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Innovation Knows No Borders

Steinbeis Innovation Center coordinates cross-sector business network for medical technology

Digital transformation is a door to opportunity, but it also presents a number of new challenges to many sectors of industry. It is resulting in networks between a multitude of markets hand in hand with technology convergence, and this makes it possible to zoom in on individual customers and users. This also applies to the field of medical technology. Products now contain integrated silicon chips and actuators are now networked or connected. When you add sensors to this picture, for the first time it becomes possible to genuinely understand customer needs. Services and products can be adapted individually to maximize customer benefit. What this all means is that B2B markets, which could previously have been described as relatively self-contained, are now expanding into B2C markets. To adapt to these changes in the field of innovation, companies will have to change their approaches and systems when it comes to innovation. They now need the right know-how regarding hardware and software developments and they will have to think through product usage scenarios at all stages of the life cycle. Standardized approaches to innovation will no longer be enough. To develop personalized products and new business models, new strategies now need to be developed. This is where a project called CIP-MED comes in. The initiative, which is receiving backing from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), offers a cross-sectoral business network for medical technology companies to acquire a more systematic approach and methods for working on innovation across different sectors of industry. The focus of the project lies in developing personalized products and services for use in medical technology. The project is being spearheaded by the Steinbeis Innovation Center for Innovation Engineering.

Cross-industry innovation is and always has been a tried-and-tested way for companies to access new fields of application and markets. There are basically two approaches a company can adopt: They can either lift solutions out of other sectors of industry and apply them to their own markets (the outside-in method) or they can transfer their own know-how to new fields of application (the inside-out approach). The idea is to focus on working together to add value, so companies should pool and combine their skills and competence. When it comes to medical technology, the industry in Germany consists of lots of SMEs (93% of all firms), so both approaches hold potential.

The CIP-MED innovation network, which is being overseen by the Steinbeis Innovation Center, comprises a design agency from Frankfurt called Iconstorm and a variety of firms and members of other industry and innovation networks, such as Biopro Baden-Württemberg, the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the LMBW state mechatronics network, Medical Mountains, and other important players. The specialties of the network members span a variety of key fields such as medical technology, microsystems engineering, mechatronics, and health care/life sciences. The aim is to work together in fostering networking in the industry. The network offers a platform for exchanging experiences and trying out new ideas. The teams look at the different methods and approaches of cross-industry innovation to work out a systematic approach for capturing the requirements of industry by involving experts from the fields of personalization and user-centric innovation.

CIP-MED aims to provide support to medical technology SMEs in leveraging the possibilities offered by digital solutions, personalization, and human-centered design to enter new markets. The focus lies in methods based on cross-industry innovation. The aim with this approach is to sidestep a company’s existing value chain and exchange know-how with firms in other sectors of industry. This kind of innovation is typically only stumbled upon by chance by SMEs, so the innovation forum wants to help make their approach more systematic.

An important part of this is pinpointing the right methods by involving experts in user-centric design. Working together makes it possible to come up with new business models and put them through their paces. The experts also write a kind of “action manual.” The aim of writing instructions is to provide pointers on the methods that best match different sizes of company, situations, and sectors of industry. The forum also works like a networking organization for members to work with the right partners with the right skills.

There can be no doubting the economic advantages of personalized products and services. The personalization trend is picking up momentum in B2B and B2C markets and as such, it offers significant sales potential. Another important aspect regarding medical technology is that one third of industry turnover currently stems from products that are no more than three years old. As innovation increasingly develops into an interdisciplinary task, the CIP-MED innovation forum offers its members an opportunity to exploit this potential for their own purposes.

The forum offers its members ways to link up know-how from other relevant market segments. Important practical issues can be addressed, such as market access, barriers to entry, and limiting factors of a technical or organizational nature. At the same time, the forum members have a chance to rub shoulders with other firms that are a good match when it comes to implementing cross-industry innovation. They gain insights into the methods of user experience design, the development of personalized (smart) products, and different ways to re-engineer their business models.

Baden-Wuerttemberg is practically predestined to act as home to the CIP-MED innovation forum. The region around Tuttlingen is referred to by some as Medical Valley and it serves as an important business cluster for the medical technology industry. This cluster has specialized in the development and production of innovative surgical instruments, orthopedic solutions. and diagnostic systems. The state of Baden-Wuerttemberg is also characterized by a large number of business clusters and networks in other fields of technology, such as microsystem technology, mechatronics, and life sciences. This establishes the best possible conditions for the methods of cross-industry innovation. The role of CIP-MED should be to provide companies with a vehicle for creating synergies and intensifying collaboration. To do this, the forum will also try to dovetail its activities with digital initiatives in the long term. Examples of such initiatives include so-called micro-test beds, which foster cross-industry collaboration through web-based ecosystems in order to add new value across a multitude of fields at the same time.