How to build a Smart City for £10K:

The curious case of Groningen, Netherlands

Groningen is a 200,000 sized city in the north of the Netherlands. It is an old city with the echo of a bygone era of the Hanseatic League sometime before 1800. A university city, about 26% of the population are students and the average age is about 35. Not particularly special for a university city. But there is more.

In 2014, Groningen only having 1.2% of Netherland’s population, held 10% of the Deloitte #fast50 and 20% from the #risingstar companies. Not only that, but it had been steadily growing since 2012 and was outperforming any other relevant city in the Netherlands.

Right after starting The Things Network campaign on Kickstarter, I noticed a big support coming in from the city. A few days later, it had provided some of our biggest supporters, by far. So I went and talked to Joshua Peper, one of the main initiators in Groningen.

The story he tells is impressive or better said, progressive. Groningen has a very active entrepreneur community, which is where Joshua first heard about The Things Network during a meetup. He pledged, he posted. Within 12 hours counting the pledges, the city was covered. It didn’t stop there. Surprisingly, he was contacted, by a provincial representative, who asked what it would take to cover the whole province with the network.

He contacted us and the next day, the local government had approved 10K to spend on gateways that would be sufficient. The ambitions are humble, yet realistic. They are aware that progress needs a supporting ecosystem. As he says:

“… you want to have a playground, an open system where everyone can run their low cost experiments on.”

And given the unique collaboration between government, university and local entrepreneurs, he does have a valid point. Their community is already preparing for the hardware to arrive. They know that Groningen won’t be a Smart City for a while, but compared to what China and India are doing with multi-million dollar investments, Joshua is confident:

“Big piles of money tend to attract a lot of people who are in it for the money, and push out the ones that have the right ideology.”

It is striking to see that this unique environment that is Groningen has an untainted approach, where other cities tend to be overwhelmed by technology fads and the lure of VC money. Given its record, Groningen sounds like a place to watch, and it might just become the Netherlands first real Smart City.

Twitter: @thethingsntwrk