Add creativity to the unconventional and the result is success
A recent Steinbeis project has shown the best way to manage technology transfer in business and how to make a success out of projects through systematic cooperation. For the project, four different parties were brought together, one of whom was Infothek, the Steinbeis Transfer Center from Villingen-Schwenningen. The initiative resulted in productive synergies that paved the way for the successful implementation of an innovation project.
As Michael Krieger, managing director of the Albstadt-based company MeetNow! announced at the beginning of the project, “This holds huge potential.” His company has devised a platform-independent software development kit called AvianR, which safeguards the security and simple connection of smart products and apps used through the cloud. It does this by functioning as an authentication system. The solutions make it possible to start using smart products more safely and more easily than previously, and AvianR fully addresses EU directives dictating security and data protection. One particular feature of the platform is the encryption it applies to individual components, which ensures that even if a security loophole is exploited, only one device would be affected and not the overall installation. Given the growing threat posed by cyber criminals, the importance of AvianR is set to increase.
Despite this, the actual potential offered by using the new product was not immediately evident. It was only as the innovation processes unfurled that the full picture became apparent. Although the MeetNow! solution had major commercial potential and the company had a sufficiently broad skills base, the founders and company directors felt it would be necessary to speak to the experts at the Infothek Steinbeis Transfer Center to exploit the full potential of the product, think beyond the horizon, and come up with new ideas. After a number of constructive rounds of discussion with Steinbeis director Wolfgang Muller, the two parties immediately uncovered some useful synergies. “When Mr. Krieger outlined the idea behind the project, or rather the benefit, I started homing in on ideas in different areas. I immediately wondered why MeetNow! wasn’t using the innovation itself and wanted instead to focus on making it accessible to other companies. This thought grew stronger when we conducted the market analysis and examined the potential, which my team carried out for MeetNow! as part of a funding project called go inno. The things we discovered led to a completely spontaneous question regarding the strategy. I felt that the innovation would be a good fit with the company’s own value chain activities,” explains Wolfgang Muller. Steinbeis’s partner is still grateful for the idea: “Hearing that was incredibly important to me. If all the arguments stack up, I’m more than willing to change my thinking and adapt plans – and that’s exactly what happened. Talking to Steinbeis was definitely a major boon for us,” says Michael Krieger.
One thing everyone involved in the project is absolutely clear about is that a well thought-through idea offering plenty of potential, plus all the meetings to check and query long-term success in a highly innovative sector of industry, are not necessarily enough by themselves. As a result, another key player was brought on board: Ruckh, a patent attorney from the city of Bad Boll near Goppingen. Wolfgang Muller is convinced that the idea needs protection and some creative thinking will need to be added to the project to make it a success in the long term. Seeing patent protection as the starting point for further innovation processes is by no means the conventional approach with such a project. Whether Muller could therefore be considered a lateral thinker remains to be seen. He describes it like this: “The unconventional and the alternative are part and parcel of every innovation, because innovation presents you with something that’s different compared to what exists now – so thinking beyond or even contrary to the trodden path is an effective way to realize an innovation and success.” Krieger is highly familiar with the IT industry and underscores the connection between the unconventional and innovation: “There are lots of highly technical gimmicks in our market now. To differentiate yourself from the competition, it’s particularly important to think laterally.”
The fact that the creative and unconventional could become something conventional and emerge as a success has very much to do with the strong know-how of one other party involved in the project: the Reutlingen Chamber of Commerce (IHK), which organized a special event called a contact forum. Describing the value added by his organization and his conviction regarding the networking event, Dr. Stefan Engelhard, manager of innovation and environmental issues at the Reutlingen IHK says, “There’s no exchange of ideas without contacts and there’s no knowledge network without an exchange of ideas.” Trust is a key factor in this process, and trust can only be engendered through personal contacts.
Summarizing the outcome of the project, Krieger says: “There were four parties, but one goal: success. Even during the exchange process within our knowledge network, everyone was open regarding the outcome – which we all benefited from. If you enjoy success with others, you learn from each other – and that’s what we did.” Muller agrees entirely: “All four parties knew how to play to their strengths at all stages of the project. If there were differences in opinion, the winning argument was what mattered. Everyone was prepared to delegate responsibility if one of the other network partners was in a better position to provide a competent answer. The result was four times know-how making one success.”
Beyond the specific subject matter of the successful project, the actual processes the project went through led to a number of important insights, which are generally applicable to a variety of planned initiatives. First, an innovation process can only be managed by a single party (the company) under certain circumstances. To steer an innovation project successfully, it is usually important to organize cooperation into some kind of network. This is because aspects such as technology, law, and the market are highly complex. This necessitates the involvement of specialists who are familiar with the processes in each individual area, people who can coordinate processes professionally, tap into their knowledge networks, and (if required) give constructive criticism to the people with the idea – with an open mind, especially when it comes to the outcome. Involving a variety of players is about as close as it gets to looking at an innovation objectively. If the party with the idea or others involved in the alliance misjudge things, this can be pinpointed early and dealt with accordingly before there are any significant financial impacts. Successful innovation processes require different competences to be channeled, even if know-how can vary according to the industry, region, or size of the business involved in the project. As a result, it is not possible to define universally applicable milestones. It is however necessary and entirely possible to pool the specific know-how required for a project in a kind of network, and this helps systematically reduce the increasing level of complexity experienced with innovation projects, which is advantageous when it comes to successful outcomes. The general formula for this is: From X to 1. Taking MeetNow! as an example, which can provide inspiration for other innovation processes coordinated through a network, this formula would therefore be expressed as: From Four to One.
Marcel Reiner works at Infothek, the Steinbeis Transfer Center based in Villingen-Schwenningen. The Steinbeis Enterprise offers its clients a broad service portfolio, including advisory services on topics relating to innovation, IP management, funding, the conducting of technology assessments and market analysis, project support and project management involving innovation initiatives (from ideas to market introduction), expert reports revolving around proprietary rights and technologies, and initiation and the running of consortium projects.