Money among key factors for innovations, but not sole aspect
"Research, improvising or trying out: New products and processes are key to moving Germany forward in the digital age," according to the Innovation Indicator 2023 by the Confederation of German Industry e.V. (BDI), Roland Berger, Fraunhofer ISI and the Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research. Compared to 35 national economies, Germany comes tenth. Thus, the Chambers of Industry and Commerce's advice on innovations is all the more important. Now, the Lüneburg-Wolfsburg Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the Stade Chamber of Industry and Commerce for the Elbe-Weser region are joining forces to promote innovation. Their catchment area in the south of the Hamburg Metropolitan Region comprises 120,000 member companies.
Three pillars of promoting innovation
"Our basic task is to establish and maintain capacity for innovation in the overall economy," said Michael Petz, Head of Innovation Promotion at the Lüneburg-Wolfsburg and Stade Chambers of Commerce and Industry. Demand is driven not only by technological approaches and that necessitates multifarious offers. "Companies from very different industries come to us - from services to finance to (high) tech." Petz cites three pillars of IHK's support for innovation: "Direct support for innovative companies, the creation of framework conditions required for innovation and identifying forward-looking issues."
1) Direct support
The first pillar continues the triad: "Individual innovation consulting is always confidential, neutral and interdisciplinary," said Petz. Consulting ranges from patent consulting and talks on both innovation and co-operation, which are always highly individualized. But, he asked: "What constitutes an innovation? It is a process! That's why we start our consulting well before the idea. Then the path forward is clear. It's about realising ideas and establishing them on the market." Innovation support involves working with companies to create a culture of innovation that facilitates creativity and change and gives employees freedom to come up with new ideas. "To do so, we analyse the situation and identify possibilities of improving conditions for innovation capability," Petz says.
2) Framework for innovations
"The framework conditions for innovation include, first of all, laws and funding structures shaped by the EU, on the federal level and in Germany's federal states and the municipalities. As a public body, we are in direct contactt with politicians and administrators to advise them and to point out critical aspects, if necessary," Petz said. Entrepreneurs frequently turn to IHK Innovation Promotion with initial queries about financing and funding schemes. "Money is not the decisive factor," Petz pointed out. Sometimes, the right partners are far more important. "Unlimited amounts of money does not automatically produce innovations. The university landscape such as "Research Explore" has set its sights set on innovation promotion. "The Lüneburg-Wolfsburg, Schwerin, Stade, Kiel, Flensburg, Hamburg and Lübeck Chambers of Commerce and Industry have developed an innovation tour in which entrepreneurs visit research institutions working on exciting new technologies or that have innovative approaches to knowledge transfer."
3) Identifying forward-looking issues
Watching the market continuously is a prerequisite for the third pillar. And the effort is paying off. "We have to be about eight years ahead of the market to prepare structures for a future field." Hydrogen is an essential part of the energy transition, for which strong networks have been established or 3D printing. "We have been involved in this field for a good 15 years and are now well positioned internationally. The Fraunhofer IAPT, for instance, is one of the world's leading institutions in 3D printing research."
AI for SMEs
"Sustainable, energy-saving solutions or approaches in the field of renewable energies are currently more in focus, including 'subtopics' such as flying with hydrogen," said Petz. AI is also a big issue. "AI is not a new issue at all, this research area is now more than 70 years old. But the present technical framework conditions are right. Computers are becoming more powerful and are still affordable." To demonstrate the potential for SMEs, the Lüneburg-Wolfsburg Chamber of Industry and Commerce, the Stade Chamber of Industry and Commerce and Leuphana University have set up the working group "Machine Learning in the Production Environment". "The question is how 'intelligent' can machines be? The aim is to optimise processes and save energy, material and storage as well as production design, i.e., positioning machines. AI can be a great help there," Petz pointed out.
AI event at Leuphana University
A face-to-face event on November 15, 2023 in Leuphana University will focus on applying machine learning in a value-added way in one's own company. The technology clearly has added value, Petz said, adding: "AI is a wonderful tool. after automating physical work, we are now automating knowledge."