An interview with Steinbeis Entrepreneur Wolfgang Müller
Innovation systems, innovation management, innovation financing – topics Steinbeis expert Wolfgang Müller knows everything about. For more than 30 years, he has been helping companies implement innovation projects. In an interview with TRANSFER magazine, Müller explains how companies can prepare themselves for the future, how to systematically manage innovations, and the services that support companies undertaking this journey.
Hello Mr. Müller. What would you say makes a successful innovation system?
The first condition a successful innovation system should meet is that there’s actually one in place. I say this because many companies don’t have a system in place, so given that, the existence of a system is an advantage in itself.
The second condition is continuity, because if you do have an innovation system it shouldn’t work just once, but on a permanent basis. This means you need people who understand that system and are committed to it. Simply put, you need people who keep it alive in the long term. In my opinion, this is a valuable and important factor, one that’s crucial to the success of any innovation system.
Thinking about innovation systems within companies, what role does innovation management play in this? And what should companies look out for if they want to safeguard their competitiveness and success in the long term?
Innovation systems are subject to certain parameters, and these are determined by the company. But it’s not enough to establish those parameters just once; they need to be continuously updated and adapted – for example to new markets, products, or even internal departments. To function properly, innovation systems must be managed properly. This is a strategic task of a company. For example, if a company has an exciting technology, it’s not enough to think about it in isolation – it needs to be evaluated within the context of other factors, such as the markets or the competition, and it should be evaluated over time. What could happen in the short, medium, or long term? What impact will those developments have on the company?
If a company wants to secure its success in the future, it must be better than its competitors: better when it comes to its products and services, better with its processes, better in development, better with its business models. This all means it must be better at innovation management. The old saying that the early bird catches the worm is a perfect description when it comes to innovation management. But it’s also important that you watch and evaluate developments on the customer and supplier side, so you’re in a position to react appropriately to changes and in good time.
What role do financing and subsidies play in shaping innovation systems within companies?
Innovations cost money, there’s no getting around that. The more important question is how companies fund them. Of course one possibility is to finance innovation through the existing business, but that entails certain risks. For example, if timings are pushed back, a company can quickly find itself overstretched, which can be dangerous not only when it comes to a specific innovation, but for the company overall. What this means is that businesses need to think up front about funding and budgeting for innovations. There are lots of subsidies available at the moment, in lots of different areas, so they can at least cover some of the funds required. It’s important to maintain an overview of the various funding options. If necessary, you can always call in experts from outside to make sure the business and a specific innovation project receive the best possible financing.
How do your Steinbeis Enterprises support their customers with issues relating to innovation management and the actual setup of innovation systems?
For the first step, we sit down with the company and analyze the status quo together. Taking this as the starting point, we then work up tailor-made measures and methods. Then we help our clients set up a fully-functioning innovation management system. Our priority is not to provide companies with long-term support, but to introduce innovation management such that they can continue the journey by themselves. That’s the goal we pursue with the services we provide. An integral part of this support is that we also look out for suitable subsidy programs and funding options.
We also look at external factors, however – so we help our customers with different types of research, such as research into the technologies a company could use to manufacture products more efficiently or more quickly. We use a variety of databases for our research, and we survey experts. It’s also possible to analyze patents, which can be used to identify trends and new fields of business.
When I look at the inquiries I’ve received from customers over the years – and I’ve been in this business for 36 years – I see a clear shift. In the past, discussion mainly revolved around new fields of business, whereas now there’s an awareness that companies need to resolve the issue of internal innovation management by themselves, with a specific goal in mind. In other words, it’s not about doing everything, it’s about doing things right. And that’s where we come in, to support our customers with our expertise and experience.
The Steinbeis Transfer Center is an authorized partner of the Go-Inno innovation voucher program.
Wolfgang Müller (interviewee)
Steinbeis Transfer Center Economy, Start-Up, Commune (Villingen-Schwenningen) | www.start-mit-steinbeis.de
Steinbeis Transfer Center Infothek (Villingen-Schwenningen) | www.steinbeis-infothek.de
Steinbeis Innovation Center Know-How+Transfer (Villingen-Schwenningen) | www.siz-wt.de