An interview with Beate Wittkopp, director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center TransferWorks BW
With so many networks now available, it can often be a dilemma for companies working out which ones are right for them. Yet networking is crucial for any company to succeed, as Steinbeis expert Beate Wittkopp explains.
Hello, Ms. Wittkopp. Your Steinbeis Enterprise goes by a motto: “Boosting competitiveness by bundling forces.” Why do you find it so important to “bundle” for your projects?
Our motto reflects my personal conviction that the only way to be fast enough to take on the competition is to use our resources efficiently. Given the way networks work through the internet, this is now even more important and the way I see it, it’s a good fit with the new culture of open collaboration across different disciplines and organizations. Ultimately my notion revolves around collaboration – aimed precisely at this goal of bundling the right viewpoints and expertise and leveraging synergies. If I’m running a firm and I want to be perceived properly in a world of global competition and position myself successfully, I need to “join forces” in the true sense of the term. If you just take a look at the younger generation, the people now embarking upon a career, you’ll notice how important co-working is to them. It’ll be interesting to see how this work culture develops over the years.
Your Steinbeis Enterprise, TransferWorks BW, stands for specific implementation, for results with and through transfer – transfer of what? And what role do networks play in successful transfer or in your success with TransferWorks BW?
Technology networking, and even cultural networking, are a fundamental part of collaboration with partners, so they’ve also become part of global competition. This has changed the way transfer happens and increasingly it’s shifted transfer into value-adding networks. To keep developing, discourse is needed, which is why it’s always been important for companies to look beyond the boundaries of their own company or current client projects. These networks are also the place they’ll find the right allies for the sweeping change that’s now affecting all sectors of industry, and with digital solutions this change is picking up even more momentum.
My particular interest lies in the overlaps between different networks. These are the places the specialties, different competences, and cultures dovetail. It’s like a kind of short-circuiting – continuously triggering new potential. This is how a major number of disruptive innovations happen. Of course sector-specific know-how still matters, but it’s the variety of different outlooks and expertise within the team that allows so much energy and momentum to unfurl. This insight is completely changing organizations and processes at the moment and it’s also bringing about radical changes in the work environment! As part of the business initiative called Baden-Wuerttemberg: Connected (bwcon), we have a special interest group called Future Work which looks closely at these new working models and career models. The networks within the Steinbeis Network provide a starting point by offering access to our 6,000 experts, offering a huge amount of diversity in terms of specialist knowledge and cultural know-how, as well as strategies and different kinds of people. This puts us in a good position to cope with change. I think we Steinbeisers are still not really making proper use of the actual transformation potential offered by our network. We could make even more use of the opportunities to collaborate in our everyday projects, and from what I’ve experienced until now that creates an extremely positive impression among clients. What I’m referring to is things like the projects run by the Steinbeis headquarters, the Enterprise Competence Check (ECC), or the Just Test(bed) IT initiative being spearheaded by the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute. These are new ways to work with new industry players, within new consortia, for new target groups. I’m currently working with the Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum and Dr. Petra Puchner on a new way to use bundled network expertise in transfer projects. The aim of the initiative, which is called “The Other Angle on Innovating – Women in Technology Transfer” – is not just to reach out to women within the organization in order to network skills, but also to share the diversity of expertise and convey this to customers outside the organization. We’re building on a common business platform for a different way of innovating.
Your goal when you set up your Steinbeis Enterprise was to offer your clients a network within Baden-Wuerttemberg. Why did you decide to make it specifically within this region?
I see a lot of opportunity in Baden-Wuerttemberg, with its economic diversification and the diversity of networks that have developed through this. I came here for career reasons straight after university from the north of Germany, mainly because it was here that these new approaches to resource management first started to emerge. The projects I was involved in have taken me from urban development and regional development into communal and regional economic development, spanning all kinds of initiatives on securing competitiveness across the state. At each stage I expanded my contacts and networks and developed my own business profile. And this allowed me to get to know the state and appreciate it for what it is, and I developed my own view of Baden-Wuerttemberg. This was ultimately what fueled my idea of setting up my TransferWorks BW, so I could concentrate on the ecosystems of new technologies and new work environments. The business revolves around my own networking expertise, stemming from a large number of multidisciplinary projects and my personal contacts with the trade associations, local government, and groups of specialists, but also within companies. This allows me to react extremely specifically to the needs of the client. To do this I start on the doorstep – within the Steinbeis Network. Since setting up the company I’ve been looking for chances to collaborate specifically with other Steinbeis Enterprises and I have indeed had some really good experience in projects through this. One platform that’s really important in Baden-Wuerttemberg for the key areas I work in is a state initiative revolving around women in what the Germans call “MINT” professions (math, IT, science, and engineering). The initiative is being spearheaded by the Ministry for Economic Affairs and the network now spans 50 partner organizations in all areas of business. It revolves around a strategic action plan for tapping into new potential to find specialists in MINT professions. The current focus lies in digital transformation. If you look at the other states of Germany, this program has already become a role model for them.
What sort of problems do your customers ask you about and how does networking help you find a solution?
Some of my projects actually stem from the fact that there’s such a diversity of networks. For a company, it can often be a dilemma working out which ones are the right networks. They’re under tremendous pressure managing the everyday business, so they lack the resources to branch off into different areas. This is where I can offer the right support and work as a bridge-builder to help the individual companies. Most queries are about building platforms and appealing to a target group. Usually this involves working out who’s the right expert for a specific topic, often across different sectors of industry and organizations, and then bringing them on board and getting them to work in a team so they can work together successfully. I focus on the matching process – the balancing act between the topic and the people. There’s so much potential out there waiting to be discovered, but even before the project gets underway you need a lot of energy and enough leeway to work out the right constellation. One thing that appeals to me personally, time and again, is being able to work across different disciplines and designing “micronetworks” based on different personalities for each specific project.
Personal networks, social networks, business networks – everything’s networked. Where do you see the opportunities and hazards in this development? Networking through the internet unleashes major potential in all sorts of ways. But offline contacts will still deserve the right time and space – emotion only comes into the equation when you can look someone in the eye, not when you see an emoji. Yes, technology can be a driver and the work environment can be the interface, but all aspects of our everyday work are now affected by this. I surf all over the world! We connect at the drop of a hat, for business purposes or privately. But if you’re not involved in a core field of IT these days, you need digital experts. That’s because networking through the internet is not just about connecting, it’s also about participation. It has a fundamental impact on how we communicate, through a variety of channels. Digital transformation is taking us into a real culture change. But the discussion going on in society is still catching up with what’s actually happening. I’m worried about this for a number of reasons, because we can see a clear trend here with gaps emerging in society. Our companies are opening up more and more and banking on collaboration, but there are some groups in society that are cutting themselves off and harking back to the old days. We can’t close these gaps just by networking, but we can eliminate some of the causes and ensure people have access to education and equal opportunities. The opportunity lies in how knowledge and information are handed on and shared. With the right foundation, we’ll be in a position as a society to actively shape change.
Beate Wittkopp is director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center Transfer-Works BW. The services offered by the Steinbeis Enterprise span a variety of transfer methods in the field of digital transformation, equal opportunity strategies against a backdrop of cultural change within companies and society, talent scouting in math, IT, science, and engineering, and initiatives with a focus on technologydriven networks. Wittkopp plays an active role in the Steinbeis Network as a member of the ECC group and the Just Test(bed) IT initiative. She is a member of the LVI (the association of regional industry in Baden-Wuerttemberg) and LR BW (the Baden-Wuerttemberg Aerospace Forum); she represents the LVI on a state initiative called “Women in MINT Professions”; and she is an advisory board member of the lightweight construction association Leichtbau BW. Wittkopp works with a number of strategic planning groups at the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry for the Economy, Employment, and Housing with a focus on digital transformation and equal opportunities. As a board member of the Future Work special interest group, which comes under the umbrella of the Baden-Wuerttemberg: Connected (bwcon) initiative (a promoter of high-tech in the state), Wittkopp is closely involved in the development of agile working models and career models.