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iENA: A Tradition of Innovating

Steinbeis experts now in their tenth year alongside exhibitors at the international trade show of ideas and inventions

“We’ve got to take that one to iENA” – people working at the Infothek Steinbeis Transfer Center in Villingen-Schwenningen are used to hearing this from the director, Wolfgang Müller. The experts from the district of Black Forest-Baar have been traveling with their project partners (and their inventions) to the iENA trade show in Nuremberg for over a decade. The international event revolves around “Ideas, Inventions, New Products” and its aim is to promote the marketing of novel products. Every year the Steinbeis experts evaluate products and their projects with partners to see if there is potential to invite an inventor to accompany them at the Steinbeis booth.

Wolfgang Müller believes there are a number of reasons why it is important to go to iENA: “Aside from presenting the products with and on behalf of our partners, it can also be a good chance to showcase our own competences. We only put inventions on display if we’ve actually worked on them, and only if we believe in their potential.” Müller also values trade shows as a key source of knowledge. “As we’re actively involved in innovation management, we’re always on the lookout for information on technology trends and innovative commercialization concepts, so iENA has always been a regular event on the agenda for us.”

Aside from these aspects, the trade show is more than anything a key platform for exchanging ideas and networking, and this is reflected in the feedback from exhibitors who joined the Steinbeis experts in making the journey to Nuremberg in 2017. One example is Jochen Heusel, the inventor of a mobile projection system called ANDROMEDAR, who is confident he did the right thing: “There were lots of visitors at the trade booth and the interesting conversations confirmed to us that our product concept is really good and has huge market potential.” Heusel’s invention is based on a patented white-light laser technology of the future. Controlled by an app, it projects a realistic night sky of bright stars with sensational Northern Lights, shooting stars, and distant galaxies, which can be displayed on walls and ceilings in a bedroom and other areas. The feedback he received at iENA, the first time Heusel showcased ANDROMEDAR to a public audience, strengthened his resolve and the engineer from the Swabian city of Reutlingen now feels even more optimistic about taking the next steps. He is currently seeking investors, producers, and suitable business partners to scale up to serial production and answer demand, which is expected to be high. He has already notched up his first successes, confirming that the innovation has major potential. ANDROMEDAR has also already been fitted and tested in a number of buildings, such as the spa in Beuren (district of Esslingen).

Christof Kaiser, from Geisingen in Tuttlingen county, feels similarly optimistic about the future. His innovation, a revolutionary compressed air system called KAISAIR, was also showcased at iENA. The invention significantly simplifies the distribution of compressed air, especially in mechanical engineering and machine construction. KAISAIR is a uniquely flexible, entirely aluminum system with a variable diameter of 25-100 mm. Installation is child’s play. “Compared to other products in the market, this invention delivers superior air throughput with the same tube diameter and it has a double O-ring sealing to prevent leakage and air loss,” explains Kaiser. Adolf Jetter, who works at the Infothek Steinbeis Transfer Center (where he is responsible for patents and technology) and attended the trade show on behalf of the inventor, explains enthusiastically just how useful the invention is: “All of the visitors who have to deal with compressed air at their place of work were amazed – even big companies and global players. KAISAIR delivers significant benefits in all places where compressed air is used commercially.” Despite the digital nature of modern times, for the patenting experts a traditional trade show is the ideal way to set marketing activities in motion. “Compared to getting in touch for the first time through digital media, a face-toface meeting establishes a much stronger basis of trust – I’m standing right there with the customer and getting a feel for preferences.”

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A key preference of many people – independence – is also the area of focus of another invention presented in Nuremberg, this time developed by Föhl from Remshalden in the county of Rems-Murr. The recent invention combines a wheelchair with a front wheel and a universal carrier. It’s a unique and extremely useful aid for a variety of applications. It acts as a locomotion aid and it is highly adaptable, easy to handle, and can be precisely controlled. The universal carrier not only makes shopping easier, it also makes it possible to engage in numerous outdoor activities. The contraption is also targeted at families, as the managing director Walter Föhl explains: “There’s been nothing on the market until now that acts as an aid and allows moms or dads sitting in a wheelchair to just simply go out by themselves with a baby, or do the shopping, visit a pediatrician, or do similar things without help or complications.” A particularly important aspect for the team of inventors working with Föhl was that the universal attachment is easy to install, so it should require no specialist technical knowledge of tools: “The universal carrier can be attached with a couple of hand movements and added to the attachment wheel, fixed in place, and it’s ready to go. It has two sliding crank attachments so it’s easy to adjust the setting to the width of the frame on the front wheel or wheelchair.” Another feature of the carrier is that it is for universal use so it can be mounted onto different types of wheelchair models. Looking back, Föhl feels that taking part in a trade show is “a great opportunity to present a prototype of the universal carrier to a wider audience,” and he reports having interesting conversations with people, which lead him to conclude that “the carrier will have good chances in the market.”

His assessment is shared by Frank Saier, a member of the development team that worked on the Terra Booster and the Try-Hybrid Module. These two inventions make it possible to do away with boreholes, geothermal baskets, and probes in civil engineering, and open the door to a variety of new possibilities. “Our solutions can be used anywhere and they significantly reduce operational outlays and follow-up costs. They also require no official approvals. Both innovations are for universal use as a new heat source for all brine heat pumps on the market, or as an efficiency-enhancing regeneration module for creating energy.” The team working with Saier also came to a positive conclusion after iENA and reported making lots of new contacts. They also decided to attend the international manual trade show in Munich (IHM 2018), adding: “When we’re there we can apply for the Federal Innovation Prize and the Bavarian State Prize.” There was something neither inventor, neither Saier nor Leßmann, could have known while they were exhibiting at iENA or when they were at IHM 2018: On March 11, 2018, their invention Terra Booster was awarded the Bavarian State Prize for outstanding technical achievements in the field of manual trades. The future will reveal how much actual potential there is for the product. But one thing the two inventors can already be sure of is that attending iENA was hugely important and indeed it still is.

“Looking back, iENA 2017 was extremely successful,” says Wolfgang Müller, reflecting the opinions of all exhibitors. “It’s always interesting when views on innovation processes are exchanged between the exhibitors and the visitors, or just between the exhibitors themselves, even if it’s about totally different products. The context allows people at the show to learn from one another; iENA is like a stepping stone that provides impetus on a journey, whereby the goal is to take the invention to market.” Müller considers one particular insight to be particularly pertinent in the follow-up to iENA 2017: “Innovation is not a straight-line process, it’s circular – sometimes it unveils opportunities, but sometimes the information you have is so elementary that it feels like you have no other option but to completely revisit the overall strategy just before market introduction – and if necessary, make changes.” Once again, the iENA trade show works like a relay switch between three Steinbeis success factors: technology, transfer, and application.