Steinbeis experts provide inventor with a helping hand entering the healthcare market
Dr. Michael Fürst, medical expert from the Upper Swabian city of Bad Wurzach, had been filing away at an innovative product with major market potential for a long time. His invention was a novel “posture pillow” that provided welcome pain relief in the area around the neck and the cervical spine. With so many people now working at a PC, the typical symptoms this causes have been commonplace for years. To implement his project, Michael Fürst sought professional support through Hock e.K., a Freudenstadt-based producer of medical cushions, and through the Villingen-Schwenningen Steinbeis Transfer Center Infothek.
A specialist medical practitioner, Fürst is regularly confronted by the causes, symptoms, and impacts of these conditions, and for a long time he was convinced there would be demand for his cushion but was frustrated by his attempts to find suitable support: “From a medical standpoint, I wasn’t happy with any of the ideas I’d seen – when you use conventional cushions, the joints in the vertical arch can’t be held in a relaxed position during sleep. They’re skewed along the side and down the back, but the spine should be kept straight. Products should adapt to people’s individual anatomy – not the other way around,” he explains. This motivated the medical expert to do something himself and come up with an alternative. His focus lay in product quality, stability, and price.
The result: the iCLK – a German abbreviation for the “individual cervical posture cushion.” The cushion comes in three sizes. The spine running through the neck is kept straight during sleep, which is good from a physiological standpoint because the iCLK adapts to the position of the user. This is achieved by attaching the cushion to the neck or head, making it possible to rest properly and relax when sleeping. The iCLK is kept in place with one or two ring fasteners of variable thickness. Fürst believed it was particularly important to use natural materials. The iCLK absorbs perspiration and is breathable, it uses skin-friendly materials, and it relieves pain and helps the user to relax.
The inventor was fully aware that successful products are not just about a clever idea and a coherent concept – other factors are also important. So he decided to draw on the experience of the experts at Infothek, the Steinbeis Transfer Center. “I’m so glad I got in touch with Steinbeis at an early stage of the innovation process. A strong sense of trust developed between me and Wolfgang Muller and our conversations were always productive,” concludes Fürst. Muller, who is director of the Steinbeis Center in Villingen-Schwenningen, was won over by the idea from the outset: “The initial contact was lined up by the state program SIGNO, who we work for as an accredited service provider. The first step they took was to ensure Dr. Fürst’s idea was registered for patents and provide support. I was thrilled by the social benefits of the product – from the word go.” For Dr. Michael Fürst, involving third-party experts in the project turned out to be crucial: “It was simply too risky for me to rely on my layperson understanding of law, market launches, and technology – I needed a partner with expert knowledge,” says the inventor. The Steinbeis experts in Villingen have decades of experience in managing the process of technology transfer and cooperating with a variety of working groups and specialist committees. Describing his recipe for success, Muller says, “We manage a know-how network on several levels. This allows us to provide professional answers to any questions that arise for our partners. And if we don’t know the answers ourselves, we go through the Steinbeis Network and draw on the comprehensive know-how Steinbeis has to offer. For Steinbeis, it’s practically an intrinsic obligation to lay all the facts on the table for our partners and highlight any potential problems that may arise in innovation management.”
As well as benefiting from the support of the Steinbeis experts, the project was also a success because of federal support programs. Fürst was entitled to apply for further support through an innovation voucher (level A), which is only available to companies based in Baden-Wuerttemberg. The voucher allowed him to ask Steinbeis for support with professional market research. The research carried out by the experts examined the structures of the market and highlighted a number of potential collaboration partners.
The reaction to approaches made to potential project partners was so positive that Fürst was actually spoilt for choice. In the end, he decided to work with Hock from the North Black Forest city of Freudenstadt, mainly because it specializes in products in the field of healthcare, posthospitalization convalescence, and fitness. “I was delighted that we were chosen because I was convinced by the benefits of the product and I believe there’ll be strong demand. The iCLK is also a good fit with our own product portfolio,” emphasizes Sladan Martinovic, CEO of Hock. “Actually it’s unbelievable how many different aspects have to work in harmony these days just to take an original concept and translate it into a successful project,” adds Muller, who beams with pride about all the things that have been achieved. “Without the network collaboration between Dr. Fürst, Mr. Martinovic, the state, and Steinbeis, this particular case would not have been a commercial success and the social benefits that the posture cushion most certainly has to offer could have gone to waste.”
These days, (market) success is the result of a variety of processes, many of which are highly complex. For a company to succeed, it often needs a detailed understanding of factors and this understanding may not be available within the organization, or the benefits gleaned from knowhow are only short-lived because of the shorter and shorter time frames of innovation cycles. This is why it is increasingly important to set up and continuously manage the networks that firms use for information and know-how sharing. Bringing the third-party expertise of networks on board provides access to new insights. It also makes it possible for a company to concentrate on its core competences, which will make it significantly more effective at tackling global competition. Nonetheless, one factor is still central to success: good fortune. But the bigger and more professional the network, the more likely it is to facilitate success through “systematic coincidences.”
Dr. med. Michael Fürst (Bad Wurzach)
Hock e.K. Medizinische Polster (Freudenstadt)