“Inventions alone are useless – many things have been invented in Germany, but nothing has come of it.” This quote from Prof Dr Bullinger, the former president of the Fraunhofer Society, may sound like an exaggeration, but it highlights the reality at many companies: a great deal of time and money, maybe even public funding, goes into developing innovative products and services that are surprisingly often never even introduced on the market.
There is a multitude of conceivable reasons: a change in the market, increased competition, excessive production costs, lack of possibilities for patenting etc. But the most common reason is underlying uncertainty when it comes to the business model. Can the new product be distributed under the existing business model without having a negative impact on the company’s other products or services? Or is it necessary to develop and implement a new, maybe even innovative business model? These questions often come up when it is much too late, even though their answers should be used for steering the development process from the very beginning.
The key to mastering these challenges lies in the interaction with potential customers, development partners, suppliers and other like-minded parties. Of course, confidentiality is of great importance, but openness is also an essential part of innovation – openness is only possible when it is based on a company’s own expertise and knowledge of innovative companies, as these factors are not so easily copied by others. Opening up the innovation process beyond a company’s limits offers additional knowledge as well as external experience, competence and technologies.
Open innovation for business models. The open innovation approach is based on the belief that companies can use both internal and external ideas and there is no need to invent, develop and launch everything themselves. This approach expands the innovation process – so that, for example, a customer not only informs about problems, but also indicates solutions. Open innovation is based on close collaboration with potential customers, consolidating the basis for marketing later on and thus preventing the newly developed product from disappearing in a drawer. A functioning innovation process that is tailored to the company is an essential prerequisite for this approach and the associated benefits in marketing an innovative product.
Initiation at regional level and utilization supra-regional. Networks are one of the most common tools for interacting with customers and development partners, and with potential competitors. While industry networks like associations and regional cluster organisations often focus on the representation of interests, public relations and Knowledge transfer, technology-focused innovation networks are designed differently. The often supra-regional networks are geared towards developing innovative products or services and new business models in specific groups including companies of different sizes and at different stages of the value chain.
Starting in the metropolitain area of Hamburg–Schleswig-Holstein, the EurA Consult branch office Hamburg has initiated several innovation networks with a nationwide membership from different German regions, for example the innovation network Cell Culture.
Innovation network Cell Culture. In 2014, the innovation network Cell Culture was initiated and planned by the EurA Consult branch office in Hamburg together with the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Marine Biotechnology, Lübeck. The network’s objective is to develop innovative production processes for cell cultures, which are perfectly coordinated with the cells’ individual needs. In contrast to current processes, which are shaped by laboratory staff’s working times and the ambient conditions of the laboratory equipment, future cell culture processes are to be controlled by the growth and synthesis behaviour of the cells and thus prepare a more comprehensive industrial use of cell cultures. In order to implement this vision, the network brings together experts from different fields of work, designers of the necessary technologies and users, to develop ideas for highly innovative products and services. In addition to the six partners from Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein, nine companies and research institutions from southern Germany are involved in this network.
Innovation network autonomous vehicles. Companies, universities, municipal stakeholders and business promotion agencies will work together in another regional innovation network initialised and planned by the EurA Consult AG branch office in Hamburg. The network aims to develop and test new business models for autonomous electric vehicles in rural areas and in tourism, and is supported by automotive manufacturers from other federal states and from abroad. The network is based on the concept that even though automotive manufacturers are going to develop and build such vehicles, the development of entirely new business models will only be successful through the interaction with users. The complex, socially and economically important topic of autonomous driving will be the focus of several of the network’s working groups. Key aspects include linking autonomous vehicles with local public transport, the use of electrical energy from wind power for autonomous electric vehicles and the effects on issues such as mobility for older people and in rural areas. Initially planned for two years, the network project is intended to prepare the foundation of a model region for the development and testing of autonomous or partially autonomous vehicles.
The catalyst for enabling the realisation of inventions is targeed cooperation of various players in innovation networks.
Dr. Harald Eifert
Dr Harald Eifert is a physicist, was the head of a Fraunhofer Center in the USA and Adjunct Professor at the University of Delaware, then member of the Executive Board of the Innovationsstiftung Hamburg for twelve years, responsible for granting the state of Hamburg’s innovation promotion funds. Since 2013, he has been Managing Director of the branch office of EurA Consult AG in Hamburg. Ute Lutz
Having graduated in Political Science, Ute Lutz worked at the Innovationsstiftung Hamburg for fifteen years and is now the Managing Director of a technological institute.