Some entrepreneurs are currently looking to the future with concern; the uncertainty and change that is massively affecting entire industries appears to be too great. But in numerous discussions I also experience confidence: many companies want to use the change and the break caused by the corona pandemic to implement new ideas. However, they often lack the necessary resources, the right impetus or initial financing. In my blog post, I will show you how your company can now make good investment decisions and how you can benefit from the extensive government support programmes.
Never before has the speed of change been higher than at the moment. I don’t like to use the term “economic crisis” for the current situation, as this sounds without perspective. Certainly there are companies that are no longer able to successfully implement their previous business model due to the Corona regulations (e.g. restaurants, cinemas, event operators). In my view, it is above all those companies that have no willingness to change or no ideas in which direction to make changes that are in crisis.
I assume that the current speed of change is just the beginning. The world has become more digital and this means that new ideas can be implemented more quickly. We are now seeing online delivery of goods and a breadth of services that was unimaginable before the Corona pandemic. As a consequence, this means that companies must be prepared to deal with a high speed of change. This can be achieved above all by a consistent focus on innovation.
Learn from the innovations of others!
Very few innovations that succeed in the market are originally new inventions. Often companies are intelligent enough to combine existing products or ideas of others in new ways and thus create a new offer for their customers. Take, for example, the manufacturer of sensors in mechanical and plant engineering, who is developing a sensor with which data can be transferred to a cloud. Neither the encryption algorithm used nor the cloud architecture was invented by the company. The development department has combined the existing technology with its expertise in sensor technology, thus creating real added value for its customers.
The example shows that it pays to look beyond one’s own nose – I would even say that it is vital for companies to survive. Every day, somewhere in the world, innovations are created that other companies should use for their own purposes. I distinguish here between three categories of how companies use innovations of others for their own purposes:
1. copy innovations from their own industry and thus improve their products and their offer to customers.
2. use innovations from their own or other industries to improve internal processes and produce more efficiently.
3. building on their own competencies, specifically looking for innovations in other sectors in order to develop new products, services or business models for new markets.
The third category offers the greatest potential for sustainable business success, but it is also the one that requires the greatest effort. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile for companies to take this path, as this approach allows for major changes that will secure long-term competitive advantages for companies.
Focus the search on the right topics
Every day, countless ideas find their way onto the market all over the world. For companies, this is an unmanageable pool of innovations. At the beginning of every search there is the question of which topics the companies concentrate on. The obvious thing to do is to first look in your own industry to see which innovations directly affect your own company. Much more worthwhile in the first step is the analysis of one’s own strengths, the so-called core competencies. What are you really good at? How does your company differ from the competition? What do your customers appreciate about your products or your service?
By analysing your competences you can focus on other industries. Which innovations from other sectors can we combine well with our competences? Which future topics can we tackle today with our strengths? These questions will help you to filter out exactly those innovations from the almost unlimited number of innovations that will help your company move forward.
Working with the innovations and involving the customers at an early stage
Once they have identified exciting topics and interesting innovations, the actual development work begins. For this purpose, it makes sense to set up an open innovation process and thus to bring the innovative ideas directly in line with customer needs. In contrast to the classic procedure in the development department, an open innovation process does not stubbornly develop according to a complex specification sheet, but confronts the (potential) customer with the first product ideas. The aim is to understand the needs and to develop the product step by step towards an independent innovation.
At each stage of the development, innovation impulses can be taken up again in order to expand the product range or to focus on the target group. With this agile approach, the companies ensure that they do not miss the market. Let us return to the sensor manufacturer. Does the sensor, which sends encrypted data to a cloud, already deliver added value for the customer? Or is this just a first technological step that still needs to be developed into a comprehensive analysis tool with the help of an innovative AI algorithm? Perhaps the customer is looking for a platform on which the data from a wide variety of sensors, including those from other manufacturers, can be combined and analysed.
There are more or less mature innovations for all of the applications described, which the sensor manufacturer can fall back on. The challenge for the company is to combine these many possibilities in such a way that they can map them with their own competences and at the same time optimally satisfy the customer needs of tomorrow.
Using financial support for investments in the future
The analysis of one’s own competences, the search for innovations and the implementation of open innovation processes is complex and requires, in addition to the time required, sometimes large financial investments. Nevertheless, this is necessary if the company does not want to lose ground in a dynamic market. The orientation towards other innovations and the step-by-step approach in the development process have the advantage that the risk of failure is minimised.
The good news is that there are currently extensive support programmes in place to support such investments. In addition to the Federal Government, almost every federal state and, in some cases, the municipalities have set up corresponding programmes, ranging from large nationwide research funding programmes such as ZIM or go Innovation to small project funding by regional economic development agencies.
Use these opportunities to have your investment in the future promoted. It is important that you choose the funding that suits you best. Not all support programmes are attractive for every company, in terms of the possible subsidies, supplementary support and the associated bureaucratic effort.
What do you start with tomorrow?
I have shown how important it is for companies to look at the innovations of others and at the same time take advantage of the opportunity to have their investment in the future promoted. With these 5 steps you will certainly get to your sponsored future project:
1. seek contact with other companies, to exchange thoughts and ideas Contact points are networks, for example at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce or in the vicinity of research institutions.
2. analyse your core competencies in the company, together with your employees.
3 Use the access to innovation databases and identify the innovations with which you can best develop your offer for tomorrow’s customers.
4 And if you would like to test the first concrete product ideas or new technologies, look for a centre of competence for small and medium-sized businesses in your area.
5. seek advice and support in selecting a suitable support programme and obtaining assistance in its implementation, either from consulting firms or directly from regional business development agencies.
As concrete as the individual steps may sound, the subject is very complex overall. It is important that you don’t do your future projects on the side, but that you push them forward in a targeted manner. External support at every stage is helpful here. I would be happy to talk to you about my blog post and about this topic in particular. Please feel free to write to me or arrange a telephone appointment – I look forward to your feedback!