Skip to content

Highlights of SuperNova 2018

Last week Devoteam attended SuperNova 2018 in Antwerp. This event brings visionary solutions, technologies and insights together. For those of you who couldn’t make it, our HR Director Jan Dillis takes you through the highlights.


I remember viewing a science-fiction movie in the seventies in which spaceships were self-healing after being damaged. Back then this seemed an impossible idea. At the recent Supernova 2018 conference however I saw self-healing polymers. Cut in two and put back together, both pieces become one firm structure again. The common thread of the conference: real innovations start with working on the impossible.

With the slogan ‘Tomorrow is unstoppable’, the conference brought together professionals, entrepreneurs, creatives, researchers, innovators and investors to embrace tomorrow in different ways. There was a tech-fair, pitching possibility to investors for scale-ups, sofa sessions with entrepreneurs and two days packed with presentations.

With speakers such as founders of start-ups, successful serial entrepreneurs and university professors up to artists, the presentations tackled innovation from a variety of viewpoints. The speakers’ list included some big names like Tim Harford, Ray Kurzweil, Biz Stone, Seth Godin, Philip Inghelbrecht, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Niel Harbisson and many more.

Some presentations were more interesting than others were; some speakers had more messages to share than others did. Such a variety of speakers and viewpoints makes a conference like SuperNova hard to summarize. Instead of trying to summarize, I share some of the most interesting messages I’ve heard and cluster them under the following questions:

  • Why do you need to innovate?
  • What should you innovate?
  • How should you innovate?

Why do you need to innovate?

Let’s start with some critical reservations. The future may be unstoppable, but are we moving in the right direction? That question was posed by Jan Peter Balkenende, ex-Minister-President of the Netherlands. He made a plea to keep our innovation efforts focused on sustainable growth. So, every company should start with a self-examination by asking the question ‘What is my legacy?’.

A positive example was Vivienne Ming who developed AI solutions to help treating diabetic people, to predict manic episodes in bipolar patients and to reunite orphan refugees with extended family members. She also built a system that autistic children can wear. It reads facial expressions in real time and can also learn new facial expressions. “AI is an opportunity to change someone’s life. Let’s use new technologies to build a better future”, she concluded.

Different from what many may think, the world has become a better place over the centuries due to our innovation capabilities. Anna Rosling Rönnlund, cofounder of Gapminder, illustrated that we all are biased. She made a plea for data driven decision-making, taking the broader context into account. The antidote of fear is knowledge. She cofounded Gapminder, a non-profit Swedish venture that promotes sustainable global development. They advocate a fact-based worldview everyone can understand. It is worthwhile to spend some time on and discover the different tools.

With the many innovation examples in bio-medicines, biomedical engineering, robotics and AI, the moral aspects and challenges of innovations should not be avoided. What about safety, security, privacy and ethics? Given the continuous change in our society, nature and globe, not innovating is not an option. One message is clear: the future will be different. We need to solve the problems of the future, not the past.

Start now, today, this evening. Take today the first step, how small that may be and start changing lives for the better.

Vivienne Ming
Founder & Chair at Socos Labs

What should you innovate?

Philip Inghelbrecht, cofounder of Shazam, put it bluntly. If you want to realize breakthroughs, pursue the hard problems with simple solutions. The Shazam idea was deemed impossible to build by almost every expert but afterwards the solution was not that difficult to understand. As Seth Godin, author on leadership and business, put it: “Go for the impossible. Moreover, if you don’t do it someone else will”. Tim Harfordauthor, columnist for the Financial Times and presenter of Radio 4’s “More or Less”, gave also rise to ‘simple solutions’. With a smile, he called it the toilet paper principle: “once a technology is cheap enough to wipe your bottom with it, it can transform the world”. Break-through mass acceptation will only happen when the technology is cheap and simple. At the same time, he stated that if we introduce a new technology and want it to be effective, we need to change the complete system that surrounds it. In addition, we must be aware that sometimes a new technology will already change the complete system that surrounds it in an unexpected manner. Especially do not underestimated the social impact of new technologies.

“A good idea is an idea that you can’t get out of your head, even if other people say it’s not a good idea”, said Biz Stone, cofounder of Twitter. “As an entrepreneur, innovate only in those ideas you want to invest emotionally. It is about an unprecedented unrest, an idea you want to see happening in the real world.”

Dare to look from unusual perspectives and crosslink expertise.

Luc Van den hove
CEO of Imec

How can you innovate?

Seth Godin told the audience that 150 years ago, the real punchline was deleted from the Daedalus and Icarus myth: “And don’t fly too low because the mist will weigh down your feathers and you will perish”. With this message, he wanted to illustrate that aiming too low as entrepreneur or innovator can also be dangerous.

Duco Sickinghe, founder of Fortino Capital and former CEO of Telenet, reminded us that there are only two ways to innovate. Look for cost optimization or for differentiation. However, for Seth Godin cost optimization (“more of the same”) is not an option. For him this is a race to the bottom. He evoked that one needs to start with a blank slate. To that, you could add again a statement of Duco Sickinghe: “You’re only different if your competitors wouldn’t be able to do anything with your business plan”. Further, he stressed that it is of utmost importance to have the right people on the bus in the right seat and to have a fitting culture.

The Shazam story illustrated the importance of perseverance. It took 7 years before there was a significant uptake of Shazam users, but afterwards it went exponential.

Observe your customers: Twitter observed how the users used their service and what they tried to do. This showed Twitter what kind of new features they had to introduce.

Average is not good enough. Focusing on what you do is the highway to success. Don’t do everything because everything just becomes average.

Jurgen Ingels
Founder of


For an event on innovation like SuperNova, the presentations and the organization were very traditional. No real innovations to spot on those domains. Three exceptions though:

  • The slides were projected in different ways. Also on the huge stage floor, so the presenters were really walking on their own slides.
  • The presentation of Niel Harbisson, World’s first Cyborg officially recognized by the US Government, was a perfect example of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov quote used by Nina Tandan, co-founder of EpiBone, the world’s first company growing living human bones for skeletal reconstruction: “The role of the artist is to ask questions (not to answer them)”.
  • The presentation of Snask, a Swedish creative agency. The presenter was supported by a real rock ‘n roll band and the whole presentation had a punk attitude: we are having fun, we bring our message and we don’t care if you like or not.

One message is clear: the future will be different. Revolutions destroy the perfect in order to do the impossible. Therefore, you will have to innovate as well. To paraphrase AI expert Vivienne Ming: technology and innovation, use it for good, find a problem and do something good.Go out today and plant a seed!