Mr. Kussmaul, there seems to be general agreement about the importance of technology transfer, but we usually talk about transfer between the worlds of science and business. Hardly anyone mentions technology transfer between companies. Why do you think that is?
I believe that nowadays technology transfer takes place between many companies, but it’s not broadly communicated. This is motivated in part by a desire to protect the resulting competitive advantage. This aspect is particularly important to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
What would you say is necessary for the transfer of technology between companies to succeed?
Open communication, with each side focusing on their own core competences! At the same time, it’s important to take a holistic view of the process so you can leverage the potential of each technology partner to add value. And the human factor plays a major role as well. Employees have to be given training – and they need the ability to remain neutral in their dealings with partners. I also see technology and network management as prerequisites.
“Traditional” technology transfer between research institutes and businesses is subsidized by the government. When it comes to technology transfer between companies, do you believe this is useful or even necessary?
It would be nice, but is it necessary? For the sake of their own competitive advantage, I think companies have to be willing to invest in technology transfer. The next step, the resulting gain in expertise, is something that benefits every company.
When I think about subsidies for technology transfer between companies, I believe it would be useful to have support for big projects involving several technology partners, at least in the run-up to the project when a lot of planning activity is necessary. Generally speaking, it remains difficult for SMEs to take a cool idea and run with it – there’s too much bureaucracy! And that’s not a problem that can be solved with subsidies.
Risking a glance into the future, what do you think technology transfer will look like in five or ten years time?
Best-case scenario? All companies will be cooperating with each other, so there will no longer be a need for incentives or initiatives. But being realistic, I think technological complexity will force companies to cooperate across sectors just in order to implement their new product ideas. International competition will accelerate this process. In addition, new careers and fields of study – like technology broker or network manager – have to be created to make transfer more effective. We have to be able to identify which technologies could be applied where. Not everyone has a talent for taking risks! A database could be developed to support this process, along the lines of the “Wer liefert was?” (“Who supplies what?”) search engine. But it should be called something like “Who can do what?” or “Who has this core competence?” – a directory of competences. And because things constantly change and develop, that would certainly be a difficult challenge! The regional Steinbeis centers could offer their support here.
Bernd Kusmaul is managing director of Bernd Kussmaul GmbH. A technology service provider with customers all over the world, the company specializes in complex, made-to-measure technical products and processes. Bernd Kussmaul was a discussion partner at Steinbeis Innovation Arena 2015, advocating the idea that customers are an important building block in the product development process, contributing their core competencies and experience.