An interview with Dr.-Ing. Petra Püchner and Dr. Jonathan Loeffler, Entrepreneurs at Steinbeis Europa Zentrum
Turn three into one – this was the goal of a transformation process that has now been successfully completed by a team spearheaded by Dr.-Ing. Petra Püchner and Dr. Jonathan Loeffler. In an interview with TRANSFER magazine, Püchner and Loeffler discussed the activities that will come under the Steinbeis Europa Zentrum umbrella brand in the future and explained how both customers and employees will benefit.
Hello Dr. Püchner. Hello Dr. Loeffler. Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum, Steinbeis 2i and the Steinbeis Institute of the Commissioner for Europe of the Minister for Economic Affairs, Labor and Tourism have reorganized under a new umbrella brand: Steinbeis Europa Zentrum. What was the thinking behind this decision and what are your goals with the move?
Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum was founded in 1990 and we expanded as such until 2016, when Steinbeis 2i came along. When I was appointed Commissioner for Europe in 2018, the idea of an independent Steinbeis Institute came up, with a dedicated team of staff for forging networks and making Baden-Wuerttemberg and Europe even more hard-hitting, also on a political level. But as the years went by we discovered that having three separate units can make things a bit complicated – complicated for customers, and complicated for staff. At the same time, we noticed that having three different units can be beneficial when it comes to know-how and skills. So we put more thought into ways to keep hold of each unit but make the processes more simple, and we thought about the umbrella brand that would be most suitable for this. As a result of this transformation, we decided to use the term Steinbeis Europa Zentrum as an umbrella brand, but not as a name.
Our background is in EU research funding but just like the economy and society in general, we’re in the middle of a transformation process. Our services and areas of expertise have moved forward. Steinbeis 2i has more of a business focus and Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum under Steinbeis Innovation gGmbH is more oriented toward society, whereas the focus at the institute lies more in innovation policy. This was really difficult to explain to the outside world, so we wanted an umbrella brand. The “new” Steinbeis Europa Zentrum is in a position to offer expert advice to customers and partners across three areas.
So what’s different now?
We have a new logo and a new website. This allows us to bolster the three units, because they’re operating under one umbrella brand. But we’re also renaming two of the three units. We’ll call our non-profit unit – which works for society – “Steinbeis EU for You” to make it clear that now, we’re not only involved in technology, but also deal with topics like sustainability and social innovation. As for the Steinbeis Institute of the Commissioner for Europe of the Baden-Wuerttemberg Minister of Economics, Labor, and Tourism, it has evolved into a kind of think tank, which we’re going to call “Steinbeis IDEA Europe.” IDEA stands for Innovation – Development – Europe – Accelerator. Our aim is to bridge gaps when it comes to public policy and come up with ideas for the public sector, which could be for governments or local authorities, but actually also for companies. The triangular setup we’ve adopted is quite unique and we want the new umbrella brand to strengthen it and make it visible.
What does this realignment mean for existing customers?
We want to be customers’ first port of call when it comes to all European issues relating to innovation, internationalization, and other topics such as sustainability and funding. They should know that we can offer a very wide portfolio of services and that we have access to partners in Europe and the rest of the world. But for us, it’s not just about our customers, we also want a feeling to evolve internally that we’re one Steinbeis Europa Zentrum and – in the way we work together – we’re not separated by the three units. At the end of the day, we’re all work hand in hand, and that’s exactly what we want to strengthen and pool the skills of individual employees. This will enable us to provide our customers with more comprehensive services.
We can now say that we’re one Steinbeis Europa Zentrum and we span numerous areas of expertise and services. We want to offer more clarity in how we portray ourselves to the outside world and make it easier for our customers to access services and funding opportunities. To customers, we’re the people to contact when they require expertise and experts from other areas of competence. There’s another aspect I’d like to touch on: The transformation processes we’re currently experiencing have also motivated us to adapt our services. The topic of social innovation was just mentioned; another example is the In-Connect Index, which was developed by a team of experts at Steinbeis.
We also have a number of other tools that will help companies, startups, universities, local communities, and city authorities to position themselves within the transformation process. It’s also against this background that we want to showcase our services more clearly.
Do you also have new target groups in mind for this new concept?
One important target group – which we’ve already carried out projects with, but is currently expanding – is startups, especially in disruptive areas. This is one of the target groups we want to do more to support. We’re already working on initial projects that involve bringing together startups with large companies. It’s important that these startups acquire their first customers, although it’s equally important that they can expand in Europe. On the one hand, this affects the Commissioner for Europe and the overall setup, but on the other this also means forging contacts with other innovation ecosystems in Europe – maybe they can also offer backing or ways to grow, especially in this area.
Your new tagline is “Enabling Innovators to Grow.” In what way should they grow?
We spent a lot of timing talking about this slogan. The first word, enabling, is really important to us because we want to work with people, we want to provide support, we want to make things possible. Making things possible is precisely the area we help with, and in doing so we want to be open to everyone. That’s also why we use the term “innovators,” who can also be everyday people; they don’t just have to be startups or universities. And as you rightly mention, growth is crucial. But it’s not just about numbers, it’s about more: How do you move from an idea or an initial project to actually taking the next step? You need partners for this, even from abroad, or financing. Or you need an assessment to plan next steps. So it’s about making that next step. If we think about the transformation process again, and the value chains it affects, the question that’s raised is how companies or innovators should position themselves within those value chains. Ultimately, transformation will furnish us with new value chains and these need to be identified. And the question we help people answer is what role will be played by startups or companies in the future. You can’t go out onto the playing field by yourself; you need networks, you need to become integrated into a value chain and offer new services or new products. And that’s our concept of growth in the future.