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For most of the stakeholders from industry, research, and politics, thinking out of the box is not an easy process. Trying new ways beyond one’s own competencies, products, service ranges and markets requires long-term commitment and the willingness to take risks, because success cannot be taken for granted. On the contrary, new cross industry and sectoral innovations are more likely created by chance and only rarely result from systematic processes. In the future, innovating should not be seen as a target but rather as an instrument to be used to better prepare for the industrial transformation processes. During the last years, more and more cluster managements have recognized this potential which can be better developed in cross-industry cooperation. Therefore, they reach over the borders of industrial sectors by integrating different industries into an already existing or newly established value chain and engage in cross-clustering. In addition to the existing and new cross-clustering activities, strategic differentiation and support, as another field of activity for cluster initiatives, could be an option for the formerly neglected phases of the innovation process, for example, by offering workshops and other new forms of support activities.
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Success Through
Thinking out of the Box
Strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated
by cluster initiatives
Dr. Gerd Meier zu Köcker
Konstantin Schneider
Bernhard Grieb
Anhänge
EUROPEAN UNION
European Regional Development Fund
EUROPEAN UNION
European Regional Development Fund
Imprint:
Editor
ClusterAgentur Baden-Württemberg
on behalf of the Ministry of Economic Affairs,
Labour and Housing of the State of Baden-Württemberg.
Haus der Wirtschaft
Willi-Bleicher-Straße 19
70174 Stuttgart
Telephone: +49 711 123-3033
www.clusteragentur-bw.de
Authors
Dr. Gerd Meier zu Köcker
Konstantin Schneider
Bernhard Grieb
Design
Poli Quintana, Interlinea.de
English Translation
Seelos Sprachendienste, Regina Seelos
Michel TradukServo, Gisela Michel-Neuroth
Published
June 2016
1
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
Contents
Contents
1 Introduction .................................................................................................................................................... 3
2 Cluster initiatives as think tanks for strategic differentiation in enterprises ................................................... 4
2.1 Drivers of strategic differentiation .......................................................................................................... 5
2.2 Limits of strategic differentiation ............................................................................................................7
3 New perspectives regarding innovation processes ........................................................................................ 9
3.1 Important elements of innovation processes ......................................................................................... 10
3.2 Different types of innovation processes .................................................................................................11
3.3 The role of business models in innovation processes ............................................................................ 12
3.3.1 Business model innovations ....................................................................................................... 12
3.3.2 Digitalization as a current driver of new business models .......................................................... 15
4 Successful strategic differentiation of enterprises ......................................................................................... 17
4.1 Bernd Kußmaul: innovation with coordination and product upgrades .................................................... 17
4.2 Festo: research using networks and cooperation projects ..................................................................... 17
4.3 Vorwerk: waiting for the market to become mature and learning from Apple ....................................... 19
4.4 ZIM aircraft seats: from service provider to product manufacturer ........................................................ 20
4.5 REIS furniture systems: niche markets in the craftsman business ........................................................ 20
4.6 Daimler: group start-ups for new markets ..............................................................................................21
5 The role of cluster initiatives in the strategic differentiation process ............................................................. 22
5.1 Identify the right stakeholders ................................................................................................................ 25
5.2 Initiate cross-sectoral/industry cooperation projects .............................................................................. 27
5.3 Examples of good practice ..................................................................................................................... 29
6 Summary ........................................................................................................................................................ 33
Literature ............................................................................................................................................................. 34
List of figures.......................................................................................................................................................36
2Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
3
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
1 See Matthes: Plädoyer für ein neues Innovationsverständnis, 2010, [Online] www.wiwo.de/technologie/fortschritt-plaedoyer-fuer-ein-neues-innovationsverstaendnis/5687186.html,
[Access on 02-May-2016].
Introduction
1 Introduction
Who has ever heard of the company “Diamond Multime-
dia”? Nobody most likely. And yet, this was the compa-
ny that launched the first MP3 player on the market, as
early as in 1998. There is, however, another product that
is inseparably linked to the commercial success of MP3:
Apple’s iPod and the related sales platform iTunes.
This is a perfect example that shows that technological
pioneering spirit is not necessarily profitable on the mar-
ket. Because there were many more aspects than the
technological superiority of the iPod that were decisive
for Apple’s market success. In particular, these were its
classy design, an ingenious marketing campaign, and –
most importantly – its own sales platform Apple iTunes
that allowed the legal purchasing of MP3 tunes. So, it
was actually a combination of design, marketing, busi-
ness model, and sales platform that was necessary to
break the dam for this technology and open up the mass
market.
That means that impressive innovations today, such as
Apple’s iPod, for example, are mostly smart combina-
tions of technologies, services, processes, design, and
marketing. They are created where markets are changing
and industries overlap. With this in mind, it is not surpris-
ing that cross-subject cooperation projects offer the best
opportunities. This form of cross-sectoral cooperation
may have diverse root causes, for example, new market
trends, changing customer needs, new legal conditions
or crises.1
Of utmost importance in this context is the ability to
think out of the box. Thinking out of the box here means
to leave established paths and structures and find new
solutions. The targets of thinking-out-of-the-box process-
es in companies should be to find new ways to position
themselves ahead of their competitors, and also to stra-
tegically distinguish themselves from other market par-
ticipants. This strategic differentiation may either be re-
alized through completely new products and services or
through adapting existing products to the needs of exist-
ing or new customers. Modified or new business models
and processes, or a different use of systems or resources
within or outside of the companies may also result from
thinking out of the box.
For most of the stakeholders from industry, research,
and politics, thinking out of the box is not an easy pro-
cess. Trying new ways beyond one’s own competencies,
products, service ranges and markets requires long-term
commitment and the willingness to take risks, because
success cannot be taken for granted. On the contrary,
new cross industry and sectoral innovations are more
likely created by chance and only rarely result from sys-
tematic processes. In the future, innovating should not
be seen as a target but rather as an instrument to be
used to better prepare for the industrial transformation
processes.
During the last years, more and more cluster manage-
ments have recognized this potential which can be better
developed in cross-industry cooperation. Therefore, they
reach over the borders of industrial sectors by integrat-
ing different industries into an already existing or newly
established value chain and engage in cross-clustering.
In addition to the existing and new cross-clustering activi-
ties, strategic differentiation and support, as another field
of activity for cluster initiatives, could be an option for the
formerly neglected phases of the innovation process, for
example, by offering workshops and other new forms of
support activities.
4Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
Cluster initiatives as think tanks for strategic differentiation in enterprises
2 See Meier zu Köcker and Bovenschulte: Instrumente zur intelligenten Diversifizierung von Unternehmensnetzwerken, Netzwerkzeuge, Springer Fachmedien, Wiesbaden, 2013.
2 Cluster initiatives as think tanks for strategic differentiation in
enterprises
Cluster initiatives provide the perfect basis for companies
who are open for “thinking out of the box” or strategic
differentiation. On the one hand, they bring together
the different stakeholders along the value chain, which
means, they usually tend to collaborate with other com-
panies with similar interests. On the other hand, all of
these companies contribute their differing capabilities
and experiences. This is important in the context of stra-
tegic differentiation because together they reach the
critical mass and need not act alone and independent-
ly, and this is exactly the point where cluster managers
have the chance to expand their roles in the innovation
processes. From the perspective of a cluster manage-
ment, this requires a sound knowledge of the industry
and an excellent trust basis with their members so that
they can be sparring partners or moderators in a process
of strategic differentiation. The example of Silicon Sax-
ony shows how cluster stakeholders, coordinated by the
cluster management, can differentiate in new application
markets.2
Nonetheless, we can see in practice that the majority of
cluster initiatives that have taken up this topic have found
it rather difficult. And this is not due to a lack of aware-
ness on the part of the government that has promoted
cooperation between companies from different clusters
under the motto of “cross-clustering”. Many cluster ma-
nage ments have undertaken corresponding activities but
have repeatedly faced a great deal of reluctance on the
part of the companies. This raises the question about
the reasons of such reluctance and what could or should
have been done differently by the cluster managements.
To be able to really use cluster initiatives as think tanks
for measures of strategic differentiation in companies,
the cluster managements and their members must have
a better understanding of how companies can distin-
guish themselves from their competitors today and thus
achieve a competitive edge.
Silicon Saxony as an example for the successful
strategic differentiation of a network
From the semiconductor industry to a driver of
innovations in the area of energy efficiency in
electronics
The Silicon Saxony network has become a leading mi-
croelectronics location in Europe. The microelectronics
/ ICT industry employs about 48,000 employees in and
around Dresden, with annual sales of almost €10 mil-
lion euros (see www.silicon-saxony.de). Despite this
seemingly comfortable position, the network manage-
ment of Silicon Saxony has always been concerned
with using suitable tools to monitor and analyse the
technological and market-relevant trends worldwide. In
this regard, they have used several of the network tools
described above. One important finding of the applica-
tion of these network tools was that the success of the
semiconductor technology could not be expected to be
a permanent one. For example, the use of ICT systems
meanwhile causes two percent of the global CO2 emis-
sions – a quarter of the emissions of the entire pas-
senger car traffic. The cost of energy for the operation
of the information and communication technology infra-
structure has become a significant economical factor.
Therefore, the goal of the Silicon Saxony cluster initia-
tive was to provide for a strategic differentiation in the
area of energy efficient semiconductor components
through close cooperation projects with partners not
only from within their network but also with external
organizations. The cluster management of Silicon Sax-
ony thus initiated a process which resulted in the suc-
cessful strategic differentiation of the entire network
(“energy efficiency in information and communication
technology”). In the course of this process, they did
not give up their original market position or fields of
business, but added new ones instead.
5
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
Cluster initiatives as think tanks for strategic differentiation in enterprises
3 See Zook und Allen: Repeatability: Build Enduring Businesses for a World of Constant Change, Harvard Business Review, Boston, Massachusetts, 2012.
4 See Rosenfeld: The Nexus of Innovation and Clusters, Peripheral and Less Favoured Regions Guide to smart cluster strategies, European Commission Directorate-General Regional
Policy, Brussels, 2012.
What are the drivers of strategic differentiation and where
are its limits? We will elaborate on this in more detail in
the following chapters.
2.1 Drivers of strategic differentiation
Unique selling propositions are becoming increasingly
important for the competitiveness of companies. Only
if the products and services of a company offer a true
added value that exceeds that of their competitors will
customers be prepared to pay a higher price and – maybe
even more important – establish a steady business rela-
tionship.3 The same, by the way, applies to consumers
and industry customers.
There is, however, the question of how enterprises will
be able to successfully distinguish themselves from their
competitors in the future. The often heard answer to this
question is “through innovation”. Because innovations –
mostly technological in kind – result in products and ser-
vices that stand out against those of competitors. Their
differentiation on the market is considered a matter of
fact, meaning, it virtually results from their technological
superiority.
Basically, this approach is not wrong but it must be exam-
ined more closely. Because practice shows that, today,
a differentiation on the market as a result of the mere
technological superiority of a product cannot be taken for
granted any longer.
Yet, why is the strategic differentiation so complex to-
day and why is it no longer sufficient to simply provide
for a technological edge on the market? There are mainly
two reasons for this: increasing global competition and
changing customer requirements, which cannot be met
as easily as, let’s say, 50 years ago.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the population’s basic essen-
tials were the main concern of the economy (figure 1).
The first priority was to supply the population with cars,
refrigerators, and TV sets. The focus of all innovation ac-
tivities was mainly on measures for cost-cutting to make
products available to the broad public. This included, for
example, the advancement of mass production.
Goal
Period
Competitive edge
Activities
1960s to 1970s
Make products
and services
cheaper
Costs
Division of labour,
automation
1980s to 1990s
Improve
products and
services
Quality and
reliability
Automation, flexible
specialization, just-
in-time production
Millennial
Offer better
products and
services
Creativity and
authenticity
Design, innovation,
differentiation
Fig. 1: Characteristics and primary goals of innovations4
6Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
Cluster initiatives as think tanks for strategic differentiation in enterprises
5 See Nowak: Auch Maschinen wecken Emotionen, Wirtschaft in Baden-Württemberg Nr. 2, Stuttgarter Zeitung Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Stuttgart, 2016.
6 ClusterAgentur Baden-Württemberg und Leichtbau BW GmbH, workshop with selected companies, Stuttgart, on 19-Feb-2016.
Over time, however, the customers’ requirements also
grew. The goal was no longer to supply the people with
sufficient goods, but with high-quality goods. So, in the
1980s and 1990s, the main focus was on quality improve-
ment of the products. At the same time, of course, the
cost of production had to be kept low because foreign
competitors from low-wage countries became increas-
ingly competitive and they were also able to supply the
populations of the industrial nations with simple low-cost
products.
