Networked To The Power of N

A look back at the Steinbeis Products Seek Producers exhibition: Digital media in Karlsruhe

Inform, exchange ideas, meet new people, share knowledge – in a nutshell, these are the main benefits of the unique series of Products Seek Producers (PsP) exhibitions, the latest of which took place on January 27. This special Steinbeis event, staged on the premises of the Karlsruhe Chamber of Commerce (IHK), added a new twist to innovation this year. The main topic of interest was digital media, a form of technology that transcends many different fields and which will play an important role in the future affecting numerous aspects of entrepreneurial value creation.

Aware of this, the Steinbeis Foundation joined forces with the Steinbeis Innovation Center Know-How + Transfer, the Steinbeis Transfer Center Infothek, Karlsruhe IHK, DIZ | Digital Innovation Center, and the Innovation Alliance of the Karlsruhe Technology Region. The exhibitors at the event showcased 55 technologically advanced solutions, exchanged views with other experts, and engaged in conversation on specialist topics with the 150 or so people attending the event.

Organizing the exhibition in a dynamic city like Karlsruhe, which is not only home to universities and scientific bodies but also industry, was a clever move. “Selecting the location for the event was carried out just as methodically as the planning of the main concept behind the exhibition,” explains Wolfgang Müller, director of the two Steinbeis Enterprises that organized the event. Both of Müller’s centers are based in Villingen- Schwenningen, and he adds that “the IT cluster in the area is ideal for probing the digital potential of companies before highlighting the ways that solutions can be implemented further down the line. PsP provides a meeting place for the kinds of key players who need to get to know each other and work out future strategies together.” Underscoring the lack of alternatives, especially in the field of digital innovation, Dr. Stefan Senitz (Karlsruhe IHK) says: “Companies that ignore digitalization and digital media run the risk of being squeezed out by completely new products, services, or business models – no matter what sector of industry they operate in.”

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The organizers and numerous exhibitors and attendees were unanimous in praising the opportunity for personal interaction – meeting up face to face. However, that does not mean that meeting up virtually is out of the question. Gennadi Schermann, director of DIZ and also an exhibitor at the event, highlights the value of the trade show with an example: “Even in an era of digital solutions, at DIZ (the Baden-Wuerttemberg digital innovation center), we value the best-practice approach of personal exchange, just as much as regional heritage and the fundamental aspect of state-wide networking. Our role as a partner to PsP is based on conviction, and our experience on the actual day of the event was extremely positive.” For Konrad Roth, who heads up the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Corporate Development and Social Space Planning, which was also an exhibitor at PsP, personal contacts at the trade show were important because “time and again, you unexpectedly meet new people, either spontaneously or by chance.”

Pointing to the specific opportunities and prospects for all kinds of companies, Schermann explains one of the key insights stemming from the eventful day: “We see significant potential to move things forward in the field of digital media – for everyone from individual entrepreneurs to global players. This is not just about cost efficiency. There’s potential to introduce new products and innovative business models – ideas that were previously impossible – so for businesses it offers significant added value.” The path to success, and the primary areas Schermann has identified, are clear. “It all boils down to networking. With technology you have to look beyond current horizons and ensure everything revolves around the user, in order to generate maximum benefit for the customer and keep Baden-Wuerttemberg a leading player as a region of innovation. This is why DIZ activities focus on creating awareness, supporting SMEs, and helping people with digital competencies forge connections with small and medium-sized firms across the region.” Just how difficult it is to work entrepreneurially and succeed in focusing on the future, especially given the nature of the digital revolution, is demonstrated perfectly by the view expressed by Stefan Senitz, who is strongly in favor of challenging previous ways of thinking: “New competitors who nobody had previously heard of are entering the market. It’s no longer impossible for something like an IT company to pose a threat to a major automotive company. To meet the challenges, we can no longer afford to think in conventional terms.” Wolfgang Müller is one person who has long recognized that there is a need to come up with the right innovations, especially in the field of digital media – which can be communicated by explaining and advising people in different ways. He considers it a given that when it comes to digital media, a culture of innovation is needed in all areas of society, and that this will safeguard affluence in the long term. What this means in concrete terms is that the challenges, which are de facto, already need to be reflected in forward-looking education policies. The plea would be for digital technology to be more closely integrated into the education system and for the teaching of certain topics to be expanded – at a variety of institutions, from primary schools to universities. “Innovation and technology transfer require the right overall parameters. Creating these conditions is one of the responsibilities of public bodies. This is because, ultimately, investments in things like the right infrastructure – such as broadband internet or funding programs for research and development – have an impact on society as a whole,” says Stefan Senitz, pointing to the close interplay between the state and business, plus the central role this plays in engendering a healthy climate of innovation.

The major overlaps between general and individual interests were also reflected in the opinions expressed in the speeches and specialist talks given by the presenters at Products Seek Producers, which tackled the issue of digital media from a variety of angles. To prepare the audience for the speeches they were about to hear, the vice-president of Karlsruhe Chamber of Commerce, Heinz Ohnmacht, gave a welcome speech, which was followed by a warm welcome from the state government, represented by Günther Lessnerkraus, Assistant to the State Secretary at the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry for Economic Affairs. Claus Paal, member of the regional parliament and business policy spokesperson for the state parliamentary group, then joined Prof. Dr. Michael Auer, Chairman of the Steinbeis Foundation Board, in telling the audience more about the concept, the guiding principles, and the aims of the series of trade shows, especially with respect to their significance for technology transfer.

Specialist talks were then given on the different ways that expertise can actually be shared in practice, providing insights into interdisciplinary views of science and academia: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Bernhard Kölmel (Pforzheim University), Niklas Kühl (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)/ Karlsruhe Service Research Institute (KSRI)), Armin Harbrecht (aramido), Detlev Lalla (Steinbeis Consulting Center Denkwerk, DHBW Mannheim) and Ralf Haack (Steinbeis Consulting Center for Digital Finance & Performance Management) shared valuable insights with the exhibitors, attendees, and organizers on the specifics of transfer implementation, also taking audience questions. It was no coincidence that so many leading figures from politics, science and academia, and business responded to the invitation from Steinbeis to share their thoughts on modern digital trends: “Steinbeis is involved in technology transfer in its purest form – its success confirms that Steinbeis is doing the right things,” says Stefan Senitz, explaining the unique competence of the Steinbeis Network.

The large number of sustainable ideas, new insights, and suggestions provided by the people at the event were easy to summarize: “We have to think beyond the borders of individual sectors of industry in order to encourage networking. New ideas, good conversations – it’s about tackling issues together and integrating as many networks, business clusters, and associations as possible,” explains Gennadi Schermann. Markets are globalizing, resulting in shorter innovation and product life cycles that make it necessary to act quickly: “Innovations are our livelihood, so we can’t afford to miss developments. The Southwest must be a driver, especially in the field of digital solutions,” adds Stefan Senitz, highlighting the expectations Baden-Wuerttemberg has of itself. At the same time, he points to another crucial factor: “People have to feel motivated, they must feel driven to do something, otherwise even the best digital solutions are useless.” Building on this, Wolfgang Müller notes: “One thing must not be forgotten. Innovation begins in the human mind and, independent of how things develop, this will still be its source in the future.” Even in times dictated by extremely fast developments and complexity, one thing will stay the same: People will always be the pivotal point of technology, transfer, and application.


Marcel Reiner
Steinbeis Transfer Center Infothek (Villingen-Schwenningen)