NEXT13 Program Curator Peter Bihr

By Indre Putrimaite

Peter Bihr: Berlin has arrived on the global map for tinkerers, innovators, entrepreneurs and artists. It’s a place with tremendous energy!

Peter Bihr has always had an eye for trends in technology, and has organised numerous events like UIKonf, Cognitive Cities Conference, Ignite Berlin and TEDxKreuzberg.[1] Additionally,  he is an independent digital strategist, Program Director for NEXT Berlin, co-founder of Makers Make and Editor-at-large for The Alpine Review. Here are some of his thoughts on the conference, Berlin and passion for the work you do!

Indre Putrimaite: What will be the highlights of the 2013 conference and what are you looking forward to the most as an organiser?

Peter Bihr: We’ve got a jam-packed programme running over two days, with three stages and dozens of workshops, so there’ll be many highlights. Some personal favorites of mine that I'm really looking forward to are the opening keynote by Marina Gorbis, the head of the Institute for the Future; Bruce Sterling's closing remarks (he's just great at that kind of thing) and Harper Reed's talk on big data.[2] He has lots and lots of insights to share from his work for the Obama campaign. But, as I said, there are dozens other speakers I can't wait to see.

In your opinion, how does NEXT Berlin differ from other conferences (i.e. The Next Web or SXSW)?

All these conferences are great in their own way, and it's common for organisers to exchange ideas and to cooperate, so it's not a question of competition. Every conference also has a slightly different focus. At NEXT Berlin, we focus on the digital economy, and we try to get the European angle on things.

Looking back at the previous conferences (NEXT 2011 & NEXT 2012), what major changes have you made this year? How is the content different?  What are the conference trends this year?

At NEXT Berlin, we always look at what's next. In the last few years, we found several dominating trends. To name just two: More and Big Data (our theme "data love"), the merging of physical and digital worlds ("post-digital"). This year, we see a nodal point where the macro trends of the last few years re-connect and shift the landscape in interesting and quite unpredictable ways.[3] We can name the dominating topics, but the reality for the next few years is too complex for easy predictions. That's what inspired our theme this year: Here Be Dragons.

What would be your advice to make the most out of NEXT Berlin?

Pick the key presentations you absolutely don't want to miss, and then a few on topics you don't know much about, to learn something new. And then go out there and talk to as many people as you can, as conferences are all about meeting new folks, about networking, about finding future collaborators.

As a successful, active entrepreneur and innovator, what do you like most about your work?

I get to work with great, smart, inspiring people, and on constantly changing topics and challenges. It just never gets boring.

What role does Berlin play in the projects you get involved in?

For one, Berlin has been my home for most of the last decade. This means it's where I know lots of people and collaborators. It's also currently a place with tremendous energy. Gone are the slacker days, Berlin has really arrived on the global map for tinkerers, innovators, entrepreneurs and artists. Altogether, this means it's a perfect place to get from idea to a full-on collaboration very quickly.

Has Berlin had an impact on shaping your personality and interests? If yes, in which way?

I might be over-interpreting, but to me Berlin has always been a city that works a little like the Internet: it's quite decentralised; it has a strong bottom-up or grassroots culture. It's easy to connect the dots and make things happen, even on a shoestring. This, and the cosmopolitan nature of Berlin, the international scene here, has certainly shaped me in many ways. It's just a great home base.

Where did your interest in entrepreneurship and digital innovations come from?

I never planned to become an entrepreneur, and even writing this now sounds somewhat odd. I've just always been interested in the web and how it works and, more importantly, how it can be used to connect people and build communities. From there on, it was just a matter of tinkering and keeping eyes and ears open.

What are you working on these days?

A number of things: I wear several hats depending on the context. While it might seem confusing or odd, all these roles really complement each other nicely. So: I'm program director for NEXT Berlin, a role I share with Monique van Dusseldorp. I work as a freelance consultant for digital strategy. And I recently co-founded Makers Make, an early stage company that helps independents manufacture products on-demand and at scale. The 3D printing and manufacturing sphere has become incredibly interesting, and we're still looking at the tip of the iceberg.

How digital is your breakfast?

I snack all day on the links provided by my Twitter feed, which I use extensively throughout the day. Other than that, I read in Pocket on my tablet,[4] and use my Kindle for longer reads.

Thanks a lot for the talk!

Get to know more about Peter Bihr:

Makers Make: http://makersmake.net

blog: http://thewavingcat.com

freelancer webpage: http://peterbihr.com/