Ever since it was launched in 2005, the Joint Initiative for Research and Innovation (Pakt für Forschung und Innovation) has given the Helmholtz Association the planning reliability it requires for its work and has enabled the association to establish and strengthen a range of strategic measures and instruments. For the second period of the initiative, which began in 2011 and will run until 2015, the Helmholtz Association has been guaranteed a 5 percent annual increase in its total budget.
In the years to come, the Helmholtz Association will continue to fulfil its obligations in achieving the initiative’s aims. For this purpose, the association has developed innovative instruments and measures as part of its strategic approach and in consultation with its funding bodies. It has strengthened its profile and focused its research on the major social challenges of the present and future. As a result, the association is contributing to the creation of more effective approaches to science and innovation in Germany and, together with its partners, is shaping the European research landscape.
Achieving excellence through competition
The Helmholtz Association’s mission is to conduct highlevel research that contributes to solving the major challenges and pressing problems of our age. To ensure that this mission is optimally fulfilled, the association has embraced scientific competition. Internally, this competition informs programme-oriented funding, the financing of investments in strategic expansion, and the instruments of the Initiative and Networking Fund. Furthermore, the many honours that the Helmholtz Association has received – including the scientific awards presented to Helmholtz researchers – and the high level of funding it has acquired from the European Research Council highlight its outstanding competitive position in relation to external national and international research institutes. In addition, the Helmholtz centres, together with their university partners, have been especially successful participants in the Excellence Initiative. And the centres are looking to replicate this success in the initiative’s final round of funding, to which they have submitted several applications.
Establishing promising partnerships
Closer ties with university partners and industry are an important pillar of the Helmholtz Association’s strategy. Such ties are crucial to ensuring the effective exchange of knowledge, the applicability of research and the efficient use of resources. The Helmholtz centres initiate and participate in a large number of strategic partnerships. Working in networks and projects, they research pressing scientific, economic and social issues. One example is the Bioeconomy Science Center (BioSC), which the Forschungszentrum Jülich, RWTH Aachen University, and the universities of Bonn and Düsseldorf established in October 2010 as the first centre in Europe to research sustainable bioeconomics using an integrative global concept. The partners will study important topics associated with building an ecological economy based on renewable resources.
The successful concept embodied by the Helmholtz institutes has been continued and expanded (see also “President’s Report”, page 7). During the period under review, three new alliances were forged. The Helmholtz Astroparticle Physics Alliance, coordinated by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), brings together the entire German astroparticle research community under one roof, drawing on the Helmholtz centres KIT and DESY, fifteen university partners, three Max Planck institutes and two international institutes.
The Helmholtz Alliance on Future Energy Supply Infrastructure, also coordinated by KIT, examines the role that large and complex infrastructure plays in our lives. It works in cooperation with the Forschungszentrum Jülich, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, and university partners. The Helmholtz DLR@Uni Alliance is an institutional framework for specialised cooperation that was created by the DLR’s institutes in Munich, Stuttgart and Braunschweig. Its goal is to facilitate the joint appointment of institute and department directors and the education of junior scientists.
In addition, in early 2011, KIT and BASF SE entered into a long-term partnership for which 12 million euros will be made available over the course of five years to set up a joint laboratory for the development of efficient battery systems. The “BELLA” lab will optimally combine the two partners’ electro-chemical expertise in the areas of basic research and industrial applications. The Helmholtz Association has also established important collaborations on an international level and works in international networks and consortia, often assuming a leading role. Two examples are its coordinative work in international infrastructure consortia and its involvement with the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI). The association’s future goals have been formulated in an Internationalisation Strategy, including its plan to expand its position in international research and to help shape international research policy. Cooperation with emerging and developing countries plays an especially significant role in this strategy.
Promoting knowledge and technology transfer
Additional focuses of the Helmholtz Association’s work include the exchange and application of research findings. In order to study application-oriented technologies, the Helmholtz centres carry out numerous cooperative projects and have established a growing number of strategic partnerships with companies. License agreements and start-ups are an additional way of integrating research findings into new products and services. In 2010 the Helmholtz Association set up the Helmholtz Validation Fund to promote such transfer processes, capitalising it with up to 7.5 million euros annually. The goal of this new instrument is to close the funding gap between research and application and to provide an incentive to optimise ideas and inventions in order to attract the interest of potential business partners and facilitate start-ups. In mid-2011 the first four projects were selected by the fund’s board of experts.
