Professor Theobald, Professor Burkhardt-Reich, your Steinbeis Transfer Center for Business Development, based at Pforzheim University, develops business intelligence tools for SMEs as well as large companies. In addition, you offer business simulations which give teenage students vocational guidance and internet platforms to promote women’s positions in senior management for example. How did this fascinating and somewhat unusual mix come about?
Our professorships allow us to combine technological and contextual know-how in our Steinbeis Centers. That is why the mix is not so unusual but rather entirely logical to us. The internet technologies we have mastered as part of our software development activities can be applied to many subject areas and they enable the realization of innovative projects with profound content depth. Combining technological knowhow with an emphasis on applicability creates a solid foundation on which we develop marketing intelligence solutions for businesses, offer business simulations for vocational guidance or startups, run internet platforms and databases. Our team consists of software engineers, project managers, graphic designers and editors. The teamwork across all disciplines is outstanding.
Professor Theobald: Your Steinbeis enterprise was founded 12 years ago. In 2009 your MANAGEMENT MONITOR software was awarded first prize at the CeBIT for being the most innovative business intelligence solution. Which developments, technical and social, have influenced your center’s work ever since its inception?
Our work is influenced by our customers’ close involvement in product development processes and by the way we integrate emerging technologies. When developing software we tap into the latest developments, i.e. social media, big data analysis or responsive design. We create added value for our customers by making their everyday business easier or by unlocking new potential. Most of all we help internationally active companies gather market and marketing information in a comprehensive knowledge database with the MANAGEMENT MONITOR. It also has a strategic planning and analysis tool which enables one to effectively use insights. In general, a software’s interface design and usability requirements have become much more important. Managers consider the support of mobile end devices as commonplace nowadays. Also, just like many other IT companies, we have problems finding qualified employees.
Professor Theobald, Professor Burkhardt-Reich: Your Steinbeis enterprise is based in the northern region of the Black Forest (Nordschwarzwald) which is known for its business potential. Many small and medium-sized companies in the area are considered to be market leaders in their industry sector. What implications does this have for the projects you work on in the region?
The companies you’re referring to hold tremendous sway in terms of business influence and development potential. In many cases the companies in the Nordschwarzwald region are active on an international level and need help with their internationalization strategies. We can provide excellent support in this area with our MANAGEMENT MONITOR. Many companies in the region can be attributed to the engineering sector or other related industries. Such technology driven companies have great potential in marketing. Much can be achieved here, especially in online marketing.
The Nordschwarzwald region started addressing the issue of recruiting qualified personnel early on – our Steinbeis enterprise planned and implemented a series of projects with schools in the area. One of these was the „Nordschwarzwald-Cup“ during which we conducted business simulations with teams consisting of apprentices and students. We also helped set up education partnerships of 115 different companies with 30 schools in the area. Moreover, we are currently conducting an innovative vocational guidance project in German grammar schools (Gymnasium) which includes guided tours of companies.
Professor Burkhardt-Reich: You organize the business simulation competition „Jugend grundet“ which is sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and has enjoyed uninterrupted, nationwide success since its introduction. Over the course of one school year students develop an innovative business idea and found their own virtual company which they guide through all the ups and downs of a startup business. You oversee the competition and get to know the teenagers who turn into young entrepreneurs for the duration of the competition. What would you say is the biggest difference between these young entrepreneurs and the „real-life“ managers later on in life?
There aren’t that many differences. The participants of „Jugend grundet“ identify closely with their business idea, inspire the jury with their presentations and are often really good team players. As the competition progresses they acquire business acumen and hands-on skills while also experiencing the joy of making independent decisions and creating freely. Unlike established managers the students and apprentices think more freely – unrestrained by business limitations – and can therefore develop innovative ideas and turn those into business ideas. The teenagers’ innovative strength fascinates us year after year. Their ideas range from automatic teeth-cleaning systems to wheelchairs that can overcome stairs and a CSR marketing concept for team-building exercises in orchards. In the future we want focus on this even more. We’re convinced that these teenagers can come up with the innovative answers that companies are looking for in the future.
Willy Brandt once said that the best way to predict the future is to create it. What challenges do you foresee for your center and what goals do you have?
We’ve proved that we shape the future over the past twelve years: with new products and projects, but more than anything else by identifying with the tasks we’ve taken on in our Steinbeis Center and by pushing developments ahead passionately. We’ve also been successful in putting together a great team and in convincing customers and the government authorities of our worth. Building upon this we will develop new products by remaining in constant dialog with customers and project clients. Our goal is moderate, continuous growth. The two areas we work in enrich and complement one another excellently leading to a constant stream of new opportunities which we will seize.
Prof. Dr. Elke Theobald | Prof. Dr. Barbara Burkhardt-Reich
Steinbeis Transfer Center for Business Development, Pforzheim University (Pforzheim)