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Steinbeis Day 2016: Young People with New Ideas Offering Plenty of Potential

Steinbeis forum brings students, apprentices, “Steinbeisers,” and the business community together at its interactive forum.

“Without Alexander Graham Bell there’d be no microphones. Without Paul Gottlieb Nipkow there’d be no TV. Without Ferdinand von Steinbeis…” Moderator Marcel Wagner painted a memorable picture of the central topic at this year’s Steinbeis Day: Take people with ideas or people who make ideas happen and bring them together as early as possible. A number of student teams joined in the action at the Steinbeis House for Management and Technology (in the Stuttgart district of Plieningen). Their goal: to present their inventive ideas, concepts that had already attracted attention in youth startup contests like “Jugend gründet” or the Artur Fischer Inventor Award. Around 500 visitors joined them to listen and talk to the young entrepreneurs and inventors.

There was plenty happening at the Steinbeis Day this year in the Steinbeis House for Management and Technology. Twelve young teams came from all corners of Germany to present their ideas, leaving the classroom for a day to savor the atmosphere of real business and entrepreneurism. One thing they all demonstrated is that their technical concepts have passion running through every wire. The same applies to their potential startups, which the students have been working on – through a number of virtual ups and downs – for the entire school year as part of the national “Jugend grundet” contest. The audience got to hear what drives this commitment at a Steinbeis forum called “Early Birds – Enthusiasm is a Reality. Young Ideas with Plenty of Potential.” The discussion was set up as an interactive, multimedia event that spanned the generations. It was moderated by Tina Kraus, Marcel Wagner, and Dr. Marlene Gottwald. The event took place on all floors of the Steinbeis building to allow guests, young and more experienced, to come at topics from different angles – from creative ideas and promoting creativity in business and politics to the role of technology and visions of the future. Two school teams from Baden-Wurttemberg also joined the session live via Skype from Schubart High School in Aalen and Spaichingen High School.

The creativity and diversity of the ideas thought up by the young teams were as inspiring to the participants of the discussion sessions as they were to the audience. Just one example of the potential held by young inventors’ ideas was shown to the forum by Yannick Teubert. A former student at Furstenberg High School in Donaueschingen and a contestant for the Artur Fischer Inventor Award, Teubert has been conducting experiments with his classmates and his project partner David Ohnmacht on a vertical wind turbine, or as they call it: the Savonius Rotor. Using evolved algorithms, the inventors have developed a variation on standard blade shapes that is now capable of improving efficiency by between 20 and 60% compared to current technology. Both project partners were at the event with their idea and it wasn’t long before they were talking with the experts. There was also a treasure trove of ideas on display from the other exhibitors, for example: the Securi SOS wristband from YourHelp, which combines the functions of a fitness wearable and a distress wristband.

When asked which support makes sense for young inventors and entrepreneurs, and what can be done to improve how ideas are backed, just like the students, the representatives of industry, science, and politics outlined some specific ideas in the discussion forum. Yannick Teubert and Moritz Wetzel underscored how valuable the support was for their school, as well as being given enough creative freedom. Wetzel is a student at Spaichingen High School and won the Artur Fischer Inventor Award in 2015. He invented a warning system for cars driving on the wrong side of the highway. Not only does it make drivers aware of their mistake, it also warns other drivers, the police, and radio stations. According to Moritz, another important aspect for subsequent entrepreneurship was working alliances with respect to research and invention. Working with others provides students with ways to realize their own ideas, simultaneously promoting social skills. Moritz works for his parents’ firm as a junior production engineer in energy and building technology. There was another point that came across strongly when technology enthusiasts at schools joined the session via Skype. The high schools in Aalen and Spaichingen presented projects they are working on, showing that when committed students and teachers work beyond the scope of normal school days, they provide a backbone for young researchers to pursue their ideas and not lose their curiosity for research. The businessman Claus Paal, president of the chamber of commerce (IHK) and member of both the regional state parliament of Baden-Wurttemberg and the Steinbeis Board of Trustees, described exchange with the up-and-coming generation as extremely important.

However, to encourage young people to implement their ideas, a “culture of failure” is also necessary. “If people enter into a risk for society, they must be granted permission for the idea to fail,” demanded Paal. In return, he is doing what he can to improve the conditions encountered by young entrepreneurs and inventors by setting up networks of business founders. These should also include managers experienced with sharing ideas to work alongside the next generation.

Prof. Dr. Carsten H. Hahn, director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Innovation Engineering & Entrepreneurship // i2e and a professor at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences, talked about a kind of mentoring program for young people and students, which is supported by the IT company SAP. As part of the World Robot Olympiad, the company supports and sponsors teams with its own know-how. One example is the winner of the German final, a team called Crea- Botic with a robot named Beach Cleaner Noo-Noo that picks up plastic on the beach and in shallow water. The team impressed the audience with a prototype that gave a live demonstration at the Steinbeis Day. According to Prof. Hahn, it’s extremely important to “think network” when developing products. An idea can often provide inspiration for something else and evolve, especially if other people come on board with the right complementary skills. Hahn called for international networks to be set up that span different institutions in order to promote young people with their creative ideas.

Prof. Dr. Barbara Burkhardt-Reich, director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Business Development at Pforzheim University, not only believes that the state government should provide more support to the national “Jugend grundet” contest, she also called for teacher training to be introduced to integrate “Jugend grundet” into the school curriculum. Burkhardt-Reich said the onus is on companies and politicians to enter into more serious discussion with young people and that they should ask them about issues relating to the future. Representing the team that won this year’s “Jugend grundet”, Caroline Vandersee, a student at Achern High School, showed how her team has developed a tent that provides accommodation on vacation and supplies electricity in one. The team’s two-man tent fits into a backpack and uses dye cells to produce electricity for personal use. The winners are now reaping the reward not just for their idea, but also for the successful way they managed their startup over the last year. The students were taken on a trip to Silicon Valley during their fall break. The visit was sponsored by Steinbeis (see report on p16-17). The creative teams in the “Jugend grundet” contest are a mirror to the zeitgeist of tomorrow, according to Burkhardt-Reich: “You’ll be surprised by the solutions they come up with!” As far as the next generation is concerned, however, dialogue between old and young is often a bit complicated. Yannick Teubert explained that, in his experience, businesspeople are mostly (too) convinced of their own opinion and tend to stymie fresh or new ideas. Eleftherios Hatziioannou, founder and manager of smoope GmbH, reassured the young generation that such opinions should be absorbed but this should not unsettle them with their intentions and they should not give up.

Hatziioannou said that his wish for the future would be that Germany become a land of inventive geeks and go-getters. For this to happen, younger people’s curiosity has to be aroused while they’re still at school and mentoring programs could bring young people together with established companies. For an idea to succeed, the experience of the older generations is worth its weight in gold. Claus Paal added that it’s important to show the younger generations that taking risks and inventing things is worth it and will be rewarded by society. According to Carsten H. Hahn, existing ideas should not only be moved forward, different stakeholders need to be brought together, especially with new ideas at SMEs, in order to create something different.

The young inventors and entrepreneurs also had strong visions for the future. Moritz Wetzel said he would like big companies to approach more young inventors and help them work on their ideas. Moritz Brenner suggested that more information sharing events be organized, saying that working groups at schools should be supported and more should be done to gain broader acceptance in society when things fail. It was clear from the products and business models that were presented by the young people involved in the discussion that they are already pointing to the way forward. They all proved that their ideas have a contribution to make to the advancement of society. The fact that it’s worth supporting these ideas was summarized succinctly by the moderator of the forum: “You’re never too young to have a good idea and you’re never too old to help young people with an idea!”