership is all about:

“The success of the Danish fuel cell industry is in large part based on the strong cooperation of all the national stakeholders: manufacturers, research institutes, network organizations – who, within the organization of the Danish Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel cells, collectively work together towards:

  • coordination and integration of fuel cell activities in Denmark
  • focusing the effort through publication of national strategies
  • communication of international collaborations as prerequisite for international markets.” (1)

So how can this come back to Maine and be applied to us locally? Could such a Maine partnership for hydrogen and fuel cells be implemented in our own backyard? Probably the biggest barrier to something like this happening in Maine would be getting companies to collaborate in a way that is actually productive. While I think that many companies would agree that something like this could be beneficial, getting them to sit down and open up their idea book would be another story.

Another barrier here in Maine is the fact that changing the culture is easier said than done. A quote from the Danish Partnership website that speaks towards their vision is something that I found very moving:

“The vision of the Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells is to contribute to the realization of the goal of maintaining domestic security of energy supply. Furthermore, The Partnership wishes to create a better environment and foster growth and prosperity in Denmark including many new jobs” (2)

While in Denmark it became very clear that the primary goal was not to make a profit. It was however to become a sustainable business by being economically and environmentally responsible. This is something that I feel would be very hard for many companies to wrap their minds around. There has been some talk of for-benefit companies, but until we here in Maine and the United States really feel some type of pain, I don’t believe it will be easy to change the mindset and culture of American business.

To really motivate an entire culture, it will take efforts from all levels of government, business and individuals. There exists some support already. E2tech (3) is a great resource here locally for collaboration among companies and individuals but there needs to be more. Support and incentives need to be passed down by larger companies and the government so that there is motivation for collaboration and idea growth/generation.

(1) http://www.stateofgreen.com/en/Profiles/Danish-Partnership-for-Hydrogen-and-Fuel-Cells

(2) http://www.hydrogennet.dk/326

(3) http://www.e2tech.org/

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