What role does innovation play in developing countries? A very large one, says Professor Utz Dornberger from the University of Leipzig, where he has been heading the development-related postgraduate programme Small Enterprise Promotion and Training (SEPT) since 2004. Innovation management is a permanent part of the curriculum. Why is that? Utz Dornberger explains in an interview.
Why is innovation management important?
Utz Dornberger: Innovation management deals with the following questions: how do I manage the innovation process in a company? What kind of tools, concepts, and mechanisms are needed to implement innovation? German companies are leaders in innovation management and can support the development in countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa with their know-how. Innovation is urgently needed in these regions. In international partnership projects, the focus therefore has to be mainly on knowledge and experience transfer, as well as the development of expertise. Collaboration with universities has a key role here.
How does SEPT teach innovation management?
Utz Dornberger: Our students work on “living cases”. In doing so, they build on knowledge that they have already gained through their professional experience back home and through their studies with us. They develop concepts for regional companies and create innovation plans that lay out all the steps necessary for the development of a new product or service. In the process, the students track market developments and what the competition is doing. For example, our students supported an events company in the establishment of a childcare service at a large trade fair. Ten such projects are undertaken each semester.
What is the significance of innovation management for developing countries?
Utz Dornberger: Companies in developing countries must come up with products and services that set themselves apart from others in the market. Up until now, they have tried to survive in the market by keeping their prices low. In the long run, however, this strategy won’t allow these countries to advance. They need to establish themselves through innovation. Here’s a practical example: many developing nations export mostly raw materials. They could increase value by processing these raw materials into end products. This can only be successful with the use of modern technology. With the right innovation management, they could steer the development of such technologies and adjust them to local needs. Investments in innovation promotion in Latin American countries, for example, which were realised with credit from the World Bank, show that this approach is the correct one.
What is the goal of SEPT’s innovation management network iN4iN?
Utz Dornberger: The iN4iN network was founded in 2008 by an international group of universities and economic development organisations. We want to transfer Germany’s innovation management know-how to countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. As an example, in cooperation with the business community, and with the support of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) we are currently implementing technology transfer projects together with local universities and companies at five locations in Africa. Together with the universities, we are developing new funding mechanisms for start-ups and for technology transfer, which we will be presenting to Ethiopian universities at an upcoming conference at Adama University.