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Innofest innovation at festival

Interview with Anna van Nunen, founder of Innofest

As the founder of Innofest, Anna van Nunen is all about bringing together innovation, sustainability and the world of festivals: festival driven innovation. Innofest uses festivals as testing grounds for innovation pilots and offers impact entrepreneurs a safe, measurable and private environment to test their prototypes. All innovation trends come along: from blockchain ticketing and circular economy to smart grid solutions. Anna makes these trends concrete and puts them into practice at festivals, one of the fastest-growing tourism sectors in the Netherlands.

Lobke Elbers (NTG Communication Manager) had an inspiring interview with Anna who shared interesting insights. The conversation centred on how can an organisation test and validate impact innovations from a practical point of view to bring about sustainable change aimed at the consumer of the future?


What is Innofest’s vision on sustainable innovations of the future in leisure and tourism?


AN: “Four years ago it was a challenge to perform innovation tests at festivals. In the start-up phase, we had to showcase the importance of innovation and address themes that entrepreneurs are working on in the area of sustainable innovation. That is totally reversed after four years.

There is an enormous demand for knowledge and knowledge sharing about sustainable innovation and that has not always been streamlined. This is because the subject itself is fairly new for various sub-sectors and organizations are mainly inventing the wheel on their own islands. The sector is looking for ways to make itself more sustainable and in particular for the answer to the question of how innovations can be implemented. We are now frequently approached for this.

We have been working on Innofest for four years now and the positive changes in the field of innovations in the festival sector can also be extended to the leisure and tourism sector.”

What are the critical success factors of innovation testing at a festival?


AN: “The advantage of testing innovations at a festival is, in particular, being able to simulate an environment that is similar to the structure of the city. At a festival, infrastructure is needed, sewerage, plumbing, electricity, ways to process your wastewater to get clean water and so on. In addition, there are people with needs such as eating and sleeping and that needs to be considered. There are logistics matters related to crowd management that also play in a city.
Where a city is built primarily on the sustainability of the future and cannot be reinvented every year, festivals can be built differently every year and that makes it attractive to start experimenting.

Another additional advantage is that a festival is very measurable. You can literally monitor what comes in and out in all kinds of ways. You can even compare a festival director to a sort of sole ruler, this person knows and determines exactly what happens. A permit is also technically interesting for a festival, you can get a lot of permits at a festival that you can’t just do in the city.”


To what extent does the philosophy behind Innofest and “Festival Driven Innovation” serve as a driver and platform for sustainable innovations in the festival and leisure sector?


AN: “We see ourselves as an acceleration program for all kinds of impact innovations, that is the core. About half of the innovations that we test with entrepreneurs see the festival industry as a market, but the other half have different purposes and focus markets. The festival is the means but not always the goal. We are there for the entrepreneurs who are in the festival domain, but also for entrepreneurs who are outside that domain, such as the humanitarian sector or the health sector.

We work together with 11 festivals and know what the challenges of the festivals are. We try to match a relevant innovation from an entrepreneur to the challenge of the festival.

Last year we did a pilot with New Faces in which 10% of the festival volunteers were replaced by newcomers, status holders, refugees and other people who are new to the Netherlands. There were a number of festivals that wanted to get started with inclusiveness and cultural diversity. 22 festivals now use that way of working. This is an example where a specific pilot is matched to a specific question. The pilot has been scaled up enormously and we are no longer needed. That doesn’t always work, sometimes we have to lobby very hard at the festival and often we manage to get the space.

Sustainability, innovation and social corporate responsibility are hot topics. What are the pitfalls and what skills are needed by (large) organizations to implement sustainability as innovation?


AN: “First of all, speaking from my experience of the festival sector, there has to be a business case for everything and I strongly support it. Entrepreneurs with impact innovation must also share this philosophy – if an innovation is not scalable, it will continue to cost money. On the festival side, an innovation test case requires an investment, and you can actually replace festivals with any organization.

Sometimes the business case on sustainability is searched too quickly, but I believe in the long-term business case. Organizing more sustainably and engaging with innovation always yields something. But that is a long-term business case and requires long-term investments. Innovating with impact costs money, but the business case goes over the years. In addition, you often see that the organization itself must undergo a whole change that goes further than just appointing a sustainability manager. That expertise is not comprehensive. Expertise of sustainable production processes and sustainable organization are other skills and competences than initiating an internal change process. Impact innovation sometimes fails.

Only a small percentage of the employees within an organization get the objective to deal with sustainability, while the issue and the organization objective are broad. A sustainability manager sets to work with a strategy but does not always get the mission to get the other 100 employees within the organization to work too. Apart from a good vision, a sustainability manager must also be an organizational change agent. Impact innovation is not a top-down choice, but an organizational change. ”

What does the process from innovation to a concrete test at a festival look like?


AN: “The team of Innofest consists of 8 people, four of whom work as an innovation scout. Impact entrepreneurs come to us via two routes; a registration on the website or a test question via e-mail. The idea for the pilot is matched to the expertise and domains of the various innovation scouts. This is followed by an intake. On the basis of a “test canvas” we try to formulate the test question more clearly and find out what data is needed to help the entrepreneur and which festival fits in with it.

The next step is pitching the idea to all the festivals to see which festival can best accommodate the test question. As soon as a good match is found, the test case switches to the production phase.

In parallel, the communication process is started, we help with the PR of the entrepreneur, make a video case of the test and after the pilot, an evaluation follows to see whether the entrepreneur has collected sufficient feedback. We may then mediate in the connection to a next step, such as an accelerator, potential customer or a branch organization.”

What does the data on impact innovations tested at festivals lead to?


AN: “Festival organizers generally know very well who is coming to their festival. When buying a ticket it is often already known where visitors come from and at the big festivals nowadays more data is known about the date of birth and therefore the age. This data is initially collected from security measures. Organizers also have a good picture of the audience in terms of education level, family composition and a number of other factors.

Innofest tries to help an entrepreneur to test innovation as well as possible and to collect valuable data. They are always pilots, they do not always work as the entrepreneur hopes.”


What does a successful pilot bring to market and how are learnings from the festival sector further shared?


AN: “During Amsterdam Dance Event 2019, we had six alumni entrepreneurs pitch last year during the Green Conference. It is about letting go: we are good at supervising pilots, and you need to do further scaling up as an ecosystem of various sectors.

In the meantime, we realize that our brand and our PR are strong and that we manage to organize innovation differently and at the same time make the importance of impact innovation visible. We send out press releases of sustainable successes that we achieve, focusing on the success of the entrepreneur. We play a role by bringing the positive story of sustainability and showing other entrepreneurs and sectors that we can hopefully stimulate to get started.
At the same time, it is also a change in the market. From time to time organizations themselves should also stick their necks out to push initiatives of this kind and invite entrepreneurs to test impact innovation more often. ”

Is a sustainable policy also used as a marketing tool for festivals to attract more festival visitors?


AN: “A clear sustainability policy can ensure that festivals and the position of festivals are positively highlighted in society. Festivals need that too. With the great growth of festivals, the number of complaints also grow and the pressure on the environment increases. It is good to also show this story.

The DGTL festival in Amsterdam aspires to be the first circular festival in the Netherlands. They reuse everything, switch to sustainable electricity and also see that it is pretty good if you implement that in your communication. However, they have everything on the back really in order. It is therefore not greenwashing. They are an example for the sector and also use PR. It is a way to show that festivals are not only polluting and a nuisance but can also bring something positive.”


By Lobke Elbers, industry specialist digitalization and technology in travel, tourism & hospitality. Lobke is the communication and the dissemination manager of the NTG project.


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