Innovation activities therefore focused mainly on the im-
provement of quality. With better products, companies
could stand out from their competitors abroad and at the
same time meet the higher requirements of their cus-
tomers. In addition to that, there were important process
innovations, for example, just in time production, which
reduced the production costs even further.
During this period, the innovation activities mainly hap-
pened within a sector or industry. They were concerned
with the continuous improvement of their own products.
With the turn of the millennium, a third phase of this
development could be identified. The customer require-
ments have continued to grow. Today’s customers
expect to be enthused by their products. Products are
expected to trigger emotions. At the same time, compe-
tition from abroad grows increasingly stronger. Countries
such as India or China are more and more successful in
producing high-quality and competitive products. In many
areas of production, these countries have even become
global leaders.
For industrialized countries, this means that quality and a
low price will not be sufficient any longer to distinguish
them from their competitors. It is becoming increasingly
important to emotionalize products and services for the
customers, that means to create a wow factor. This is
also described as the unique user experience.
Aspects such as marketing and sales play an increasingly
important role in this regard. The customer should identify
himself with the brand and its products – that is become
a true fan. But that’s not all. A large number of engineers
work for Porsche, Mercedes, Audi, and BMW, designing
scents and noises for cars. Every switch must feature a
certain resistance so that it feels like it is of particularly
high quality, and picking up the new car is arranged as an
impressive show.
But it is not only the consumer markets where emotional
factors count. Even in mechanical engineering, designers
now pay attention to appearance and usability. According
to a designer, for example, white or blue machines can
be sold much more easily than machines with a green
coating. Until the beginning of the 90s, almost all ma-
chines were green, which is why green machines are au-
tomatically perceived as being old.5 However, this is only
an example that shows how important it is today not to
rely on technological inventions alone. Today, successful
innovations comprise a great variety of different inven-
tions from completely different areas such as marketing,
sales, design, usability, and also technology.
Insofar, companies must take into consideration the most
diverse aspects when realizing successful innovations.
This also becomes obvious when looking at the compa-
nies in Baden-Württemberg. Answering the question of
which were the fundamental drivers for strategic differ-
entiation, companies named the following root causes:6
Market as a driver:
Often, the core business in a company’s primary
market does not grow to the extent expected and nec-
essary to provide for long-term development perspec-
tives. Growing international competition (new players
in the field of technology) and the fear that alternative
technologies could result in an established market
vanishing unexpectedly make strategic differentiation
necessary, based on a company’s own core compe-
tencies.
Customer as a driver:
Customers often make new complex demands or
initiate changes in the supplier structure (for example,
aviation) that can only be mastered through strategic
differentiation.
Statutory requirements as drivers:
Electric mobility and the need to make production
more energy efficient than before are good examples
of how statutory requirements can act as drivers.
7
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
Cluster initiatives as think tanks for strategic differentiation in enterprises
New technologies as drivers:
New or converged technologies allow completely new
solutions (man-machine interaction, flexible adaptive
systems, miniaturization, etc.).
These can be excellently applied in connection with
a company’s own core competencies, to target new
markets and thus to differentiate from competitors.
However, they also mentioned several other conditions
that make a strategic differentiation easier for companies
in Baden-Württemberg. At this point, we would like to
mention the location factor in particular, because a good
infrastructure, the availability of excellent specialists, the
proximity to competitors, the high location costs, and the
high density of cooperation partners are beneficial for
strategic differentiation.
This provides an enormous potential for cluster initia-
tives. They must promote measures and activities that
stimulate a thinking out of the box and make companies
open for new ideas.
2.2 Limits of strategic differentiation
Yet, cluster managements and cluster political stakehold-
ers must take care that they don’t overstrain the compa-
nies with their demands for thinking out of the box and
the resulting options for strategic differentiation because
it is easy to identify new ideas and trends and experiment
with them. The challenge, however, is to also utilize and
market them. Only after companies have found function-
al business models and the right markets, can they suc-
cessfully stand out from their competitors and differenti-
ate strategically.
The “Kodak” example shows how difficult this can be.
Kodak had once been the pioneer in the area of digital
photography. In 1975, it was the first company to develop
a digital camera and was the first to launch it on the global
market in 1991. Today, digital photography has become
an absolute standard but the “Kodak” company has prac-
tically vanished from the market. The entire film and pho-
to production and the film processing division were sold.
The remaining parts of the company were merged with
“Kodak Alaris”.
There are of course several reasons for the demise of
Kodak. But one thing is for sure. As a pioneer of digital
photography, the company was unable to realize a sus-
tainable utilization and marketing of the new technolo-
gy. Among other things, a reason for this is that Kodak
had not focused on its core competencies, that is films
and the processing of films, but tried to focus on digital
cameras and printers instead. In these areas however,
competitors, with competencies that were clearly higher
than those of Kodak, had already been in these markets.
If Kodak had taken a closer look at how the digitalization
affected their core business, the company could still be
in the market today.
An example from Germany shows that a different out-
come is possible. The company CEWE Stiftung & Co.
KGaA had originally also been focused on analogue pho-
tography laboratories. They were able to cope with the
change and manage a similarly challenging reorganization
process. Up to this day, the company is still active in the
classic Kodak sector, with the exception that the custom-
ers today do not order the processing of films but rather
prints of their photographs from digital cameras. All this
still happens in the drugstore or at the photo centre.
Now, Kodak was a large-scale enterprise and these are
often said to be specifically slow in terms of innovations.
But also small and medium-sized enterprises have their
problems with respect to the utilization and marketing
of technologies in the market. This is because SMEs are
mostly highly specialized in specific products and ser-
vices. Some enterprises may even offer only one prod-
uct or service. New products, services, but also business
models, are therefore always extremely risky.
It is thus easier for them to continuously improve exist-
ing products or services to accomplish a differentiation in
the market. In the future, however, these improvement
innovations will not suffice any longer to stand out from
competitors. New products and services must be devel-
oped that require a diversity of competencies to launch
them on the market. There are two reasons that make
it particularly difficult for SMEs. On the one hand, they
cannot afford to just test new products or services in the
market because, if they fail, this could also mean that the
entire company will vanish from the market.
8Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
Cluster initiatives as think tanks for strategic differentiation in enterprises
On the other hand, they cannot easily establish new de-
partments that can take over the required competencies
such as design, marketing, or the like. For this, they are
dependent on other external partners, which means ex-
tra expenses. As a result, the utilization and marketing of
new ideas is highly risky for SMEs and must be well pre-
pared. In most cases, they will not have a second chance.
Last but not least, we have the start-up companies. It
is slightly easier for them to integrate new trends and
developments into their business models. Mostly, they
do not have fixed structures and can therefore react ex-
tremely flexibly in the market. Start-up companies are,
therefore, open for all options of differentiation from their
competitors. Often however, they don’t have the neces-
sary funding and the trust of the markets. Without the
necessary trust, it is difficult for them to find investors to
support their ideas.
It appears that the utilization and marketing of new ideas
is particularly challenging for these companies. Their own
competencies and resources therefore determine the lim -
its of their options for further strategic differentiation.
Yet, here lies the enormous potential for cluster initiatives
because these challenges can be faced and mastered
through common action within an initiative. For this, it
is necessary to develop suitable services for companies
and to carry out effective measures.
9
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
New perspectives regarding innovation processes
Academic
community
Free market
Fundamental
research
Applied
research Development Marketing
Fig. 2: Ideal innovation process
3 New perspectives regarding innovation processes
The core element of the innovation process is therefore
the technological invention. It ultimately leads to a com-
petitive advantage in the market. This perception of the
innovation process results in a simplified idea of input and
output with regard to innovations. According to this, as
many technological inventions as possible will automa-
ti cally lead to the creation of many new successful pro-
ducts and services that will secure the competitive ad-
vantage of companies on a global scale.
This perception is reflected by the measures support-
ing innovations, whether taken by the companies them-
selves or by politics. Many resources are used to advance
technological innovations in particular. This is evident in
the many innovation indicators that are still valid even
today. Often, a high proportion of R&D investments, or
a high number of patent applications per inhabitant, are
seen as indicators for a particularly innovative economy.
However, this perception of innovation processes falls
short. The Oslo Manual, in which the OECD describes
the term innovation with all its subcategories, recognizes
the importance of these different aspects. It differenti-
ates between service, marketing, design, or process in-
novations to name just a few (Oslo Manual, 2005).
However, this perception is again based on silos. It cre-
ates the impression that a decision must be made for
either one or the other. This leads to the idea that com-
panies must specialize and choose a specific form of
innovation. Yet, this concept would also be too simple
because it is the combination of a very diverse range of
ideas from the most different areas that ultimately makes
for successful innovations.
To carry out more targeted measures for the promotion
of a strategic differentiation of companies in cluster ini-
tiatives, it would therefore be reasonable to adopt a new
perspective on innovation processes that has its focus
on the two aspects mentioned in chapter 2.1. On the one
hand, this means that innovations will no longer be per-
ceived as purely technological inventions, but rather as
a combination of very differing ideas and developments
from a diverse range of fields, industries, and sectors.
On the other hand, the utilization and marketing of new
ideas are increasingly placed in the focus.
Because the instruments used for promoting technol-
ogies and innovations – including the many measures
taken by cluster initiatives – are still based on a rather tra-
ditional perception of the innovation process, innovation
is depicted as a linear process. It starts with fundamental
research, continues with applied research and ends with
the marketing and thus successful introduction of a new
product or service on the market. Figure 2 shows an ex-
ample of such an idealized process.
The starting point of the process is an invention – mostly
technological in kind – that has its origins in fundamental
research. This invention is then developed further in the
direction of specific applications in applied research. At
this point, it is taken up by the companies who will then
perfect them until they are ready for the market.
The successful placement on the market at the end of
the innovation process is almost seen as a matter of
course. By its technological superiority, the product dif-
ferentiates and stands out from other offerings on the
market and will, therefore, be commercially successful
in the end.
10 Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
New perspectives regarding innovation processes
This is the only way that companies will be able to stand
out in the market and emphasize their unique selling
propositions in the future. This is why it is necessary to
take a look at the innovation process from a completely
new angle.
The question is, what should this new perspective look
like? It is perfectly clear, however, that it won’t be pos-
sible to represent the full complexity of innovation pro-
cesses in a model. It is still important to develop an idea
of how innovation processes work, and which difficulties
or problems can occur as they develop.
At first, it is necessary to determine the assumptions
upon which the perception of innovation processes is
based.
Focus on the company’s perspective
It is the responsibility of cluster initiatives to promote
innovations in companies. For this, the innovation
process must be regarded from the perspective of a
company. This is not always about technological prog-
ress and development, but rather about competitive
advantage.
Utilization and marketing as important elements of the
innovation process
Given the fact that companies should be in the focus
of innovation processes, it is important to make the
utilization and marketing of new products and services
a priority. They have become increasingly important
elements of the innovation process, ultimately adding
the decisive added value for the companies.
Define the new role of research and development
Putting the focus on utilization and marketing also
means a new role for research and development
(R&D).
In the process, however, two important aspects are
neglected:
Companies very often adapt the technologies devel-
oped by the research institutions; that means that
they are the consumers of the new technologies
only. That is, they are not actively involved in their
development. They only use the technologies to
tackle their challenges and solve their problems.
Many innovations do not require any additional R&D
expense at all. They are created by applying existing
technologies in new contexts.
This new role of R&D must be included in the
representations of innovation processes to a greater
extent.
Result-driven method
The structuring of innovation processes should be
driven by the results and should not describe the
measures and activities taken to achieve such results.
The involved participants themselves will individually
decide how these results will be implemented in the
end. It would not make any sense to outline require-
ments in this regard.
3.1 Important elements of the innovation
process
From the given facts mentioned in chapter 3, certain ele-
ments of the innovation process can be defined. Accord-
ingly, there are different phases that may be designed
very differently.
In the following, these phases will be explained in more
detail.
Creative phase:
This phase focuses on the generation of ideas or the
analysis of a problem. The difference between the
two is, whether a company intends to actively work
out a solution (generation of ideas) or, if it must react
to changes in the market (problem analysis).
Both approaches will ultimately result in the definition
of the problem and the planning of a project or activity
to solve the problem.
R&D realization phase:
The goal of the R&D realization phase is a marketable
product or service which can either be the outcome of
a radically new development or a simple optimization
measure of the same. For this, it is not necessarily
required to develop new technologies. It is also pos-
sible to adapt developments made by state-owned
research institutions. In this phase, it is no longer
decisive whether these developments have been
made in fundamental or applied research. The only
thing that counts here is that, at the end of the pro-
cess, there is a marketable product or service.
