What’s the Point? Discussing the Usefulness of Science

The Max Syrbe Symposium is streamed from the Heilbronn Education Campus

On November 3, 2021, a selection of “thinkers and doers” met up in the auditorium on Heilbronn Education Campus to take part in the Max Syrbe Symposium and explore prejudices against science and business. For one and a half hours, the experts took part in a streamed panel discussion on a key question: What’s the Point?! The Usefulness of Science. The online audience was also given the chance to take part in a chat session and an interactive survey during the event, which was co-organized by the Steinbeis Foundation and the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute.

Due to the pandemic, the event finally took place at the beginning of November 2021 – taking distancing and hygiene rules into account, without an onsite audience, and facilitated by plenty of technical equipment and streaming technology. This had no detrimental impact on the quality of the discussion, however.

The session was opened by Professor Dr. Michael Auer, Chairman of the Steinbeis Foundation Board, and Michael Köhnlein, Managing Director of the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute. Together, they highlighted the symbiosis between science and business before welcoming two leading figures in Heilbronn to the panel discussion: Mayor Harry Mergel and Professor Reinhold R. Geilsdörfer, CEO of the Dieter Schwarz Foundation. Both had been asked in advance what value they believe is offered by research and innovation activities carried out on the Heilbronn Education Campus – not just for the city, but also to society in general. Online participants also had their say, using a voting tool to answer the contentious question before the panel began their discussion: “Who sets the direction – science or business?” During the symposium, the audience was also given the chance to inject further interest into the discussion by using a chat function.

The eight panel members comprised six representatives of the scientific community: Professor Dr. Gudrun Kiesmüller (Technical University of Munich), Professor Dr. Tomás Bayón (Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University, Heilbronn), Professor Dr.-Ing. Oliver Riedel (Fraunhofer IAO), Professor Dr. David Rygl (Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute), Professor. Dr.-Ing. Raoul Daniel Zöllner (Heilbronn University). They were joined via video call by Professor. Dr. Helmut Krcmar (TUM). Outnumbered – but by no means less influential – Dr. Mario Englert (Lauda Dr. R. Wobser) and independent architect Professor Dr. Alexander Beck represented the interests of the business community. Philipp Kahl (WIF GmbH) was unfortunately unable to attend due to illness. Rebecca Beiter and Robin Christoph Knapp moderated the afternoon event. To gather different opinions regarding the benefits of science, the discussion centered around a number of core topics: research, funding, transfer, and communication.

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So who is setting the direction now?

As the Max Syrbe Symposium got underway, votes submitted by the online viewers showed that they saw business in the leading role. The views of the panelists sometimes drifted apart when discussing the various topics, but the audience remained of the opinion that the business community is ahead when it comes to defining the direction – even after the discussion. So what would Ferdinand von Steinbeis have voted? Well, at least we have one statement from him: “He who wishes to devote himself to higher industry, should never lose sight of the fact that it is a craft wedded to science.”

The symposium is organized by the Steinbeis Foundation in memory of Professor Dr. rer. nat. Dr.-Ing. E. h. Max Syrbe, former president of the Fraunhofer Society, long-standing Board of Trustees member and Chairman of the Steinbeis Board of Trustees. In 2009, the jury of the Steinbeis Foundation Transfer Award – the Löhn Award – presented Syrbe with an honorary award in recognition of his outstanding personal contributions to knowledge and technology transfer.

Max Syrbe-Symposium 2021 (in German):


Ines Weybrecht (author)
Director’s Office
Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute (Heilbronn)