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European Innovation Council

Winner: Dortmund (Germany)

The European Capital of Innovation category: 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.

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.

Dortmund is a good breeding ground for the implementation of good ideas, social projects and creative solutions in our neighbourhoods.

 Thomas Westphal, Mayor City of Dortmund

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.

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 EUR 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. Find out more at: