Svenja Schulze: Innovation region North Rhine-Westphalia: Answers to the questions of tomorrow

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” This quote comes from Steve Jobs, but it is the recipe for success of many business people in North Rhine-Westphalia. Good ideas and innovative products are the fuel of their economic success and the foundation of our  prosperity. In North Rhine-Westphalia, companies find the right fertile soil to develop their ideas further and to put them into practice.

Research location North Rhine-Westphalia. North Rhine-Westphalia offers ideal conditions for innovative ideas and their implementation, from basic research to ap­plications. All stakeholders make their contribution to this. 72 institutions of higher learning and more than 50 re­­search institutes outside of universities make North Rhine-Westphalia the most densely settled scientific region in Europe. In addition, research and development take place in the companies, which produce nearly one quarter of Germany’s GDP and which include DAX-listed companies as well as medium-sized hidden champions and small start-ups.

The state government has made it its task to assure and expand the economic, scientific and social strengths of our state. One instrument used to this end is our research strategy “Fortschritt NRW” (Progress NRW) in which we describe the guiding principles of our research policy. A focal point is the research for sustained development in the fields of the large social challenges.

For us, a central element of modern research policy is the question of the “how”, meaning the way to the goal. We will increasingly support projects that follow interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches, meaning those that go beyond the boundaries of their own discipline. We have a holistic understanding of innovation that does not stop at discipline boundaries, one that involves the carriers of practical knowledge from the economy and the civil society into the research process, and above all, one that is based on system innovations. This also means, for example, taking the social dimension of technological innovation into view and more extensively considering dis­­ciplines like the humanities, social sciences and cultural studies.

schler mit lehrer in der uni

Nonetheless, the question of the “what” is also decisive for research. We are looking for solutions that serve the prosperity and the well-being of human beings and, along the way, maintain the ecological, economic, social and cultural bases of life. The focus lies on the great social challenges of our time. It is only with innovative solutions that we will be able to deal with questions con­­cerning the effects of climate change, environmentally compatible and affordable energy supply, questions of mobility or the manifold consequences of demographic change.

We will focus our support on those places where these questions are being researched – irrespective of whether this research is application-oriented or basic. The lines between the two are becoming noticeably blurred anyway, and it is indisputable that purely curiosity-driven research constitutes an indispensable basis for scientific progress and the innovative strength of a state. For us, it is important that research, both directly and indi­­rectly, make a contribution to the solution of large social challenges and improve people’s lives.

Even today we are placing the great questions of to­­morrow in the centre of our research strategy. Whoever gives convincing answers to these questions is not only making a great social contribution; he or she also opens up tomorrow’s markets in this way. That is why Fort­schritt NRW is closely intertwined with the cross-sectoral leading market strategy as well as with the state’s transfer strategy. The state government promotes the cooperation between companies, research institutions and public bodies and orients its policy to the leading markets of the future associated with the great social challenges. For North Rhine-Westphalia, these are principally markets for new materials, for machinery and plant engineer­ing as well as production technology, health, infonomics and communication management, mobility and logistics, energy and environmental economics, life sciences and media economics and the creative industry. These markets show particularly great potential for the economy and for employment and are therefore of great value for the economic development of the state.

student girl at a library

North Rhine-Westphalia as living lab. A special strength of North Rhine-Westphalia as a location where innovative ideas become reality lies in its geographical, infrastructural and economic structures. Ideas can be developed here as in a living lab, tested locally and implemented.
More than 17 million people form the greatest sales market of all German federal states and produce a larger gross domestic product than all of Switzerland. North Rhine-Westphalia is more densely settled than Japan and thereby a state with short connection routes: the outstanding traffic infrastructure not only makes sure that one can go from point A to point B very quickly; it also connects North Rhine-Westphalia with its neighbours. 150 million people live within 500 kilometres, who together have about 45 per cent of the purchasing power of the European Union. An innovative, industrial economy here meets the densest scientific landscape in Europe. The resulting networks ensure a rapid and targeted transfer of knowledge and ideas from the research laboratories into real life – and vice versa. By providing education and training to currently more than 670,000 young people, the 72 institutions of higher education lay the foundation for research and development to be conducted at the highest level in North Rhine-Westphalia also in the future. To ensure that this continues to be the case and there will not be a widespread lack of young academic talent in a few years due to the demographic change, the state government and institutions of higher education have launched the initiative “Erfolgreich studieren” (Studying successfully). We cannot afford any longer to overlook young talent who is willing and able to study, and we will do everything we can to not do so in the future. This is a question of social justice, but also a question of economic rationality. This way we ensure the future viability of our state and the innovative strength of the North Rhine-Westphalian business location.

North Rhine-Westphalia remains innovative. The motto “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” has been true in North Rhine-Westphalia for a long time – from the Otto engine to Aspirin tablets to Gold­­bären gummy bears, companies from North Rhine-West­­phalia have a long tradition of becoming leaders in world markets. Politics, economy and exceptionally well-trained employees will make sure that this will continue to be the case in the future. One important pre-condition for this is the readiness for constant change. North Rhine-West­phalia and the people living here have shown again and again over the course of history that they are ready to implement new things and modify their structures. This capacity for change makes us proud when we look at the past and confident when we look to the future.

DSC_2235-KopieSvenja Schulze
Since 2010, Svenja Schulze has been Minister for Innovation, Science and Research of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. She has been a member of the state parlia­ment (Landtag) since 2004, to which she also belonged from 1997 to 2000. From 2000 to 2004, she worked as a senior business consultant. Minister Svenja Schulze is also the state representative to the Senate of the Max Planck Society.