Utilization phase:
The focus of the utilization phase is on the develop-
ment of new business models. Its goal is to generate
sales and profits with new products or services. Es-
pecially for companies, a solid stable business model
11
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
New perspectives regarding innovation processes
1
2
3
4
R&D
realization phase
Creative
phase
Creative
phase
Creative
phase R&D
realization phase
Creative
phase
Utilization
phase
Utilization
phase
Utilization
phase
Utilization
phase
R&D
realization phase
Marketing phase
Marketing
phase
Marketing
phase
Marketing
phase
Fig. 3: Different options for workflows of innovation processes
is of particular importance for new developments.
A crucial factor is that existing business models can
also be used for utilization in this regard. Moreover,
there may well be several different business models
for a product, or these could be applied and utilized
in different contexts. Needs of, and benefits for, the
target groups and sales markets must be taken into
consideration as early as in the utilization phase. The
utilization phase is a decisive one for the companies
because it significantly contributes to a company’s
strategic differentiation.
Marketing:
In the marketing phase, the goal is to successfully
place the product or service on the market for the
target group. The timing and the readiness for the
market play another important role here – the readi-
ness for the market in two ways actually: how ready
is the product for the market and how ready is the
market for the product or service. In this phase, the
corresponding marketing and sales strategies must be
developed based on the markets and target groups.
Of course, the elements of the innovation process are
portrayed simplistically only. And yet, the result-driven
approach becomes very clear. It is still up to the market
participants to design their own individual phases in de-
tail. The results that are worked out are decisive. This
becomes obvious, for example, in the R&D realization
phase. Basically, it is irrelevant whether research has
been conducted for many years or existing technologies
have only been adapted. The important thing is that, at
the end of this phase, there is a marketable product or
service.
3.2 Different types of innovation processes
The individual phases that are explained in more detail
below can run in different settings. Figure 3 shows the
different workflow options of the innovation process.
Scenario 1: traditional innovation process
Scenario 1 describes the ideal traditional innovation
process. During the creative phase, the problems
are defined that can be solved with the support of
research and development. On this basis, a new busi-
ness model is developed for the new products and
services, or an existing one is used. At the end of the
process, the products or services are marketed after a
successful launch.
Scenario 2: research-driven innovation process
At the beginning of the research-driven innovation
process, there is an invention as a result of research.
Therefore, the R&D realization phase is at the begin-
ning of the process. Companies take up these new
developments and work out ideas in the creative
phase as to how these could be introduced to the
market. In the utilization phase then, business models
are designed that allow the marketing of these new
developments.
Scenario 3: business model-based innovation pro-
cess including R&D
The difference between the business model-based
innovation process and the traditional innovation
process is that the utilization phase comes before
the actual R&D realization phase. This means that the
suitable technologies to implement the solutions are
identified based on a possible business model.
12 Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
New perspectives regarding innovation processes
7 See Ripsas and Tröger: Deutscher Startup Monitor 2014, KPMG Germany, Berlin, 2014.
8 See IBN Global Services (editor): Expanding the Innovation Horizon, The Global CEO Study, New York, 2006, [Online] www-935.ibm.com/services/us/gbs/bus/pdf/ceostudy.pdf,
[Access on 25-Apr-2106].
With this approach, the company becomes the consumer
of the suitable technologies developed by the research
and development institutions. A company is not pushed
to the suitable business model as it is the case with the
traditional or research-driven innovation process.
Scenario 4: business model-based innovation pro-
cess without R&D
An idea can also be directly realized in a new busi-
ness model without any additional R&D expenses.
The main priority here is the exploration of new fields
of business and markets. For example, a new sales
model can lead to the successful launch of existing
products and services on a market. Or products and
services can be used in a new context without any
major changes.
3.3 The role of business models in innovation
processes
When speaking about innovations and progress, peo-
ple usually think of technological innovations. It is eas-
ily overlooked that over the past years more and more
successful companies have been founded, that managed
to successfully establish their businesses on the market
by so-called non-technological innovations. Non-techno-
logical innovations include new types of product, service,
process, organization, and marketing concepts. In addi-
tion, non-technological innovations also include a new
business model.
The term business model means the description of how
a company generates value and income on the market by
designing the value adding process.7 The business model
generally represents the core business of the company
and its revenue model. This includes products, services,
operating model, revenue model, target customers, sup-
ply chain and suppliers, and strategic partners.
In chapter 3, it was explained that the business model
plays a key role especially in the utilization phase and that
it is the ultimate success factor for a specific innovation.
It therefore makes sense to work out the topic of “busi-
ness models as innovation drivers” in more detail. The
study conducted by IBM in 2006 was the first practical
study to have a closer look at the topic of “business mod-
els as innovation drivers” (business model innovations).8
At that point in time, in the opinion of the interviewed
managers, business model innovations were already
the third important innovation type used by companies
worldwide following product and service innovations
(first place) and innovations involving entrepreneurial core
processes (second place). Just under 30 percent of all
innovation activities involved the development of new or
the improvement of existing business models. These ac-
tivities are and have been mainly driven by the extremely
positive financial effects that can be achieved by busi-
ness model innovations. Their importance has increased
significantly since then.
3.3.1 Business model innovations
Usually, business model innovations are understood to
be significant changes in a company’s business model,
through which the customer requirements can be ful-
filled better than with the original business model. These
changes can be realized by adaptations or combinations
of existing elements. Business model innovations can ei-
ther be completely new developments or advanced busi-
ness models.
Sophisticated business model innovations combine pro-
duct or service innovations with newly developed or
advanced capabilities, structures, and processes. How -
e ver, the importance and effectiveness of business model
innovations is still underestimated. Although it clearly
shows that if an optimal business model is used, even
an average product or service innovation may generate
big profits (for example, App Store). It is also true that
even an outstanding product or service innovation cannot
compensate an inappropriate business model.
13
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
New perspectives regarding innovation processes
The necessity to innovatively design and continuously de-
velop business models represents a specific challenge for
companies in Baden-Württemberg, especially after having
operated successfully on the market for so many years.
The willingness to change or advance existing business
models is therefore extremely low. And this is the criti-
cal point. An innovative business model is indispensable
for a sustainable success on the market. In times of con-
stant change, companies must actively counter dynamic
market situations, industrial transformation processes,
and the continuously growing environmental influences.
If these influences are neglected by clinging to formerly
successful business models, companies can easily expe-
rience economic difficulties. Especially recent years have
shown that there is no such thing as an everlasting com-
petitive advantage. Outdated business models lose their
formerly strong market position or are completely driven
out of the market.
More and more often, established companies are con-
fronted by competitors from other industry sectors. The
following examples in particular, Motel One, in the hotel
business, and Car2go, in car sharing, show how estab-
lished participants can be driven out of the market.
iTunes
With the introduction of CD ROMs and digitaliza-
tion, a new quality of storing and playing music was
achieved. The progress made in the production of stor-
age media and with new data compression methods
formed the technological basis for MP3 players. With
these, tunes (and later also videos) were no longer
bound to physical media and could be copied without
any loss in quality. This led to the establishment of
exchange platforms that circumvented the copyright
laws. Based on this situation, Apple developed a busi-
ness model that made the data rather than the storage
media the key of its business model. To make this
business model viable for the end customer, including
the necessary payment processes, they developed the
iTunes software as well as the iPod product range as
the necessary hardware. Their concept of operation is
based on the existing Apple philosophy. iTunes allows
the playing of music, including data management and
integration with the end devices.
Motel One
At first glance, when it was founded in 2000, Motel
One appeared to be a low cost hotel chain like many
others. Motel One’s innovative business model is
based on a successful combination of attractive pric-
es, high quality, and central locations. The Motel One
hotels are located in big cities at the best locations,
room prices start at €49 per night, furnished in ac-
cordance with certain individual mottos, with a classy
design to create a lounge-type atmosphere. Their best
sales argument – the price – can only be kept so low
by reducing additional features and services. There are
no closets, safes, minibars, no room service and no
telephones in their 16 m2 rooms. Breakfast is also not
included. However, they offer name-brand flat screen
TV sets, designer lamps, granite flooring, and high
quality bed linen. This concept is much appreciated by
business customers and tourists on city trips who do
not demand much service and book for a few nights
only.
Car2go
Another example for successful companies are Car2go
or moovel who offer car sharing services, that means,
flexible mobility solutions. The impetus for this type of
innovation are, among other things, the changing be-
haviour patterns in the society. While it was formerly
true, without any limitations, that every person of legal
age or at least every household should own their own
car, a new alternative mobility practice has established
itself over time: cars can be shared; one can use it
without owning it. Today, car sharing is an established
mobility concept that has become a fixed element of
big-city life in particular. Technological developments
such as smart phones, internet, or telematics facilitate
car sharing, but must rather be seen as instruments.
Business model innovations are of high interest, especially
for founders of enterprises, because the development
expense is usually lower and the market can be entered
quickly. It is therefore not surprising that start-ups in the
ICT sector, in particular, are increasingly based on new
business models rather than product or technology in-
novations. Examples for this are Uber, WhatsApp, and
Spotify.
14 Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
New perspectives regarding innovation processes
Fig. 4: Selected business model evolutions9
Original business model including
core competency Business model evolution
HOCHTIEF Aktiengesellschaft: Construction
company with development and management
competencies
HOCHTIEF Airport GmbH:
Airport investor, manager, and consultant
Deutsche Lufthansa AG:
Airline including airport competencies
Lufthansa Consulting GmbH:
Air traffic consultancy
BLG LOGISTICS GROUP AG & Co. KG:
Port handling company including automobile
competencies
BLG AUTOMOBILE LOGISTICS GmbH & Co. KG:
Automotive finisher and logistics services
Porsche AG:
Automotive manufacturer including restructuring
competencies
Porsche Consulting GmbH: Consultancy for
operative business optimization
BASF SE:
Chemical company including material competen-
cies
BASF Battery Materials division:
Lithium ion battery component manufacturer
geobra Brandstätter GmbH & Co. KG (Playmobil);
Lego A/S, Ravensburger AG:
Toy manufacturer including entertainment
competencies
Playmobil FunPark; Legoland Freizeitparks;
Ravensburger Spieleland:
Amusement park operators
JCDecaux SA:
Outdoor advertising specialist including inner-city
decoration competencies
Cyclocity:
Bicycle rental system
Fjällräven:
Clothing manufacturer with outdoor competencies
Fjällräven:
Outdoor, expedition, event organizer
Betty Bossi Verlag AG:
Cookbook publisher with culinary cooking and
baking competencies
Betty Bossi Kochschule:
Culinary school operator
Telefónica Germany GmbH & Co. OHG;
Vodafone GmbH:
Telephone / internet provider
MPass:
Mobile cash financial service provider
Parfümerie Douglas GmbH; Marionnaud Lafayette:
Perfumery with beauty competencies
Beauty Lounge der Parfümerie Douglas GmbH;
M Institut:
Beauty lounge / day-spa operator
BYD Company Limited:
Lithium ion battery manufacturer with production
competencies
BYD Company Limited:
Manufacturer of electric vehicles
9 Zentes and Steinhauer and Lonnes: Geschäftsmodell-Evolution: Unternehmensentwicklung als Dynamisierung von Kernprozessen, Institut für Handel und internationales Marketing
(editor), Saarbrücken, 2013, p. 3, [Online] www.uni-saarland.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Professoren/fr13_ProfZentes/sonstiges/Zentes Steinhauer Lonnes_2013_-_Geschaeftsmo-
dell-Evolution.pdf, [Access on 28-Apr-2016].
15
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
New perspectives regarding innovation processes
10 See Buchholz and Wangler: Digitalisierung und neue Geschäftsmodelle, iit-Themenband 2016, Wittpahl (editor), Springer Vieweg, Wiesbaden, 2016.
11 See Gassmann and Frankenberger and Csik: Geschäftsmodelle entwickeln: 55 innovative Konzepte mit dem St. Galler Business Model Navigator, Hanser-Verlag, Munich, 2013,
p 73 et. seq.
The question is how well-established companies can
deal with this challenge? Large companies use either
the tool of spin-offs or a targeted improvement of their
often multi-layered business models. In practice, there
are many examples of how established companies have
developed their business models through dynamization
of their core competencies, based on different drivers.
These examples show that business models are not
static objects but must be continuously optimized and
innovated by the companies to be able to maintain a sus-
tainable position in the market (figure 4). In this respect
also, product and technological innovations play only a
minor role.
