The SIEMENS – ZOLLHOF Partnership
We live in a rapidly changing world. The pandemic showed us once more how crucial it is to adapt to continuously transforming conditions. The resulting challenges and speed of innovation that arise from new technologies and transforming circumstances lead to complex challenges that call for collaborative solutions. According to a recent study, “prioritizing innovation today is key to unlocking post-crisis growth” (Source: McKinsey, 2020, Innovation in a crisis: Why it is more critical than ever). Strategic partnerships, co-development between academia and industry, and the development of startup incubators are essential for generating the successful business models of the future. To make this happen, innovation ecosystems need safe spaces where individuals, companies and institutions can come together and create opportunities for joint projects, joint startups or joint learning. Learn how you can plant some seeds in this ecosystem later in the blog post.
Who we are
I’m Ilaria, working at SIEMENS Technology in Munich with the goal to foster Siemens’ research innovation network with strong partnerships. I am passionate about connecting people from various backgrounds to encourage creativity and innovation power. Collaborations with industry, startup and academia experts from all over the world, taught me how diverse teams are key to bringing innovation to the next level. For me, diversity is not only about gender, cultural background, religion or ethnicity – it’s about the perspective each person brings into the team. With this article, I’d like to share insights about working in the fertile innovative ecosystem of the metropolitan region around Nuremberg with business partners from within and outside SIEMENS. Because innovation is not only about technology and organizations. Innovation is about people connected in an inspiring environment and thus, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite innovators:
I’m Matthias, really passionate about transforming great ideas into reality. Two years ago, I decided to join the ZOLLHOF Tech Incubator in Nuremberg to understand how to transform visionary ideas into reality and collectively do so in the most promising way. In this agile and innovative ecosystem I am constantly surrounded by creative people eager to explore the new. Experiencing various innovation projects in the sweet spot of academia (research), corporate (intrapreneurial) and startup (entrepreneurial) innovation, has taught me the immense benefits of co-creation and collaboration. With this article, I would like to share my passion for innovation from within the ecosystem working together with inspiring partners like Ilaria.
And now you may ask yourselves “What is ZOLLHOF?” It’s not just a local innovation partner of SIEMENS, it is the Tech Incubator of the Friedrich-Alexander-University, located at the heart of most of SIEMENS’ business: Erlangen-Nuremberg! ZOLLHOF was established in 2017 with the mission to “make entrepreneurship happen”. As one of Germany’s fastest growing tech incubators, ZOLLHOF supports early stage startups as well as established corporates like SIEMENS to leverage their digital business.
Here are some facts & figures about ZOLLHOF over the past 4 years:
- 50+ tech startups incubated
- 25 mio. € investments in ZOLLHOF startups
- 30+ employees
- 3000m² office space
- 14.000+ event participants
How to foster a local innovation ecosystem
In the business context, ecosystems (or communities) are more or less a new phenomenon and often mistakenly understood as something dealing with social media or stakeholder management. But it is way more than that. It is the actual fertile ground for individuals striving for purposeful innovation and entrepreneurship.
From our point of view, to create and strengthen a successful and fruitful innovation ecosystem you need to focus on 3 key areas, which evidently correlate: people, mindset and place.
It is not organizations or a specific type of company that are innovative. People are.
Multiple perspectives of a problem lead to multiple potential solutions. Interdisciplinary teams and diverse individuals are of vital relevance if you search pioneers with a positive entrepreneurial mindset. To create a strong ecosystem for digital innovation, you need digital talents, technical experts, entrepreneurs and business thought leaders.
Around Erlangen and Nuremberg there are a lot of highly educated students with an entrepreneurial mindset coming from one of the most innovative universities in Germany – the Friedrich-Alexander-University. In the “war for talents”, it is tough to hire smart people for startups and corporates. Through joint forces we create an inspiring innovation ecosystem which attracts digital talents and young professionals. Along their innovation learning journey we develop their entrepreneurial skill set and connect them to the network.
At ZOLLHOF student talents can either apply with their startup idea or they can tackle real industry challenges. In the Talent Program students get to learn and apply entrepreneurial skills and methods over a period of one quarter, while corporate partners receive unbiased digital solutions for their latest business challenges. At the same time these talents and corporates get to know each other’s way of working on neutral ground. It’s not uncommon for companies to find new team members this way.
However, talent alone is not sufficient to tackle all the challenges occurring along the path to successful digital innovation. Combining it with expertise is key. ZOLLHOF collaborates with various startups and interdisciplinary corporates through long term partnerships. Within the corporate partner ecosystem collaborations range from industry (e.g. SIEMENS, Schaeffler), sports (adidas), insurance (Nürnberger Versicherung, HUK-Coburg), pharmaceutical (Novartis), healthcare (Siemens Healthineers), municipality (VAG/N-ERGIE), energy, finance and IT sectors. These established national and global players own remarkable expertise and technological thought leadership.
