“Upcoming challenges are becoming increasingly complex and require interdisciplinary & collaborative approaches.” Insights from Chemie-Cluster Bayern Head of Innovation

  1. Could you please introduce yourself.

Hey everybody, I am Christoph Habel, a bavarian guy in his early 30s.  Being passionate about the versatility of chemistry I have studied materials chemistry and hold a PhD in this field – in parallel I was part of the Elite Network Bavaria within the elite study program “Macromolecular Science”. Now, being Head of Innovation Management & Business Development at the Chemie-Cluster Bayern GmbH, I am in the fortunate situation of being able to experience the manifoldness of chemistry on a daily basis – from food packaging to batteries, you can find it all there in our diversified member surrounding. Start-ups, SMEs, Global Players, Universities from Bavaria AND beyond – together with my colleagues at the cluster, I am actively working with them to develop innovative approaches for upcoming challenges and to bring together suitable project partners for this purpose. The Chemie-Cluster can be seen, among other functions, as an external supporter for innovations.

Of course there is lots more to know about the Cluster and me. Please feel free to contact me directly via LinkedIn!

2. Why partnership in R&D matters?

Partnership in general matters! To put it bluntly: I´ve never seen a successful soccer team with just one player on the field (besides the fact that it´s not allowed). And there are manifold reasons why partnerships are worthwhile. Just to mention some of them:

  • Partnership in R&D means combining diverse expertise’s & technologies from different fields and leveraging existing synergies, resulting in more efficient operations.
  • (Interdisciplinary) partnership can reduce “unnecessary work” – you don´t have to reinvent the wheel all the time. There might be existing solutions for your challenge in other sectors of industry- without being open-minded regarding partnerships you won´t get into touch with them.
  • Another key point is that not every company has the equipment, infrastructure or expertise to solve arising problems on their own. Thereby, partnership often is often the only way to tackle challenges.
  • Unconventional ideas rarely arise when you have blinkers on. By opening up to partners, you often gain completely new impressions and can create innovative approaches. This is seldom the case without this external approach and expertise.

To briefly sum-up the necessity of R&D partnerships:

“Upcoming challenges are becoming increasingly complex and require interdisciplinary & collaborative approaches.”

3. Based on your experience, how do you increase chances to make partnership in R&D succeed: any do´s and don´t?

Working together in the most efficient and synergistic way is mainly based on setting-up the best as possible collaboration team. For this purpose honesty and transparency from the very first moment are of prime importance in my eyes.

Finding the right partner for R&D partnerships sounds so easy- in the end it´s all about “speaking the same language”. And that´s not easy at all! I am not talking about English, French, German, Spanish,…I have the languages “business”, ”natural scientists”, “engineers” and many more in my mind. There should be clearly understandable work package plans in R&D partnerships! Therefore, you need to find a common language with collaboration partners. Well-meant hint from my side: Cluster Organisations are quite good “translators”.

Of course, also the “hard facts”, like a common resource planning and look into the future regarding the Intellectual Property situation are main aspects to be faced with from the very first moment to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts.

Instead of Do´s and Don´ts, I would like to cluster some questions, that should be answered (together) by the partners from time to time and might be helpful to increase the chances for a successful partnership:

Honesty & Transparency: What is the expertise of each company that can be put in this project? What are challenges the partners faced or still face with and need a strong partner for? Which efforts already have been done?

Speaking the same language: Is it clear for everybody in the collaboration team how the “final, successful puzzle” should look like? Based on this question: Does each part of the team also know which piece of this final puzzle it is? Is there a clear internal and external communication strategy? Is there a clear, jointly developed work package plan with milestones and deadlines?

Resources & Intellectual Property: Are there enough resources (among others (wo)menpower, budget, plant/laboratory capacity) to reach the overall aim? Is there a possibility to get some funding for (parts of) the R&D project? What is the intellectual property situation – which partner is allowed to do what with the different potential results?

4. How can digitalization help making partnerships succeed?

To argue once again based on the metaphor of a puzzle! Digitalization can be a great support for the already highlighted single pieces of the final puzzle! Just let me pick out two of them:

  • As already described, upcoming challenges are getting more and more complex. Therefore, interdisciplinary consortia with a multi-faced, complementary expertise & infrastructure are important. Digital tools can help to find these perfect fitting partners as efficient as possible, especially when we are talking about international setups.
  • A second point to be mentioned here is the management of such a project. As already pointed out, everybody in the project should be clear about the work packages, the deadlines and the progress of a project. This can most efficiently and transparently be granted by digital tools – especially when we are talking about project partners working in different time zones. Digitalization can help to keep a good overview of the project and to adjust individual parameters in time, if necessary.

But please don´t get me wrong – despite all these reasons, from my point of view, digitalization is not a 1:1 substitution of in person meetings. Such meetings will still be indispensable and crucial in future – BUT digitalization can be a powerful supporter!