Teams from the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute and the Dieter Schwarz Foundation pictured with project members at the signing ceremony © Magmell


The Ferdinand-Steinbeis-Gesellschaft (FSG), itself part of the Steinbeis Foundation, sets up an office with another Ferdinand-Steinbeis-Institute in Heilbronn

Digital transformation, networking – buzzwords of modern times. Discovering how they can bring about change of a purely technological nature and deliver tangible benefits to society and the economy – this is the mission of the Ferdinand-Steinbeis-Institute (FSTI). The FSTI provides an interdisciplinary hub for carrying out transfer-oriented research, functioning as a research faculty of Steinbeis University. Since November, the FSTI has had its own team working at the education campus in Heilbronn. The Ferdinand-Steinbeis-Gesellschaft (FSG) is now going to expand the Ferdinand-Steinbeis-Institute Heilbronn (FSTI HN) with the support of the Dieter Schwarz Foundation.

The FSTI conducts research into economic and societal change stemming from the increasing shift toward digital technology and networking. The new FSTI unit in Heilbronn was founded recently on the city’s education campus with the primary aim of exploiting opportunities offered by digital transformation. It works as a transfer-oriented research institution to expand the educational horizons of the education campus in Heilbronn, also offering a port of call for innovative partnerships in research and teaching. The education campus in Heilbronn offers the ideal prerequisites for these aims, and plans are already underway to collaborate closely with university organizations and other facilities based on the campus. The transfer-oriented focus of the research institution will be supported in keeping with the philosophy of Steinbeis. Accordingly, all projects will revolve around “dual” scientific research.

“Combining our experience and expertise with other partners on the education campus offers a unique opportunity to build a digital transformation hub that will not just focus on research, but also on tangible benefits to companies and the local population in and around Heilbronn,” highlights Prof. Dr. Heiner Lasi, director of the Ferdinand-Steinbeis-Institute.


The team of 30 or so specialists at the FSTI comprises up-and-coming scientists and more experienced researchers from different disciplines, and it has already embarked on its first projects. At first only a small team will be working on the education campus, collaborating closely with FSTI head office in Stuttgart. The interdisciplinary FSTI team will mainly focus on digitalization and autonomization in order to help drive the implementation of digital transformation within companies based on tried-and-tested Micro Testbed methods (see separate box). The new partnership options this will result in, between science and academia on the one hand and industry on the other, will be underpinned by scientific support in order to develop methods, concepts, and recommendations for regional stakeholders.

All FSTI activities revolve around the principle of “dual scientific research” based on scientific standards, hand in hand with societal and thus also commercial influences. To this end, the FSTI works with multiple local partners on multidisciplinary collaborative research projects. Based on this foundation, the aim of the FSTI HN for the first five years is to build on past research results, not only to provide development opportunities for the scientific community, but also to deliver societal and commercial benefit to the Heilbronn region.

As a sponsor of the German regional team of the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), the FSTI will set up the first IIC Academy in a German-speaking country on the campus. Digital solutions with proven track records at an international level and within real companies will provide a basis for teaching and education programs for students and business leaders in the region. The education campus will also derive benefit from the global reach of the IIC by organizing local events with an international profile, and they will be supported in this by leading global partners in industry.

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The Dieter Schwarz Foundation is backing the new research institution by providing funding and helping in the long term with office space on the education campus. The FSTI HN will be provided with offices in a high-rise building alongside the Technical University of Munich, Heilbronn University, and the Fraunhofer Institute.

As Prof. Reinhold R. Geilsdörfer, director of the Dieter Schwarz Foundation, underscores: “Having the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute set up an office is an ideal complement to activities on the education campus and it will inject new energy. Having another research institute on board will galvanize collaboration between the institutions and promote Heilbronn as a site of scientific and research activity.”


Digital transformation is a multifaceted process of change and challenges. The pioneering work carried out by the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) through the use of so-called testbeds shows just how pragmatic companies can be in their approach to change. Testbeds involve several companies working together as partners, using web-based networks operating through open standards to try out and subsequently implement new value creation scenarios transcending different sectors of industry.

As the designated host of the IIC German Regional Team, the FSTI has recognized the opportunities offered to German companies to work through scenarios with the potential to deliver benefit by drawing on current IoT technology within the context of actual business. The FSTI developed the Micro Testbed method based on insights gained by the IIC. The aim of a Micro Testbed is to implement concrete projects in order to pinpoint interdisciplinary value creation scenarios and deliver these based on experimentation in partnership with different enterprises (ecosystems). The Micro Testbed method lays emphasis on exploring small application scenarios. In doing so, existing technologies are used to allow new ecosystems, products, and services to emerge through interdisciplinary collaboration, with a bearing on digital solutions and networking. The results gained from Micro Testbeds deliver benefit for all parties in ways that were previously unimagined.

One area of emphasis for the 25 Micro Testbeds that are currently underway or live is small and medium-sized enterprises, spanning all sectors of industry including manual trades.

The Micro Testbed method developed by the FSTI is based on a non-liner multi-stage process. Seven steps to success lie at the heart of the model:

  1. Initiation of a Forum of Trust with business enterprises from different sectors of industry
  2. A neutrally moderated process for exchanging ideas, drawing on specialist knowledge and scientific expertise
  3. The generation of small, interdisciplinary application scenarios for adding value across all sectors of industry
  4. Selection of generated application scenarios
  5. Specific planning of technological implementation
  6. Hands-on introduction at companies on site
  7. Evaluation and ongoing development of application scenarios in ecosystems


Prof. Dr. Heiner Lasi (author)
Ferdinand-Steinbeis-Institute Heilbronn (Heilbronn)