Tapping into strategic knowledge

Multinationals and SMEs work in partnership on the Connect-2-Ideas project

To develop products and services, multinational corporations (MNCs) increasingly tend to complement the results of their own in-house research with inputs from external partners, many of them small and mediumsized enterprises (SMEs). At the same time, MNCs generate in-house knowledge that they can not actually use themselves so they offer it to SMEs. This corporate strategy of Open Innovation is especially interesting for SMEs, offering them hitherto unthinkable partnerships with major companies. The Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum (SEZ) was assigned by the European Commission to help SMEs meet this challenge and develop corresponding business strategies.

In a world of “Open Innovation”, the faster and easier SMEs gain access to strategic knowledge – e.g. through foresight and technology assessment activities – and integrate it in their company strategy, the more successful they will be. To help SMEs meet this challenge, public support is provided at regional, national and European level. One such example is the European funded pilot project Connect-2-Ideas focusing on three regional clusters in Baden-Wurttemberg: Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), Mechatronics and Life Sciences. Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum is the Baden- Wurttemberg partner within the project; the other 6 partners come from the UK (including Procter & Gamble), Italy and Slovenia. Approximately 170,000 Euro of the project funding will go to Baden-Wurttemberg.

Under the auspices of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and in collaboration with regional partners, the Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum hosted, in the summer of 2007, four workshops on Information and Communication Technologies and Mechatronics, with two further workshops on Life Sciences scheduled to take place in autumn 2007. The aim was to raise awareness of the strategic significance of future developments for participants’ companies and provide a platform for future-proof innovation and technology partnerships.

The workshops brought together different actors from the regional clusters, entrepreneurs, company directors and senior managers from development, research and engineering, but also universities, trade associations, chambers of commerce and local authorities. In the field of ICT, stimulating speeches were given by important global players such as SAP and IBM. The workshops were organized by SEZ in cooperation with regional partners such as the Centre of Excellence for Information Technology and Media (MFG), the company network Baden-Wurttemberg Connected e.V. (bwcon), and the Research Center for Information Technologies (FZI). In the field of Mechatronics, the partners included the Mechatronics Competence Centre, the Stuttgart Region Economic Development Corporation (WRS) and Festo AG. Here, the speakers came e.g. from the Siemens AG, the Karlsruhe Research Center and the IPA Fraunhofer Institute.

The Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum considers the introduction and more systematic use of strategic intelligence a new key component in the process of Open Innovation and thus crucial for the sustainable success of a company, a cluster, or a region. Strategic intelligence instruments are important in two ways:

  • for the companies to identify future business models, joint strategies and activities with partners and trading alliances (otherwise difficult to detect)
  • for innovation policy makers to create long-term, sustainable competitive perspectives and framework conditions for all actors of an innovation system– especially in the triangle between business, science and politics.

The objective of the workshops was to present various methods, concepts and approaches to strategic ‘future management’ within companies (corporate foresight) as well as their successful applications in the industry sector. Furthermore, the workshops aimed to encourage participants to act and think creatively, and to anticipate and discuss future developments in a 10-year time horizon. Possible options for action for companies were identified so that they can now start to establish the foundations for a successful future.

Using strategic knowledge constitutes the basis for long-term corporate success. However, in order to build successfully on this basis, “classic” business and policy instruments have also to be applied. For this reason, a second focus of the workshops was the “market of opportunities” part. Participants were given the possibility to present their own technology profiles and also to check technology offers and requests submitted from all over Europe though the Innovation Relay Centres (IRC) database. This database enables each IRC to quickly bring into contact companies and research actors from its country with other European technology providers or seekers. The IRC network consists of 250 partners in 33 countries and has been supported by the European Commission since 1995. The Steinbeis-Europa- Zentrum is the IRC for Baden-Wurttemberg, Thuringia and German-speaking Switzerland.

Further activities of the Connect-2-Ideas pilot project include e.g. providing a new platform for coordinating technology requests and offers between MNCs and SMEs as well as compiling a best practice manual for international technology cooperations with MNCs. In a world of “Open Innovation” there are clear opportunities for SMEs: introducing strategic ‘future management’ and setting up strategic technology partnerships are key factors in securing the future success of companies.


Dr. rer. nat. Björn Sautter
Dr. rer. nat. Günter Clar

Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum (Stuttgart)

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