Taking the example of SIEMENS, it’s a global player with 37.000 employees in the region. It hosts global business decision makers of its prominent businesses like Digital Industries, Smart Infrastructure, Mobility and Siemens Healthineers. Connecting young talents and intrapreneurial experts through joint innovation projects within this ecosystem results in cross-fertilization of ideas and visions.
Speaking about ideas and visions, there is another “ingredient” which complements talents and experts: the entrepreneurs and founders. By providing office space, intense coaching, mentoring and (investor) networks ZOLLHOF supports founders and early stage startups along their journey to success. These individuals inspire us day by day with their curiosity, vision, resilience and courage by actually walking the walk of innovation and entrepreneurship. Together with advisors, experts and mentors the ecosystem is full of entrepreneurial as well as intrapreneurial individuals challenging and supporting each other to make real what matters.
Fall in love with the problem, not with the solution.
An entrepreneurial mindset is key to create digital innovative solutions within an ecosystem. But how do you foster the startup mentality? Here are our four steps:
First, failure needs to be embraced as a possible outcome, as an opportunity to grow. This part of the growth mindset is where corporates often struggle. An innovation ecosystem is an environment of cross-fertilization at eye’s level between startups and corporates, where both sides benefit from each other.
Second, allowing different perspectives and giving each other feedback at eye’s level is key when developing human-centric solutions in an agile way. The innovation ecosystem allows each individual to use his/her safe space for trial and error. Furthermore, open mindedness and feedback culture make sure that psychological safety is not only a paid lip service. We aim for individuals to experience authenticity and actually feel safe to take risks. “Psychological safety has been identified by a Google study in 2012 as the most important key differentiator for high performing teams.” (Source: Conrad Ma, 2018, Google’s Quest to a High-Performing Team).
Third, problem orientation: While evaluating the startup applications to become part of the startup program (ZOLLHOF receives about 100 applications per batch with an average 10% acceptance rate), a major criterion of acceptance is problem orientation. Often founders and intrapreneurs fall in love with their solution neglecting the actual absence of a real world problem the startup is trying to solve. This is likely to lead to stagnation eventually, as “a lack of market demand is one of the main reasons startups fail within the first 5 years” (Source: Forbes 2019, Why startups fail). With a problem-focused approach ZOLLHOF achieved an 80% survival rate of all startups that went through the startup program over the arch of 3 years.
Fourth, to foster an agile startup working culture, ZOLLHOF promotes, works and collaborates according to four company values: positivity, ownership, drive and appreciation. It is not only important to work on an eye’s level within the team, but even more within the corporate partnerships, like with SIEMENS. To co-create in an expedient manner there needs to be not only a trustful environment of honest feedback but also mutual respect and appreciation.
Co-creation often goes together with co-location.
Finally, there needs to be a home for those individuals who are creating the new in the innovation ecosystem – like a metaphorical greenhouse. In October 2020 the ZOLLHOF 7 headquarter opened its doors for all the aspiring startups and corporate innovators. In fact, it is the same place where in 1877 the first German patent for the “production process for a red ultramarine color” (Source: IHK 2018, Patentes Nürnberg Patent number DE000001) ever has been registered. Sounds like the perfect place for a digital innovation ecosystem!? It is.
- It is a startup environment where ZOLLHOF employees, talents and startups share a co-working office space.
- It’s an event place where innovators meet, startups pitch and corporates get inspired.
- It’s a neutral and safe playground location for co-ideating and learning.
- It’s an inspiring place where innovators explore new areas of digital business.
All stakeholders of the local innovation ecosystem are welcomed to interact in this place, where open events allow digital tech innovators to share their failures and successes in making entrepreneurship happen.
Planting seeds in this ecosystem
At this point we would like to encourage you to experience this ecosystem. Whether you have business challenges you’d like to propose or you’d like to explore new methods and skills, feel free to reach out! There are multiple options like visiting one of the monthly know-how events or participating in a 2-day hackathon in May. Furthermore, every two months you have the chance to attend the TechDays series where you experience hands-on training from startup experts on state-of-the-art technologies.
Innovators! You are welcome to connect with email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
in case you’d like to discuss your ideas!
Talents! Sign up for SIEMENS TechTalks / Lectures / Newsletter:
Apply for the next quarter’s ZOLLHOF Talent Program: https://www.zollhof.de/talents
Entrepreneurs! Reach to ZOLLHOF to pitch your startup for the next batch www.zollhof.de
Hackers! Tackle a corporate challenge at the next HackBay www.hackbay.de
Visit us! (when it’s possible)