Mid-tech companies or standard production companies
usually manufacture products with only a low level of
technological and functional complexity and a high de-
gree of standardization; these are often produced in large
series and are based on a mature and well-established
technological principle. We know that they are under
pressure from two sides: Firstly, they must react to fierc-
er price and cost pressure due to globalization. Secondly,
these SMEs usually employ standardized business mod-
els as suppliers and their human and financial resources
are limited. Nevertheless, the company size also has its
advantages. Based on their small size, their strengths are
their great flexibility, which is reflected, for example, in a
low degree of formalized organizational structures. Based
on the fact that the manager is very often the owner of
the company too, they tend to have a trust-based com-
pany culture. Cluster managements can be specifically
effective here if they manage to build the required trust
and offer relevant services.
With their very specific organizational and personnel
structures, these SMEs can be very successful despite
their problematic situation – the limited resources and
simple standard products that are under price pressure. It
is critical for their success that the companies manage to
develop and realize comprehensive or “holistic” business
models. Chapter 4 shows some examples for this.
3.3.2 Digitalization as a current driver of new business
models
Especially the continuous digitalization process facilitates
the development of new business models which can be
used by start-ups and traditional companies alike. How-
ever, the internet also enables new economic or techno-
logical business models. The rapid changes in the digital
world make it impossible to rely on former experiences,
in this respect, and make it hard to estimate the chances
of success.
Digitalization is a driver of innovations and a major force
behind the business model disruptions in many indus-
tries: It started with Amazon, Google, and Apple. How-
ever, that was only the beginning. Recent examples show
how young companies such as WhatsApp, Tesla, Uber,
or Airbnb revolutionize entire industries with a single clev-
er idea, how they break up the value chains and startle
established market participants which are often large
enterprises. Old industries and companies are seriously
challenged by small newcomers, unless they prepare for
them in due time and digitalize their own business mod-
els. The developments in the music and film distributing
industry hold some good examples for this: Former top
dogs such as Warner Music and the Sony Music Group
are only shadows of their former selves and have even
mutated to candidates for restructuring measures (for ex-
ample, Sony). Blockbuster Video became insolvent and
vanished from the market completely.
Minor incremental changes are sometimes sufficient to
adapt business models to new requirements that have
become necessary due to the digital change.10 Many
business models had already existed before the digitali-
zation process took place, but they include elements that
are compatible with the characteristics of digital products
and services. Three such business models are listed be-
low as examples:11
Freemium – the basic product is available free of
charge, upgrades can be purchased and are used
to fund the full offering (examples: Adobe, Skype,
Spotify).
16 Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
New perspectives regarding innovation processes
12 See Künzel and Schulz and Gabriel: Engineering für Industrie 4.0 – das Zukunftsmodell, Berlin, 2016.
Make more of it – know-how and the available
resources are not used for their own products exclu-
sively, but are offered as services to other companies
as well (examples: Porsche, Festo Didactic, BASF).
Razor / razorblade model – the basic product is
extremely cheap or even free of charge, the required
wearing parts, however, are expensive and generate
high margins (examples: Gillette, Nestlé Nespresso,
PC printers).
Extremely critical for the necessary digital business mod-
el innovations are essential software and web-based
technologies for the further use of cloud computing and
big data. Both trends trigger disruptive changes because
they have the potential to create completely new mar-
kets and to make new demands on existing business
models. The ability to analyze and utilize large volumes of
data commercially must be seen as a key competency to
benefit from these change processes that are described
above. However, innovative business models, in the con-
text of cloud computing and big data, are often primarily
developed by young companies.12
At the same time, the digital change leads to restructur-
ings of existing value chains. The borders between the in-
ternal and external areas of the businesses are becoming
blurred. The spectrum in this regard ranges from prod-
uct-based collaborative cross-company engineering to
the self-organized production in the sense of the Industry
4.0 paradigm, and ends with predictive maintenance. This
increasing digital penetration of the value chain has a hori-
zon tal (along the product’s life cycle) and also a vertical
(along the actual value chain) effect. This is demonstrated
as an example of engineering as a key competence of
technology-based innovation processes.
Another challenge is to recognize and address the chang-
es in the requirements regarding competencies that re-
sult from the digital change. This applies to both areas of
training, basic and advanced, but at completely different
levels. Partly, this also requires changes in the corporate
cultures of the rather traditional small and medium-sized
companies. How difficult it is to implement a cultural
change is shown by the large number of companies that
were among the best in the past in terms of technology,
but which have missed out on the new trends because,
among other things, they were unable to establish new
successful business models.
Despite these challenges, digital change provides a large
number of opportunities for companies who manage to
use and benefit from it. A key finding is that the success-
ful realization of digital potential requires the develop-
ment of new business models. At the same time, the
digitalization increasingly leads to radical changes of ex-
isting business models and, as a result, business model
innovations are becoming more and more important.
However, digital transformation not only incurs risks im-
posed by new aggressive market participants, it also cre-
ates many new opportunities for companies. To continue
to generate sales, companies should think about how
they can expand their existing product portfolios with the
help of digital platforms and technologies to add value for
their customers (product development). Companies also
have the opportunities to develop completely new digital
products and services and offer them on completely new
markets (diversification). In this regard, digitalization is a
driver of innovations and a major force behind the actual
product and service innovations in many industries. The
internet develops constantly and this will definitely not
change in the future.
17
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
Successful strategic differentiation of enterprises
13 See Bernd Kußmaul GmbH, [online] www.bernd-kussmaul-gmbh.de, [Access on 19-May-2016].
4 Successful strategic differentiation of enterprises
In most cases, the products are realized within the part-
ner network that they have established over the years.
And this is their unique selling proposition and the ex-
traordinary business model of the company.
Within this close network which is built on common pro-
jects and the partners’ intense cooperation, there is a high
degree of trust and a well-established system of cooper-
ation. The goals of this network are to create high-quality
and flawless products, to which every partner contrib-
utes their specific capabilities to a common project which
is profitable for all of them. Kußmaul sees itself as the
leader of this network who acts as the contractor for the
large enterprises and subcontracts individual jobs to its
partners.
Furthermore, Bernd Kußmaul is actively involved in indi-
vidual cluster initiatives to expand his base of contacts, to
expand his knowledge network, and to gain new know-
ledge, mostly from areas beyond his own key areas. His
goals in this regard are rather long-term and unspecific.
In this context, his company is usually one of many. For
innovations, however, an involvement in both types of
networks is important. There is a certain degree of per-
meability.13
4.2 Festo: research using networks and
cooperation projects
The company Festo with headquarters in Esslingen am
Neckar is a specialist for pneumatic and electric automa-
tion technology. With €2.64 billion in sales and 18,700
employees, they are global players and, at the same
time, an independent family-owned enterprise. Since it
is a technology company that exclusively supplies busi-
ness customers (B2B), one would assume that they have
not only classic research and development but also stan-
dardized innovation processes. Indeed, the traditional in-
novation process described in model 1 is the one that
is best suited for Festo’s requirements where a defined
problem is at the beginning of the process that needs to
be solved with the help of research and development.
Festo intends to be an innovation leader and conducts
In the following, we will go into more detail with exam-
ples of companies who have successfully implemented
their strategic differentiation, in most cases with the goal
to ensure their competitiveness or to expand their busi-
nesses. It shows here that differentiation primarily takes
place within the area of a company’s core competencies,
that is, that they are relevant for the innovation process.
4.1 Bernd Kußmaul: innovation through
coordination and product upgrades
After working as an employee in sales and purchasing
in the racing business, Bernd Kußmaul, a mechanic, me-
chanical engineer, and graduate in technical business ad-
ministration, founded his own one-man business. As a
sourcing specialist, he coordinated projects with regard
to mechanical components in the areas of mechanical
engineering and medical engineering. Only three years
after founding his business, he took over the purchasing
and project management for all of the newly designed
engine parts for the Audi RS4. Today, 17 years later, the
company Bernd Kußmaul GmbH has about 50 employees
and describes its competencies as project and production
management, and the communication of such processes.
Research and development in the traditional sense –
involving research institutions and funding applications
– take too long in Kußmaul’s opinion and are not efficient
enough. Therefore, he uses the innovation process de-
scribed above in scenario 4 that starts with the creative
phase, proceeds with the utilization phase and ends with
the marketing phase (chapter 3.2). Bernd Kußmaul and
his team use this process for all products related to the
topics of lifestyle, mobility, health, and individuality, pri-
marily for luxury products. These can be trims made of
anodized high-gloss aluminium for the interior or exteri-
or of luxury cars such as Bugatti or Jaguar, or their own
products, for example, the TimeTube. The TimeTube is
a handcrafted individual piece of furniture for collectors
to store timepieces or cigars. All of the parts for this are,
by far, not manufactured by the Kußmaul company; the
company considers itself as the architect of the technical
processes.
18 Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
Successful strategic differentiation of enterprises
14 See Nowak: Die Industrie ist gegenüber Google im Vorteil, Stuttgarter Zeitung 25.04.2016, [Online] www.stuttgarter-zeitung.de/inhalt.festo-chef-im-interview-die-industrie-ist-ge- ge-
nueber-google-im-vorteil.c8066ea9-96be-46ee-b873-3d433afa8f59.html, [Access on 19-May-2016].
See Hommel: Industrie 4.0 verbannt Menschen nicht aus Werkhallen, Handelsblatt 28.04.2016, [Online] www.handelsblatt.com/technik/hannovermesse/das-internet-der-men-
schen-die-fuehrungskraft-wird-zum-dirigenten/13496690-2.html, [Access on 19-May-2016].
See Festo AG: Netzwerke und Kooperationen, [Online] www.festo.com/group/de/cms/10269.htm, [Access on 19-May-2016].
See Festo AG: Industrie 4.0 - Das Thema der Bildungselite?, [Online] www.festo.com/cms/de-at_at/19301.htm, [Access on 19-May-2016].
research in the areas and topics that are of critical impor-
tance for the company. These areas are mechatronics,
the latest simulation technologies, microsystem technol-
ogy, and smart components for the connected industry
– or industry 4.0 – and for interaction with humans. Each
year, Festo invests more than €200 million – that is 8%
of their annual sales – into research and development,
thus following what sometimes is a more unconventional
path and using a much more comprehensive and creative
approach than most of the other mechanical engineering
companies.
For example, Festo uses the annual Hannover fair, the
largest trade show worldwide, to present a new bionic
concept, mostly in the form of an animal. In April 2016,
these were cybernetic ants. The ANT in BionicANTs
stands for both their natural prototype and for Autono-
mous Networking Technologies, which copy the social
behaviour of ants in their colonies. Ants make their own
decisions and act autonomously but communicate with
each other before they transport things together. These
are properties that will also be required in future factory
control systems. This cooperative behaviour of animals
was translated into the world of technology for the first
time by using complex algorithms. Festo named this re-
search programme Bionic Learning Network.
The Scharnhausen technology factory is a production
plant and also a research and development facility. At
this model factory, the production plants feature a mod-
ular design through which they can react highly flexibly
to different product variations, which can be tested and
optimized there as well. The plant is also Festo’s lead-
ing location for the production of valves, valve clusters,
and electronics. Industry 4.0 is to become a reality at the
technology factory. There, the employees cooperate with
flexible robots which take over ergonomically awkward
assembly tasks. Another key issue at Festo is energy ef-
ficiency. It is considered a competitive factor that is con-
sequently integrated into development, production, and
customer processes. Therefore, the model factory also
has a holistic system of energy transparency in which all
the energy currents and consumptions within the factory
are documented. The maintenance staff can quickly iden-
tify and remove all faults and errors on machines with the
help of a tablet computer and an app.
For six years now, the company has issued the Festo
Trend Barometer. The Gallup Institute, which conducts
the study on behalf of Festo, interviews other companies
and prepares the results, which are published by Festo
free of charge. In February 2016, for example, they inter-
viewed 500 representatives from other industry sectors
on the telephone for this study. Topics were, for example,
the awareness for industry 4.0, their expectations with
respect to its effects, and basic and advanced training.
With these and partly other very open-minded research
approaches, Festo distinguishes itself considerably from
its competitors and other companies of the same size. It
literally instructs its employees in the area of R&D to try
things out and experiment in addition to their work on
the classic innovation processes and controlled scenar-
ios or trend analyses. This includes the participation at
events and trade fairs, and also the active involvement
in clusters and networks. Cooperation with partners and
networks is considered a part of their innovation strategy
and is even mentioned on their website as an element of
Festo’s innovation culture. The company considers their
dialogue with partners from industry, science and the
government to be beneficial because it helps them pick
up impulses from the global research environment more
quickly. Together with network partners, they develop fu-
ture perspectives and smart solutions.
