Dr. Brigitte Mohn, Vorstandsmitglied der Bertelsmann Stiftung
© Jan Voth

, Impulse: Germany and Europe must turn more innovative

Brigitte Mohn, Member of the Executive Board, Bertelsmann Stiftung

Innovations are driving forces for prospering economic development. Germany and Europe offer great potential for improving our innovative strength. Increasing our innovation capability is more than just a relevant economic dimension.

It also strengthens our self-sufficiency as a society, helping us secure social prosperity while creating the space for action that we need to resolve the great social challenges of our time together in compliance with our European values.

Not only material capital, but also knowledge capital, i.e. factors such as research and development results, software and databases, copyrights, or further training, is growing more and more important to ensure innovative strength, productivity, and competitiveness. The relevance of knowledge capital has grown in nearly every single country since the financial crisis in the late 2000s. The scope of this intangible capital has increased by more than 20 percent, not only in the USA but also in Germany, France, and other euro countries since 2007.

We also know that continuing digitalization significantly increases regional imbalances in innovation and the majority of international digital innovation activity focuses in some few particularly innovative hotspots. For example, Tokyo, Seoul, San Francisco, Osaka, and Paris together produce 22 percent of all patents around the world.

German companies, in particular, must hurry to catch up in this area. Representative survey results in the industry and services network currently suggest that only a quarter of the 1,000 companies under review have the innovation competence, innovation organization, and innovation culture required to secure their competitive position in the long term.

How can we strengthen innovation in Germany and Europe?

First, by introducing an ambitious and department-comprehensive strategy for innovation policy. We must link the promotion of new key technologies with the goal of solving urgent socio-political issues.

Second, with effective structures to support disruptive innovation. Founding of SprinD, the German agency for disruptive innovations, is a first step in this direction. Next, it must be linked to a pan-European approach.

Third, we must improve the conditions for establishing high-tech start-ups. In contrast to places such as Israel or the USA, our country has far too few founders willing to take the risk of going into entrepreneurship with an innovative business model right from the university. Bureaucratic obstacles and generally wrong incentives in the science sector exacerbate this issue. Our Founders Foundation in Bielefeld has offered training to the young generation of founders for four years now. It has brought about a new start-up ecosystem in the region of East Westphalia-Lippe, in which 350 start-up talents have been trained so far. 25 start-ups have resulted from these efforts, with the trained entrepreneurs generating a cumulative income of 24 million euros (2019) and creating about 400 jobs to date. The system not only works in our region but can also be transferred to others.

Fourth, we must work towards turning entrepreneurship into a positive model for society in the long run. We can integrate business skills and an entrepreneurial mindset even into the school curricula and promote an attitude that remains open to innovation and technology.

With all of this in mind, we can be on a good and sustainable path towards an innovative Germany and Europe in the long term.

This article is an excerpt from the current change Magazine (1/2020).

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