Processes of knowledge and technology transfer are reflected in business practice by a variety of mechanisms, channels, methods and procedures, however, these processes are always embedded into systemic interdependencies. Therefore, knowledge and technology transfer systems on the regional, national and also supranational level are coming, the systems underlying knowledge and technology transfer – on a regional, national, but also supranational level – are coming under more and more scrutiny, even if, until now, there have been no clear theoretical, conceptual or empirical demarcations. Mostly, the debate on the issue remains unclear with regard to the precise spatial and structural forms, but also with the specific and characteristic mechanisms and channels of these knowledge and technology transfer systems. (cf. Audretsch/Lehmann 2005; Edquist 2005).
One suggestion made in this respect is to use a heuristic model to capture and analyze knowledge and technology transfer systems. This would be based on governance research, making distinctions between six dimensions relating to the coordination and regulation of transactions with systemic interdependencies: the market, organizations, associations, the (regional) state, networks and communities. Despite tradeoffs with using these six ideal or typical forms of institutions, it is possible to systematically pinpoint the key mechanisms, channels, methods and procedures of knowledge transfer for each one, including in terms of location (Ortiz 2013).
In regional terms (regional state), which should be the emphasis, drawing on this heuristic model results, in particular, in different ways to map the corresponding knowledge and technology transfer system and conduct a differentiated analysis. Turning to Baden-Württemberg, the region is strong, with network-like mechanisms of knowledge sharing, which are underpinned by associations and communal structures. Statedriven mechanisms are of average importance and focus mainly on enabling more intensive coordination between industry players. With the exception of the Steinbeis Network, purely market-based mechanisms play a marginal role, whereas organizational mechanisms occupy a surprisingly strong position within the German context.
Key aspects that explain the specific emphasis of the knowledge sharing system in Baden-Württemberg include the strong sense of identity shared throughout the region, the cooperative and proactive business culture, a strong identification with the region in many sectors of industry, key corporate players with a strong sense of responsibility and an understanding of the region as a whole, regional political structures, and finally bottom-up initiatives that structure and promote key players in industry. On top of this, the business infrastructure is strongly influenced by a diverse variety of small and medium-sized enterprises and companies span a number of traditional core sectors including the automotive industry, mechanical engineering, chemical products and electrical engineering. These are underpinned by additional innovation processes as well as a university and research environment that matches – and to a large extent reflects – this manufacturing emphasis.
The Steinbeis model is based on entrepreneurial and competitive technology transfer within decentralized organization. It fits in well with the newly created or previously evolved structures of knowledge and technology sharing within the region. The model is focused on market needs and this complements the network-like mechanisms at the core of the region, which draw on association support and are driven by organizations and the community. It also relates closely to the bottom-up philosophy of regional key players, a key point of differentiation compared to other German regions. The broad scope of services offered under the Steinbeis model highlights the ability of this transfer model to adapt to specific transfer and innovation approaches in different industries and sectors. It is also adaptable to differing levels of complexity in terms of the requested transfer services.
The knowledge and technology transfer system in Baden-Württemberg has a strong competitive standing on a European level. But just like all areas in Europe with a strong economy, a priority for Baden-Württemberg will be to continue to provide successful transfer and innovation services in order to master current challenges, which are of a highly complex, non-regional and interdisciplinary nature, spanning several sectors. This is especially the case in the fields of sustainable transportation solutions (mobility), environmental technology/renewable energy/ resource efficiency, medicine/health care, and ICT. Successful structuring, and the organization of collaborative processes of innovation and technology transfer are becoming key success factors and this will present new challenges not just to the region as a whole, but also in particular to Steinbeis.
This article is based on the findings of an encompassing empirical case study conducted by Dr. Michael Ortiz. The study includes an international comparison between the regional knowledge and technology transfer systems of six European regions in Germany, Spain and the UK.
Steinbeis Swipe! is a new section in Transfer Magazine. The aim is to examine specific topics at regular intervals. Occasionally, the author might take a swipe, left or right, up or down, along the lines of a critical commentary.