Festo cooperates with a large number of regional, na-
tional, and European networks, for example, with the
Forschungscampus ARENA 2036, the Innovationsal-
lianz innBW, the Landesnetzwerk Mechatronik BW, the
Fachverband Fluidtechnik within the VDMA, microTEC
Südwest, the industrie 4.0 platform, the European tech-
nology platform ManuFuture and the EFFRA – European
Factories of the Future Research Association.14
19
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
Successful strategic differentiation of enterprises
4.3 Vorwerk: waiting for the market to become
mature and learning from Apple
Thinking about the Vorwerk brand, a dark green vacuum
cleaner that is rather old-fashioned, and a sales represen-
tative at your door who tries to sell such a “Kobold” vac-
uum cleaner may come to mind. The 133-year-old family
enterprise from Wuppertal that started out as a carpet
factory, meanwhile generates annual sales of more than
€1 billion (€2.8 billion in 2014) with their Thermomix
TM5. This food processor costs €1,199 and has a deliv-
ery time of 12 weeks. This raises the question why this
product is so successful?
The product was launched by Vorwerk in the 1970s as
a heatable mixer. The idea came from the manager of
their French branch at the time, who asked himself how
practical it would be to be able to cook soup in a mixer.
For a while, the device remained an unnoticed by-product
until Vorwerk started with the creative phase again and
redefined its design and use in 1998. The self-conception
that the Thermomix stood for a new way of cooking
and that it required recipes that came directly from the
manufacturer was the key to success. Moreover, a device
that intends to revolutionize the cooking process must
have a futuristic design and have an eye on usability. In
this process, Vorwerk was strongly influenced by Apple,
admits Uwe Kemker, head of the design department in
an interview with the ZEIT magazine, for example, when
it comes to the colour selection (white instead of green),
and the intuitive operation that allows the selection of
recipes like the tunes on an iPod. You just select one of
200 recipes in the display, click through the ingredients
one by one by using the integrated scales until the dish
is ready to eat. Although it required the integration of
technological features, it rather resembles a business
model-based innovation process without R&D, because
the basic technology of the device has barely changed
since the 1970s.
The creative phase is therefore followed by the utilization
and marketing phase. These two phases are very close
to each other and even overlap in parts. The success of
Thermomix is closely related to its readiness for the mar-
ket. Even if the product had had a more attractive design
and a different marketing concept at the point of time it
was invented, Vorwerk would likely not have been able
to sell significantly more products. At the beginning of
the 21st century, however, the time was ripe to create
the market for this product. Other than in the 1970s, we
no longer have the classic housewives, but more single
households, single parents, and working parents, who
have less time to cook daily. The digitalization and also
the trends towards home-made things and organic and
healthy food are beneficial for sales. Whether vegan
lunches or home-made baby food, the Thermomix can be
used to fulfil all these needs more easily and quickly than
traditional kitchen utensils.
The existing business model of direct marketing that had
been successful for so many decades was applied to the
Thermomix and optimized. There are no TV commercials,
no ads in papers, or billboards. The Thermomix cannot
be purchased in stores or on the internet. It is only sold
directly through representatives, using a sophisticated
psychological sales method following a certain script.
It follows the concept of the Tupper party where you
meet in a trusting private environment and test and try
everything. This concept of participation is intended to
trigger the desire to own the device while attending the
presentation. There are training courses and manuals for
the representatives. They earn their margin from each
product sold without bearing any financial risk. Represen-
tatives doing very well receive attractive rewards, with a
Brilliance Club for the best of them. Vorwerk attempts to
control this model as well as possible. The sales figures
alone show the power of this business model and its suc-
cessful marketing. In Germany, there are about 34,500
freelance Thermomix representatives. The company’s
website states the unbelievable number of 591,156
self-employed representatives world-wide who sell Vor-
werk products.
In the meantime, the former products are following the
Thermomix, which has been awarded with renowned de-
sign awards. In 2013, for example, the Kobold vacuum
cleaner models were redesigned in a completely white
design. Indeed, the Thermomix itself will be adapted to
trends and markets in order to successfully defend their
USP which was created by strategic differentiation. In
this regard, there also appears to be a parallel to Apple.
Similar to iTunes, a web-enabled Thermomix could be
used to download new recipes from the internet. They
are even thinking about ordering ingredients via the inter-
net and a delivery service. This also explains Vorwerk’s
involvement in the HelloFresh delivery service that was
founded in 2011.15
20 Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
Successful strategic differentiation of enterprises
4.4 ZIM aircraft seats: from service provider to
product manufacturer
With the foundation of the ZIM Flugsitz GmbH in 2008,
Angelika and Peter Zimmermann of Markdorf on Lake
Constance decided to no longer remain the service pro-
vider they had been since 1995 with their engineering
firm ZIM GmbH, but to become manufacturers of aircraft
seats. Through their highly qualified engineers with their
comprehensive experience in aircraft development and
fibre composite structures, the engineering firm already
had the competencies to design aircraft seats that were
lighter than the current models on the market. This proce-
dure comes closest to a development-driven innovation
process (Scenario 2) during which the engineering firm
developed their own product, but without the involve-
ment of external research institutions or universities. Of
special significance in this regard is the utilization phase
that required a decision on how the product development
could be marketed successfully. After all, the company
had only 20 employees at that time and faced an extreme-
ly powerful international competition with regard to its
first economy seat EC-01. That was also the time when
demanding certification and testing procedures were
necessary which are required in the aviation industry to
market an approved product at all. As its business model,
ZIM Flugsitz opted for an assembly plant with suppliers
that should be located in the vicinity of their own plant to
produce the individual seat components. With regard to
the marketing of the products, the company benefitted
from their many years of experience in the industry which
allowed a realistic assessment of the market potential
and also the establishment of a sales organisation that
addressed the airlines directly.
The intention of their entrepreneurial decision to manu-
facture their own product, was to reduce the exchange-
ability and dependency that they had experienced as a
service provider before. This must clearly be understood
as a strategic differentiation. Decisive for the implemen-
tation of their business model was – in addition to the
undoubted technological innovation of a new and lighter
aircraft seat – the attractive design of their seat and their
convincing appearance on the global B2B market. In this
market, ZIM Flugsitz was the only SME to compete as a
manufacturer of aircraft seats “Made in Germany”. Since
their foundation, ZIM Flugsitz GmbH has achieved an im-
pressive growth (€48 million in sales and 145 employees
at the end of 2015). In 2014, the company received the
Crystal Cabin Award in the “passenger comfort com-
ponents” category for another innovation, the premium
economy seat EC-00. The Crystal Cabin Award is a presti-
gious award for innovations in the area of aircraft cabins.
The jury consists of 24 scientists, engineers, representa-
tives of aircraft manufacturers and airlines, and journalists
from the industry. In the same year, the company was
awarded the contract for the complete refurnishing of the
new premium economy class of the Lufthansa fleet with
these ZIM seats.
Managing Director Angelika Zimmermann is personally
involved in the regional cluster initiative for the aerospace
industry, BodenseeAIRea, and the German association of
the aerospace industry (Bundesverband der deutschen
Luft- und Raumfahrtindustrie, BDLI). Beside these indus-
try-specific networks, ZIM Flugsitz also participates in the
activities of the cross-sectoral state agency Leichtbau
BW.16
4.5 REIS furniture systems: niche markets in
the craftsman business
The trades are also very much familiar with the topic of
differentiation. An excellent example for standing out
from competitors as an expert is the craftsman business
REIS Möbelsysteme. The company was founded in 1996
as a traditional cabinetmaker business. Today, the busi-
ness has seven employees and specializes in the area of
lightweight construction.
Ten years ago, REIS Möbelsysteme had to make a deci-
sion about whether they should invest in newer but more
expensive and innovative technology – a CNC machine –
or simply replace their old machines. They opted for an in-
vestment for the future. This and the underlying strategy
development process have proven extremely successful.
The creative phase was completed with the decision to
invest in new technology.
15 See Rohwetter: Das iPhone aus Wuppertal, ZEIT ONLINE GmbH, year 2015, edition 42, 29-Oct-2015, [Online] www.zeit.de/2015/42/thermomix-vorwerk-wuppertal-erfolg-kue- chen-
maschine, [Access on 19-May-2016].
See Vorwerk & Co. KG, [Online] www.newsroom.vorwerk.de, [Access on 17-May-2016].
See Fasel: Jede Frau hat einen Thermomix verdient, WeltN24 GmbH, 18-Apr-2015, [Online] www.welt.de/regionales/nrw/article139704543/Jede-Frau-hat-einen-Thermomix-verdi-
ent.html, [Access on 19-May-2016].
16 See ZIM FLUGSITZ GmbH: Innovation im Bereich hochwertiger, mechanischer Flugsitze, [Online] www.zim-flugsitz.de/das-unternehmen/historie, [Access on 20-May-2016].
21
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
Successful strategic differentiation of enterprises
Having now the possibility to produce individual custom-
ized pieces of furniture of different materials, the utili-
zation phase began. Due to their innovative machinery,
REIS Möbelsysteme was able to serve new business
models and also new customer groups. The opportunity
to process all kinds of material (solid wood, plastic, sol-
id surfaces, paper, or even aluminium), not only offered
new utilization options but also opened up the field of
lightweight construction.
Today, lightweight construction is REIS Möbelsysteme’s
major area of expertise. The key points here are tool-free
assembly, low weight, and modular systems. Pleasant
and, at the same time, functional – noise and fire protec-
tion – designs made of lightweight material are the hall-
mark of the craftsman business. Their product portfolio
ranges from simple lightweight building boards to ready-
for-use furniture, or a complete trade fair booth made of
lightweight components including their own fittings.
Besides their customers from the exhibition stand pro-
duction industry, museums, or office furniture industry,
REIS Möbelsysteme also acts as a supplier to other cab-
inetmakers and even manufactures bathroom systems.
Smart, customized, and especially round components
that require specific technologies and special machines
enable the craftsman business to act as a supplier. Their
extraordinary and round forms are REIS Möbelsysteme’s
unique selling proposition in their region.
In the course of the specialization process during the
marketing phase, they also removed the “carpenter” part
from their company name. Today, the company is called
REIS Möbelsysteme, meaning REIS furniture systems.
For REIS Möbelsysteme, networking is also part of the
strategy process. The craftsman business is active in two
different types of networks. Firstly, REIS Möbelsysteme
maintains a close network of partners resulting from their
intense, and partly long-term, cooperation projects, and
secondly, the company actively participates in cluster
initiatives and networks (Leichtbau BW and Interessen-
gemeinschaft Leichtbau (igeL) e. V.), to make new con-
tacts, to expand their knowledge network, and to gain
new knowledge.
Managing director Reis has tried many things. He is con-
vinced that the strategy of specialization was the right
decision and that they are not yet at the end of their path
of innovations but that it will continue with specialization.
For him, differentiation and the utilization of innovative
technologies is a must to maintain a sustainable position
in the market.
The goal of differentiation is – as a result of price pressure
and competition – to stand out from the mass market,
like IKEA does, for example, and thus to find a niche mar-
ket and one’s own market position.17
4.6 Daimler: group start-ups for new markets
As mentioned earlier in chapter 3.3, car sharing as prac-
tised by Car2go may be considered strategic differentia-
tion. While Daimler at least deploys some of their Smart
brand vehicles in their company Car2go, the younger
start-up moovel is even further away from their core com-
petency, which is the production of high-quality cars. It
demonstrates, however, how new products and services
tackle existing markets or even create their own new
markets which have not existed as such before. Moovel
is a great example for how thinking out of the box and
smart connections may create new business models. It
connects different mobility service providers and plans
the optimal route from A to B. The moovel mobility app
brings together public transport, the car sharing services
Car2go and Flinkster, mytaxi and taxi dispatcher services,
rental bikes, and the German railway company Deutsche
Bahn. On the one hand, Daimler pursues the path of dig-
italization as the current driver of innovations and new
business models (chapter 3.3.2). The innovation process
follows the 3rd scenario: a creative and utilization phase
is followed by a R&D realization phase during which,
however, the only development product is a software.
On the other hand, Daimler moves one more step away
from their core competencies and moves into a niche or
secondary market. There is the risk that – similar to Kodak
– they engage in a field of business that is too far away
from the company’s former products and that there are
other market participants that have operated there longer
and therefore have the more favourable capabilities.18
17 See Schreinerei Möbelsysteme Reis, [Online] www.reinhard-reis.de, [Access on 19-May-2016].
18 See moovel Group GmbH, [Online] www.moovel.com/de/DE, [Access on 23-May-2016].
22 Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
The role of cluster initiatives in the strategic differentiation process
5 The role of cluster initiatives in the strategic differentiation
process
follow or accompany the R&D process, their reinvolve-
ment in this phase is often unsuccessful. Successful
examples for this are the cluster initiatives that have
been funded in the context of the Leading-Edge
Cluster competition such as microTEC Südwest,
E-Mobil BW, or the Software-Cluster. Here, the cluster
managements had expressly been made responsible
for staying in close contact and assisting the members
during the creative, R&D realization, and utilization
phases.
Scenario 2: research-driven innovation process
This process represents the toughest challenge for
the cluster management. A reason for this is that
during the start phase (R&D realization phase), aca-
demic partners are involved more often than not, or
that the research was conducted without any relation
to a specific enterprise-related problem or market de-
mand. Based on the R&D findings, possible products
or services must then be designed during the creative
phase. If there were no companies involved who are
well positioned in the market, it is also necessary to
identify any possible utilization partners.
Cluster managements will still be able to achieve good
results if the quality of the research results is excellent
and the market demand is high. At this point of the
process, they can organize matching events, for ex-
ample, under the motto of “science meets industry”
or “R&D meets marketing / sales” where research
and development-oriented companies or institutions
can meet companies with suitable marketing or sales
capabilities. To be successful as a cluster initiative in
this respect, it is important for them to have a sound
knowledge of the fields of business of their members
so that they bring the right ones together. Consulting
services for founders and supporting programmes
for start-ups and accelerators could be reasonable
services in the course of this process to motivate and
support involved researchers to found a start-up with
“their” research findings.
As we demonstrated in chapter 2 with the example of Sili-
con Saxony, cluster initiatives may be good instruments
for companies to achieve strategic differentiation. Other
examples are cluster initiatives such as VDC Fellbach, Cyber-
Forum, or BioRegioSTERN with similar success stories
at the individual corporate level. An important condition
for this is to have a professional cluster management that
can support the stakeholders in cluster initiatives in many
different ways.
Along and beyond the process of innovation, cluster man-
agements can play different supporting roles or may be
involved more or less intense. This strongly depends on
the innovation process itself. In the following, we de-
scribe this role in relation to the four innovation process-
es (chapter 3.1, figure 5).
Scenario 1: traditional innovation process
This innovation process represents a huge challenge
for the cluster managements because there are two
phases in which their support is required, but there
also is a phase in between that runs without their
involvement. The creative phase is about identifying,
together with the other members, specific ideas or
problems and initiating the corresponding innovation
process. On the part of the cluster managements,
many excellent instruments exist to support their
members.19 During the R&D realization phase, the
companies usually conduct their development activi-
ties without the support of the cluster managements.
An option for the cluster initiative to get involved is, for
example, to make contacts with partners in academic
environments or to provide support in the acquisition
of public funding. This, however, requires the right
competencies to be able to actually support the mem-
bers with their applications, like the CyberForum does,
for example. Difficult is the stage when the cluster
management becomes involved again at the beginning
of the utilization phase, during which such questions
as, for example, how to find the suitable business
model for marketing, or, how to best possibly transfer
a R&D prototype into a marketable product, must be
answered. If the cluster management fails to closely
19 See Künzel and Meier zu Köcker and Köhler: Cluster und Innovation - Cluster-Initiativen als Innovationstreiber, ClusterAgentur Baden-Württemberg (editor), Stuttgart, 2015, p. 19.
23
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
The role of cluster initiatives in the strategic differentiation process
4
Role of CM
Creative phase Utilization phase Marketing phase
High
Medium
Low
2
Role of CM
R&D
Realization phase Creative phase Utilization phase Marketing phase
High
Medium
Low
3
Role of CM
Creative phase Utilization phase R&D
Realization phase Marketing phase
Medium
Low
High
Fig. 5: The four innovation processes and the role of the cluster management
1
Role of CM
Creative phase R&D
Realization phase Utilization phase Marketing phase
Medium
Low
High
24 Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
The role of cluster initiatives in the strategic differentiation process
Scenario 3: business model-based innovation pro-
cess including R&D
The potential for cluster managements to success-
fully support the members of a cluster initiative is very
high in this innovation process. During the creative
phase, ideas / problems are identified jointly, and then
the corresponding business / utilization models are
determined. This can be done individually, at the level
of an enterprise, but also within a group of compa-
nies. At the end of these two phases, it is clear which
properties / specifications the innovation must have
and based on which strategy / which business model
it can be launched on the market. The following R&D
realization phase, usually more development than
research, may be very much based on the needs.
Finding the corresponding partners – who have the
required competencies – is usually very easy. Often,
public funding is rarely necessary in this phase, firstly,
because the R&D realization phase is rather short, but
also because the development goal is a very precise
one and the involved companies can invest their own
funds, also to save time and administrative expenses.
There are also cases in which the cluster manage-
ment takes over the project management during the
development phase for the involved companies by an
active inclusion of the two preceding phases. If this is
successful, the marketing phase will be comparably
short and the involvement of the cluster management
is hardly necessary in most cases. Many innovations
that were created within the Kunststoff-Netzwerk
Lüdenscheid (a plastics industry network) had fol-
lowed this pattern.
Scenario 4: business model-based innovation pro-
cess without R&D
This innovation process is the ideal prototype for clus-
ter managements, also in the context of cross-cluster
cooperation. As shown in figure 5, the options for
involvement are constantly high or medium.
During the creative phase, ideas or problems are iden-
tified jointly. The following utilization phase is used to
translate these into specific products or services and
to identify or design the suitable business models. If it
becomes clear at this point, that other competencies
from different sectors are required, the cluster man-
agement can include other partners / cluster initiatives
and their member companies through cross-clustering
activities. Due to the preceding creative phase, the
needs of all involved parties are well known so that
it is comparably easy for the involved cluster man-
agements to mobilize and bring together the right
stakeholders (for example, by open space innovation
arenas or cross-cluster events, etc.). Once the corre-
sponding partners are matched up, they can work out
and market the suitable solutions that are in demand
on the markets. In this phase of marketing, the cluster
management does not need to provide much support.
Irrespective of which innovation processes are the dom-
inating ones in a cluster initiative, all relevant supporting
measures should be integrated into a comprehensive ap-
proach. A common innovation strategy within a cluster
initiative can be extremely helpful in this regard to include
all of the interested members and to demonstrate the
fundamental goals that relate to common innovation ac-
tivities, for example, strategic differentiation. As a suc-
cessful example, we would like to mention microTEC
Südwest at this point (see box).
An analysis of the basic situation in 2010 showed
that microTEC Südwest featured a unique concen-
tration of innovative companies, excellent research
and educational institutions, and complementary in-
stitutions in the key technologies of microsystems
engineering. It therefore had the potential to become
the key institution of international microsystem-
related knowledge generation and the globally lead-
ing research, development, and production location
for smart products or solutions in strategic future
markets. This process ultimately led to an identifica-
tion of three fields of activities (see figure 6). This
shows very clearly that two different innovation pro-
cesses are relevant for the cluster initiative – on the
one hand, a long-term research-driven innovation
process, and on the other hand, a rather short-term
business model-based innovation process.
25
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
The role of cluster initiatives in the strategic differentiation process
Fig. 6: Visualization of a comprehensive innovation process20
Smart
Health Smart
Production Smart
Buildings Smart
Transport
Companies &
Innovations
Basic & advanced
training
Research &
Development
Accelerated (cross-industry) innovation
Functional systems: men-machine interface
Connected systems: systems of systems
Autonomous systems: micro-energy
Sustainable systems: cradle-2-cradle
(resource-friendly systems)
Cost-efficient and customized production and integration of systems: Prosumer 2.0
MicroTec Academy
5.1 Identify the right stakeholders
So far, the presumption has been that cluster manage-
ment should primarily provide need-based innovative ser-
vice concepts for the cluster stakeholders which would
then be used and implemented by their members to in-
novate and differentiate strategically.21 However, practice
shows that this expectation is not fully correct because
many cluster managements and their cluster stakehold-
ers have difficulties with the generation of true innova-
tions. It seems that there are two major reasons for this:
The services do not cover the entire innovation pro-
cess.
The services address the wrong stakeholders.
The services do not cover the entire innovation
process
Many measures that intend to help companies in the pro-
cess of initiating innovations take place before the actual
creative phase starts (figure 3). Their focus is more on the
generation of technological and market-relevant knowl-
edge (roadmapping, expert meetings, events, or creating
contacts between enterprises and universities). Such ac-
tivities are definitely important and necessary to gener-
ate sufficient knowledge of strategic differentiation but
they do not provide continuous support when it comes to
translating the gained knowledge into ideas and solutions
during the creative phase.
20 Clar and Sautter: Roadmap 2020+, in: MicroTEC Südwest – The Leading Cluster for Smart Solutions, MST BW Mikrosystemtechnik Baden-Württemberg e.V. (editor), Freiburg,
2014, p.11.
21 See VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik GmbH: Ausgewählte Clustererfolge – Ergebnisse aus der Förderung innovativer Services, Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie (editor),
Berlin, 2015.
26 Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
The role of cluster initiatives in the strategic differentiation process
Fig. 7: Classification of measures for knowledge generation and cross-clustering in the business model-based innovation processes without
R&D realization phases
4
Role of CM
Creative phase Utilization phase Marketing
High
Medium
Low
Generation of
knowledge
Cross-
Clustering
22 See Gedai and Koczy and Meier zu Köcker and Zombori: Cluster Games II – About Cooperation, Selfishness and Joint Risks in Clusters, Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and
Innovation and Institute for Innovation and Technology (editor), Copenhagen/Berlin, 2015,[Online] www.iit-berlin.de/de/publikationen, [Access on 19-May-2016].
Currently, cluster management services targeting the
initiation of cross-sectoral innovations are popular as
well (cross-clustering, open space innovation arenas,
cross-cluster events, etc.). Yet, it is often hard for cluster
managers to find interested cluster stakeholders and mo-
tivate them to take part in activities because these mea-
sures are often isolated. Without a preceding creative
phase or a following utilization phase, many companies –
especially SMEs – do not understand the importance and
relevance of these measures for supporting cross-sec-
toral cooperation. They also often lack an understanding
of cross-sectoral cooperation as an element of strategic
differentiation.
Therefore, the business model-based innovation process
without a R&D realization phase (figure 3) could be sup-
plemented by the aspects of “knowledge generation”
and “cross-clustering”. Figure 7 explains this well.
The services address the wrong stakeholders
Usually, services and activities targeting innovations ad-
dress all of the companies in a cluster initiative. It is often
forgotten, however, that by far not all of the stakeholders
have the necessary mutual trust to engage in common
innovation activities or are prepared for such processes.22
In the context of strategic differentiation, this becomes
even more relevant. Strategic differentiation must be un-
derstood as a controlled corporate process, but not as
one that can take place at short notice as the result of a
corporate strategy (at least not in the case of SMEs). Of
course, a first step in this direction may happen by acci-
dent. However, the potential or the motivation for strate-
gic differentiation must become part of the vision or mis-
sion of a company. This applies to HR / the selection of
personnel (interdisciplinary competencies, open for new
subjects), to the organizational and leadership structures
(early inclusion of personnel in different subjects or work
areas, room and incentives for creativity, open communi-
cation, fault culture, etc.) and applies to the dealing with
customers. At the same time, such companies are per-
manently successful who have established (in addition to
their activities in the cluster initiative) a close and trusting
partner network that goes far beyond normal networks.
With respect to the initiation of cross-sectoral coopera-
tion in cluster initiatives, the cluster management must
differentiate between four groups:
27
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
The role of cluster initiatives in the strategic differentiation process
Group 1: passive stakeholders
Since common innovation activities or the initiation of
cross-sectoral cooperation projects require intense and
trusting interactions, this group of stakeholders is exclud-
ed per se. This type of stakeholder is more interested in
quick wins, for example, measures targeting the genera-
tion of knowledge.
Group 2: cross-sectoral innovation drivers
This group of enterprises is already used to differentiate
strategically or to target new markets based on their core
competencies. Examples for such enterprises are men-
tioned in chapter 4. Insofar as such enterprises are active-
ly involved in cluster initiatives, their innovation and dif-
ferentiation potential is often exploited to a large extent.
It therefore makes sense to win these companies as
motivators and mentors (for example, Festo, see chapter
4.2) to attract and convince companies from other groups
(especially group 4). For the innovation drivers, it is the
process as such that is interesting, especially within the
context of the constant expansion of the knowledge /
partner network (for example, Bernd Kußmaul, see chap-
ter 4.1). It is important for the cluster management to not
only address companies from this second group.
Group 3: innovation specialists
This group consists of enterprises that are well posi-
tioned in the market but are also focussed on their own
product group for different reasons and understand the
topic of innovation mostly as a means to improve or
enhance their existing product range. Innovation does
play an important role for these companies, but mostly
in their original areas / markets. These companies have
neither integrated strategic differentiation in their cor-
porate structure nor in their corporate culture. They lack
the awareness, openness (for example, for an exchange
of knowledge), and willingness for cooperation (for ex-
ample, the collaboration with other industries) to allow
strategic differentiation. Measures or services provided
by the cluster management addressing strategic differen-
tiation or cross-sectoral cooperation are therefore often
not utilized.
Group 4: cross-sectoral high-potentials
This group represents the actual target group of all the
measures provided by cluster initiatives for strategic dif-
ferentiation and cross-sectoral innovations. High-poten-
tials have all the basic requirements and are truly inter-
ested in long-term commitments. Often, they belong to
the major drivers in the cluster initiatives and have built
trusting relationships with many of the stakeholders.
With suitable measures targeting cross-sectoral innova-
tions, a professional cluster management can achieve a
lot with these enterprises, especially if they accompany
them throughout the entire innovation process.
It is therefore important that the cluster managements
gain a sense for which enterprises actually belong to
their target group and then integrate them in cross-sec-
toral measures and activities for strategic differentiation.
Young cluster initiatives should therefore wait with pro-
viding these services until they have built up the neces-
sary trust and until they know their “candidates” for such
measures.
5.2 Initiate cross-sectoral / cross-industry
cooperation projects
Services provided by the cluster managements that initi-
ate cross-industry cooperation projects are usually more
demanding and more difficult to implement. It is mainly
up to the cluster management to launch the specific pre-
paratory activities. In this respect, practice also shows
that cluster stakeholders can be won much more easily
for such cross-industry activities if specific roadmaps are
created and positions are determined in advance or if the
overall goals are agreed upon within the cluster initiative.
Especially in the launch phase, the involved cluster man-
agement is much challenged because despite all the
preparatory work, communication barriers may exist be-
tween the representatives of the different industries, and
there may be a lack of trust between the partners who
are not yet familiar with each other or have differing ex-
pectations.
There are several success factors that have proven to be
highly relevant:23
23 ClusterAgentur Baden-Württemberg, interviews regarding 6 EU projects that specifically targeted the initiation of cross-sectoral cooperation projects, in the period between Febru-
ary and April 2016.
28 Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
The role of cluster initiatives in the strategic differentiation process
Target group
As we described in chapter 5.1, the target group that
should ultimately be addressed is often a very small
one only (the cross-sectoral high-potentials).
Point of time
Ideally, common cross-clustering activities should
take place after the creation of a common roadmap
or determination of the position, so that this is con-
sidered to be one of several measures for a strategic
differentiation.
Long-term process
Cross-sectoral differentiation or cross-clustering are
long-term targets that cannot be achieved with one
or two measures or workshops. The cluster manage-
ments and the involved companies must therefore
establish a sustainable long-term process.
Cluster management
Even though the involved companies must provide
for their own strategic differentiation or cross-sectoral
innovation activities, the cluster management should
actively accompany this process – to the extent possi-
ble – and should always get involved if the processes
within the enterprises have halted. That does not
mean that the cluster management must accompany
the process itself. It could also bring in competent
partners with the necessary expertise.
The most important thing about successful cross-clus-
tering activities, which are mainly targeted at helping
the cluster stakeholders to innovate at new interfaces,
is to provide a sufficiently broad base for cross-cluster
cooperation projects and to make them sustainable. The
cluster management is therefore no longer focused on
re moving barriers between the cluster initiatives and act-
ing as a moderator – as was the case in the beginning
– but should ideally cooperate with the other involved
cluster managements to ensure that these cross-cluster
cooperation projects are of a lasting nature. This is usually
achieved by establishing subject-related sub-networks
that consist of stakeholders from different cluster initia-
tives. Thus, former cross-network cooperation projects
can be combined in a “new” sub-network with all the
typical management structures of a network and the
respective tools. This helps to consolidate the coopera-
tion projects and to establish an innovation pipeline that
is fed by cross-industry innovations from different cluster
stakeholders.
This can take place in the form of so-called user-supplier
clubs in which a small group of stakeholders from differ-
ent industries (and cluster initiatives) collaborates for a
specific period of time. The cluster managements then
act as moderators “only”. User-supplier clubs can be re-
garded as cross-sectoral workgroups, but they must have
an exclusive character. They must not have an open de-
sign and should be accessible for only such stakeholders
(cross-sectoral high-potentials) that have the potential
and the will to tackle the topic of strategic differentiation.
It is helpful if the members of such user-supplier clubs
are required to pay a separate contribution because this
is a good indicator of the parties’ commitment. It also
makes sense for the participating companies, because
they can expect an added value for their contribution too.
For the cluster managements, the advantage is – besides
the extra income – that the participating companies will
primarily be those who have a genuine interest in it.
In addition to a trusting working environment and, if nec-
es sary, signed non-disclosure agreements, the critical
success factors for user-supplier clubs are
their clearly defined problems and targets,
the fact that they are well and actively moderated,
that their members have an earnest interest to make
achievements; and that they have various competen-
cies and / or participants from different industries.
The challenge for the cluster management is to organize
and structure the sub-networks in a way that generates
the best possible benefit for all the participants without a
cannibalization of their services or network activities. They
must also identify and decide which topics are suitable
for sub-networks and, as the case may be, if it should be
indicated, to completely redesign or realign the existing
“parent” cluster initiative. As a rule, sub-networks should
be limited in time and project / problem-based, and they
should be dissolved after a problem is solved. To organize
cross-sectoral cross-network cooperation projects within
a “new” sub-network, including all of the management
structures and tools that are typical for networks, support
programmes such as ZIM cooperation networks (ZIM =
Zentrales Innovationsprogramm Mittelstand, a central
innovation programme for SMEs) can be useful, for ex-
ample, or the support programmes for regional clusters
of the state of Baden-Württemberg, and the state-wide
and cross-regional innovation platforms (CLIP 2014-2020).
29
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
The role of cluster initiatives in the strategic differentiation process
Consolidation of activities
with a view to strategic
differentiation
First activities
Generation of
knowledge
Strategic differentiation as the
result of cross-sectoral innovation
User / supplier clubs
Spin-offs of
independent
“sub-clusters”
Identification of involved companies
Common roadmap for strategic
differentiation
Cross-clustering activities
Trendscouting, technology roadmapping, foresight
processes, determination of position
Market analyses
Competence mapping
Fig. 8: Comprehensive approach for a strategic differentiation of enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives24
There may be cases where a sub-network results in a new
cluster initiative with a long-term goal and design. This
helps to consolidate the cooperation projects and to es-
tablish an innovation pipeline that is fed by cross-industry
innovations from different cluster stakeholders (figure 8).
Other instruments and services for strategic differenti-
ation that are initiated by cluster managements are de-
scribed in chapter 5.3.
5.3 Examples of good practice
The following examples of good practice show which
concrete measures can be successfully implemented in
cluster initiatives to support companies in their strategic
differentiation activities. They also show that, at best, the
cluster managements not only accompany individual pro-
cess steps on the way to the strategic differentiation of
individual enterprises and bring together the right part-
ners at the right time, but that they can also trigger and
accompany a strategic differentiation within their industry
or field of technology through their institutional position.
This will then integrate companies and stakeholders in
the process that had not recognized their own potential
for strategic differentiation until then.
1. Example: Cross-Cluster Challenge
For a result-based design of the cooperation between clus-
ter initiatives described as cross-clustering, the Cluster-
Agentur Baden- Württemberg developed the Cross- Cluster
Challenge format. To put it simply, this programme brings
together stakeholders with specific problems or unsolved
challenges with such stakeholders that have the neces-
sary competencies to solve these problems (problem
solvers). On the one hand, it is the role of the involved
cluster managements to identify the member compa-
nies and their specific problems. On the other hand, it
is necessary to find companies from other clusters that
have the required capabilities for possible solutions. To
moderate this process appropriately, the involved cluster
managements must have established a high degree of
competency and trust within their initiatives, that reaches
into the creative phases of the innovation processes of
the individual enterprises. In addition, their qualities as
moderators should be high enough for a business model-
based approach.
24 See Künzel and Meier zu Köcker and Köhler: Cluster und Innovation - Cluster-Initiativen als Innovationstreiber, ClusterAgentur Baden-Württemberg (editor), Stuttgart, 2015, p. 19.
30 Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
The role of cluster initiatives in the strategic differentiation process
However, the involved cluster member companies must
also fulfil certain requirements to be able to implement
the oftentimes difficult process of collaborating with the
other partners. Their internal organisation structure plays
an important role in this respect. For example, the per-
sonnel in cooperating companies must have a high inter-
disciplinary competence and must be curious and moti-
vated to approach new subjects. Of great significance
is also the strategic alignment of the companies in the
direction of cross-sectoral and business model-based ac-
tivities. The basic conditions must be created to allow the
best possible operative cooperation. Among other things,
this involves technological or legal aspects when data is
exchanged or tools are used.
The first Cross-Cluster Challenge took place at the
CUBEX41, the founding and competence centre of
medical engineering in Mannheim, on 11 May 2016. It
was organized and carried out by the ClusterAgentur
Baden-Württemberg and BIOPRO. It was intended to
bring together the stakeholders in the medical engineer-
ing industry (challengers) with the representatives of the
ICT industry (problem solvers). In a first step, and with the
active involvement of the cluster managements from the
medical engineering area (clusters Medizintechnologie
Mannheim, Medical Mountains, Bio-Region Freiburg, and
Pflegenetzwerk Heilbronn), the problems of the cluster
stakeholders from these networks were identified. The
focus was on identifying challenges at the man-machine
interface of medical devices, whose performance could
be boosted by an improved ICT, and which should be in
the utilization phase of the innovation process at best.
Through close cooperation and the high degree of trust
between the cluster stakeholders and cluster manage-
ments, the problems could be identified specifically
enough and aligned. In a next step, the cluster manage-
ments from the ICT were involved (CyberForum, cyber-
LAGO, IT-Forum, microTEC Südwest, and bwcon). They
identified cluster stakeholders, which they assumed to
have the necessary competencies and experience to
support the medical engineering companies in the solv-
ing of their problems or facing of their challenges. This
cross-cluster process was coordinated by the Cluster-
Agentur Baden-Württemberg. The Cross-Cluster Chal-
lenge then introduced the respective companies of the
medical engineering and the ICT industries within small
bilateral groups, in a trusting atmosphere, to speak about
their individual company-specific challenges and ap-
proaches, and their further collaboration.
As a result of the Cross-Cluster Challenge, it must be
noted that the solution-based matching in advance of
the challenge had the effect that, for most of the iden-
tified topics, specific approaches could be worked out
during the challenge. These will be detailed in follow-up
meetings by the parties involved. Partly, the results were
concrete ideas for innovation projects. This process will
basically be accompanied by the respective cluster man-
agements.
2. Example: Supply Chain Excellence initiative
The civil aviation industry is currently undergoing dramat-
ic changes. A strong growth in the industry itself and high
demand has resulted in the strategic differentiation of the
OEMs, in particular at the European aircraft manufacturer
Airbus. The vertical integration was significantly reduced
and more components and subsystems are to be deliv-
ered to the final manufacturer instead of single parts. This
puts the SMEs, in the positions of 2nd or 3rd tier suppli-
ers in the supply chain, at risk to be replaced by other
bigger suppliers from abroad. In order for an SME to be
able to survive in this global consolidation and industrial-
ization process, cluster and state initiatives all over Ger-
many have triggered a process of strategic differentiation
for SMEs. A total of 14 regional associations, clusters
and initiatives, the BDLI (the German Aerospace Indus-
tries Association), and the industry organisation SPACE
Germany joined together and founded the joint Supply
Chain Excellence Initiative (SCE) in 2015. This initiative
is also supported by the government. Brigitte Zypries, a
parliamentary state secretary at the Federal Ministry for
Economic Affairs and Energy and coordinator of the Fed-
eral German government for German Aerospace matters,
became a sponsor, as did the ministries of economic af-
fairs of the states of Bavaria, Lower Saxony, and Baden-
Württemberg at the state level. It is also expected that
they provide significant financial support in this regard.
31
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
The role of cluster initiatives in the strategic differentiation process
The goal of this initiative is to support the supply chain
of the German aerospace industry that is characterized
by medium-sized companies in this beginning structur-
al change process so that the SMEs can appropriately
benefit from the opportunities presented by the global
growth market. At the same time, the competitiveness of
the German aerospace location is to be increased further
on the global scale. To reach these goals, the SCE uses
and supports successful national and regional activities
and structures and actively connects them. In addition to
this, specific measures are intended to help companies
sustainably improve their performance. The associations
cooperate at the federal level to link specific supporting
programmes in the six core areas: business model, in-
ternationalization, industrial performance, financing and
contracts, sales & operations planning, and cooperation.
Within these fields of work, benchmarking or individual
checks on site in the companies are used, for example,
to check where the weak points are or the needs for op-
timization, and they work out suitable solutions and inno-
vations together.
The SCE clearly shows that competitive pressure can
also be the driver of strategic differentiation. The cur-
rent situation in the aviation industry is not a question
of research and development activities or inventions but
a question of business models and processes that we
can see in scenario 4 “Business model-based innovation
process without R&D”. The initiative shows the potential
that lies in associations and cooperation projects of clus-
ter initiatives and networks if they specifically target the
current needs of the companies in their industries.25
3. Example: SEFEX - strategic management, increase in
efficiency, and expansion among member companies
Wirtschaftsförderung Raum Heilbronn GmbH accom-
panies two cluster initiatives, KunststoffDIALOG and
MetallDIALOG, with great potentials for a more intense
cooperation. Both cluster initiatives are characterized by
owner-operated family enterprises. Their owners are the
decision-makers and the impulse generators at their com-
panies. They are responsible for HR planning, investment
planning and general strategic decisions. Furthermore,
many of the companies are suppliers to large companies
from the areas of automotive, mechanical engineering,
and plant engineering. The majority of the companies are
qualified contract manufacturers. Long-term decisions
are therefore rather difficult. Many business decisions
are ad hoc decisions and are mostly reactions to prevail-
ing market conditions.
Short-term planning, low margins and traditional corpo-
rate structures are generally not the best conditions for
strategic differentiation, that is, to open up new fields
of business or business models. Despite these condi-
tions, however, mainly the companies from the plastics
industry have managed to redesign their businesses in
the past and to develop from supplier companies to prod-
uct manufacturers. This makes them less dependent on
large enterprises and they can achieve higher margins as
independent suppliers on the market. These higher mar-
gins can then be used to develop new products.
In the metal industry, however, this transformation pro-
cess has not proceeded very far. The companies here
are still very much dependent on the large enterprises.
Therefore, the metalworking sector could benefit and
learn from the experiences of the plastics industry as to
how they could develop from pure supplier companies
to product manufacturers in the market. An advantage in
this regard is that there is no direct competition between
the companies of the metal industry and the plastics in-
dustry. As a consequence, both parties can communicate
very openly with each other.
This is exactly the point where the Strategic Management,
Boost of Efficiency, and Expansion project (“SEFEX”)
starts. This project is carried out by the MetallDIALOG
cluster management and is sponsored by the CLIP sup-
port programme of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, La-
bour and Housing.
SEFEX’s approach is the widest one possible and intends
to support the companies in the metal industry in the fol-
lowing areas.
Strategy:
The goal of the systematic development of their
own corporate strategies is to allow the companies
to assume the responsibility for the development
of their companies and to contribute to reduce the
dependency on individual large enterprises.
25 See Berlin-Brandenburg Aerospace Allianz e.V., [Online] www.bbaa.de/ueber-uns/projekte/national/supply-chain-excellence, [Access on 14-May-2016].
32 Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
The role of cluster initiatives in the strategic differentiation process
Increase in efficiency:
The systematic increase of the companies’ efficiency
is to contribute to the optimization of the income sit-
uations and the cash flows. This will help the compa-
nies to invest in their own products and services in the
future, or to open up new markets. The employees
of the companies are to be involved in the design and
implementation of the projects to boost efficiency.
This will increase the creativity of the workforces and
result in optimal results.
Product / service development expansion:
With the Product Development Expansion module,
the companies shall be enabled to reflect on their
own competencies and – based on this – create new
products and services. Contract manufacturers should
develop into – at least partially – product-oriented
companies with higher margins.
Market development expansion:
The Market Development Expansion module is to
make it easier for companies to identify and canvass
new target markets with respect to an areal expansion
into other regions within Germany or Europe.
The services of professional corporate consultants are
used for all modules. They are expected to bring in their
experiences with large enterprises for the benefit of the
SMEs. A key point, however, is that employees from
KunststoffDIALOG companies are included in every sin-
gle phase. They are to pass on their experiences in the
transformation process – from a supplier only to a prod-
uct manufacturer – to the MetalDIALOG companies.
The SEFEX example shows how cluster initiatives can
support their member companies in the area of strate-
gic differentiation. On the one hand, SEFEX is designed
for the long-term and tries to lead the companies to new
business models step by step, and on the other hand, it
shows, using concrete examples of the companies from
the plastics industry, how strategic differentiation can be
successful and how the experiences from other indus-
tries can be used for the development of the companies
in the metal cluster.
33
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
Summary
6 Summary
In the light of global competition and ever increasing cus-
tomer requirements, it becomes more and more difficult
for companies to distinguish themselves from their com-
petitors, meaning to strategically differ from other market
participants. The challenges faced by the companies are
to include ideas and developments from other industries
or sectors into their own product and service develop-
ment activities; that means to “think out of the box”.
Cluster initiatives can be an important support tool in this
respect.
For this, however, the perception of innovations must be
broadened. To be innovative does not only mean to take
a leading or pioneering position in terms of technology,
but also to be successful in the market. It is therefore
important to utilize and market innovations. In chapter
3.2, we demonstrated how exceptionally critical the uti-
lization and marketing phases are for companies in the
innovation process. This, in particular, involves the devel-
opment of new business models that must be adapted to
the circumstances in the markets in ever shorter periods
of time as digitalization proceeds (chapter 3.3). And this
is what we can learn from successful companies such as
Vorwerk, Festo, or ZIM Flugsitz (chapter 4).
Cluster initiatives can play an important role in the utili-
zation phase although this is not an easy undertaking. It
requires the identification of the right stakeholders and
the initiation of sustainable measures (chapter 5).
With respect to the stakeholders, it is important for the
cluster managers to become aware of their differing char-
acteristics. On the one hand, not every cluster member
may be open-minded enough to “think out of the box”.
On the other hand, there may be some members that
already use input from neighbouring industries today. It is
the task of the cluster initiatives to appropriately integrate
both sides into their different activities, so that the differ-
ent stakeholders can benefit from each other in the best
possible way (chapter 5.1).
The measures for supporting cross-sectoral cooperation
projects must be designed comprehensively and sus-
tainable. This means that individual measures are not
sufficient to promote a cross-industry cooperation. The
problem must be clearly defined together with the cluster
members, and there must be an earnest interest by all of
the involved parties to achieve something in common.
Only then is it reasonable to bring together stakeholders
from different industries (chapter 5.2). That this can be
done is shown in our list of examples of good practice in
chapter 5.3.
These examples show how cross-industry cooperation
can be successfully initiated by cluster managements.
Nevertheless, the topic of cross-sectoral cooperation has
not yet been taken up with much energy in many cluster
initiatives. Activities to this end must be expanded in the
future.
Ultimately, cluster initiatives are an ideal platform to ac-
tively support companies in “thinking out of the box”
or strategic differentiation. Hardly any other institution
can bring together different stakeholders along the val-
ue chain from the one side, meaning companies with a
common interest, and integrate new competencies and
expertise from other sectors of industries from the other
side. Requirement for this are an excellent knowledge of
the industry and an extraordinary basis of trust among
the members. Only then can the cluster managements
be the outstanding sparring partners or moderators in a
process of strategic differentiation.
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36 Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
Figures
Figures
Fig. 1: Characteristics and primary goals of innovations 5
Fig. 2: Ideal innovation process 9
Fig. 3: Different options for workflows of innovation processes 11
Fig. 4: Selected business model evolutions 14
Fig. 5: The four innovation processes and the role of the cluster management 23
Fig. 6: Visualization of a comprehensive innovation process 25
Fig. 7: Classification measures for knowledge generation and cross-clustering
in business model-based innovation processes without R&D realization phases 26
Fig. 8: Comprehensive approach of a strategic differentiation of enterprises
initiated by cluster initiatives 29
37
Success through thinking out of the box – strategic differentiation in enterprises initiated by cluster initiatives
... Die Clusterinitiativen als Branchenspezialisten sollten diese Anstrengungen nicht konterkarieren, sondern ihr Branchenknowhow gerade dann einbringen, wenn es um übergreifende Zusammenarbeit bzw. mehr Diversität innerhalb eines Clusters geht (Brandt 2014;Meier zu Köcker et al. 2016). ...
Chapter
Das Thema Cluster hat seinen Zenit in der öffentlichen Wahrnehmung überschritten. Die teils völlig überhöhten Erwartungen konnten nicht erfüllt werden, die Kritik an Konzept und praktischer Umsetzung füllt Bücherwände. Dennoch ist eine Vielzahl von Clusterinitiativen weiter vor Ort aktiv und behauptet sich in der aktuellen Förder- und Netzwerklandschaft. Die Diskussion über die praktische Clusterpolitik hat zudem zahlreiche Erkenntnisse hervorgebracht, die in den aktuellen Diskussionen um Regionale Innovationsstrategien, Resilienz oder Smart Specialisation mannigfaltigen Nutzen stiften können. Aus Sicht der kommunalen und regionalen Akteure gibt es somit gute Gründe, den Clusteransatz inhaltlich-strategisch zu durchdringen und vor allem die Lehren aus der Clusterdiskussion zu ziehen – damit aktive Standortentwicklung im Rahmen integrierter Wirtschaftsförderung zukünftig noch besser gelingen möge.
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The concept of proximity, whilst attractive cognitively, is still a poorly explored area in management sciences. The earliest publications on proximity were published at the end of the twentieth century and the development of this concept was strongly influenced by The French School of Proximity (Kirat & Lung, 1999; Rallet & Torre, 1999; Torre & Gilly, 2000; Carrincazeaux et al., 2001; Torre & Rallet, 2005). However, the most influential publications are by Boschma, who distinguished five basic dimensions of proximity: geographical, social, cognitive, organizational and institutional (Boschma 2004, 2005; Boschma & Frenken, 2010; Boschma et al., 2014; Balland et al., 2015). Proximity is particularly important for the development of cooperation between business entities embedded in a specific territory – the idea of proximity is related to all concepts of regional development based on knowledge and innovation (Martin, 2003). This also applies to the cluster concept (Porter, 1998; 2000; 2001; 2003) in which references to all dimensions of proximity can be found. Applying the proximity category to the cluster concept can be treated as an attempt to understand and explain factors of a non-economic nature that may affect (positively or negatively) the development of innovation in clusters. On the one hand, proximity is recognized in the literature as a factor facilitating access to knowledge and fostering the development of innovation (Tremblay et al., 2003; Boschma, 2005; Paci et al., 2014). The superior role of geographical proximity in achieving external economies has already been indicated by the classics – Marshall (1925) and Hearn (1864). The importance of geographical proximity to create a competitive advantage through innovation is also emphasized in all theories of regional development originating from the Marshall district (Aydalot, 1986; Camagni, 1991; Cooke et al., 1997; Braczyk et al., 1998). The similarity of knowledge systems (cognitive proximity), relationships based on trust (social proximity) and organizational links between cooperating organizations (organizational proximity) enable and facilitate the creation and exchange of knowledge, stimulating innovation activity (Uzzi, 1997; Boschma, 2005). On the other hand, being too close can also have a negative impact on the development of innovation in clusters. Maximizing proximity may lead to isolation and closure, and the related lack of new information and ideas inhibits the innovative activity of cluster entities (Grabher, 1993; Uzzi, 1997; Oerlemans & Meeus, 2005; Boschma, 2005; Balland et al., 2015). Therefore, in order to develop innovation in clusters, an optimal level of proximity should be sought, although in the literature there is no agreement on what scale of proximity would be most beneficial for innovative processes.
Article
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Open innovation is a concept, whose attributes can be perceived as naturally complementing the proximity-based offer of clusters. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the potential role of clusters as intermediaries of open innovation for cluster members. A literature review and an exploratory study were performed, involving in-depth interviews with experts in the field of innovation and clusters in Poland. This article conceptually links open innovation and clusters, proposes and categorizes roles of clusters as open innovation intermediaries, as well as indicates factors that might affect the successful adoption of this role. Furthermore, it points out that clusters could not only manage and mediate their network of members but also shape and co-create a broader open innovation ecosystem. The findings contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the potential roles of open innovation intermediaries in regard to clusters in the context of transitioning economies. With clusters playing the role of an open innovation intermediary, public support at cluster level could increase the openness to cooperation not only for member companies but all participants in the regional innovation ecosystem.
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