For years the Helmholtz Association has funded start-ups through the Helmholtz Enterprise funding programme. Between 2005 and 2010, 58 start-up projects were supported with sums of up to 200,000 euros each – shared by the Initiative and Networking Fund and the participating centres. About half of these companies have now been launched and are operating successfully in the market.
The shared services concept is an additional instrument that has been implemented as part of the Helmholtz Association’s new technology transfer strategy. The basic idea behind this approach is for the well-staffed teams at KIT and the Forschungszentrum Jülich to provide support for smaller centres of technology transfer. The teams’ consulting skills in the areas of start-ups, equity investments and the assessment of inventions are harnessed for other Helmholtz centres by funded key account managers.
Talent management and equal opportunity
The Helmholtz Association attaches particular importance to talent management and the promotion of equal opportunity. Both represent important means of acquiring and, most importantly, retaining outstanding staff. This is why the Helmholtz Association invests in the education and advanced training of its research and administrative/technical staff. Its diverse programmes and activities are carried out at both the level of the centres – e.g., specialised prac tical training for young women and men – and at the level of the association – e.g., management training at the Management Academy.
Each year a large number of PhD candidates complete their dissertations at the Helmholtz research and graduate schools, which are integrated into the Helmholtz centres. In addition, grants from the Initiative and Networking Fund provide gifted postdoctoral candidates with the opportunity to establish their own research groups and conduct independent research on an exciting scientific topic. Finally, the Helmholtz Association uses targeted programmes to introduce children and young people to scientific research.
These include the "Little Scientists’ House" initiative, which is now being offered to 18,000 day-care centres in Germany, and the 25 Helmholtz School Labs, which are used by more than 60,000 school students each year.
In order to ensure that women and men receive equal opportunities for professional advancement, the Helmholtz Association sponsors diverse activities to create an optimal balance between careers and family life. The association is seeking to increase the proportion of women in leadership positions and to win outstanding female scientists for top positions. Measures such as the “Taking the Lead” mentoring programme are contributing to the achievement of these goals. Furthermore, the overarching concept of the Initiative and Networking Fund for the period from 2011 to 2015 calls for the expansion of the W2/W3 programme for outstanding female scientists, meaning that at least five new W2/W3 positions (based on the “W” remuneration system for German public servants) will be funded for female scientists each year. In all its activities to promote equal opportunity, the association bases it work on the equality standards of the German Research Foundation. The organisation is also a partner in the National Pact for Women in MINT Careers (MINT = mathematics, informatics, natural sciences and technology).
Shaping the national and international system
In the coming years Germany and Europe will face major changes, and groundbreaking developments were already seen in the period under review. In Germany these included the pooling of health research in the German Centres of Health Research, whose goal is to tackle common widespread diseases. In Europe developments were dominated by the re-conceptualisation of EU research funding in the “Innovation Union” flagship initiative and the related overhaul of the Research Framework Programmes as funding instruments. The Helmholtz Association has made an active contribution and provided expertise to all these crucial processes.
In the years to come, the Helmholtz Association will continue to fulfil its mission as a strategically active scientific organisation. It will address pressing scientific, economic and social problems and to this end will develop system solutions and create the necessary research frameworks. The funds provided by the Joint Initiative for Research and Innovation will enable the association to pursue its goals systematically, both now and in the future.
Technology transfer in industry and society
In 2010, the Helmholtz centres carried out more than 2,750 collaborative projects with companies, bringing in thirty-party revenues of 150 million euros. In the area of industrial property rights, 463 patent applications were filed, and revenues of more than 16 million euros were generated by some 1,150 licence agreements.
Prime examples are the license agreement covering the heat-proof steel alloy patented by the Forschungszentrum Jülich and licensed to Thyssen-Krupp VDM, and the rights to a petrol vapour recovery method that the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht has licensed to industry for use at filling stations and fuel depots. Long-term strategic partnerships are especially important.
Good examples are the tumour research partnership between the German Cancer Research Center and Bayer AG, and the partnership between KIT and BASF to establish the joint BELLA lab for the development of efficient battery systems. In addition, twelve Helmholtz start-ups were launched in 2010, including MRI Tools GmbH, which markets a process for enhancing MRT and is a spin-off from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, and TEMOS GmbH, which promotes the commercial use of telemedicine and is a spin-off from the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
For additional examples of the successful activities of the Helmholtz centres concerning collaborations, strategic partnerships, industrial property rights, license agreements and start-ups, please visit the following website:
Helmholtz management academy
Talent management and the promotion of young scientists are special goals of the Helmholtz Association. An important instrument is the highly successful Helmholtz Academy, which prepares executive staff for managerial tasks and expands and improves the managerial skills of experienced leaders.
The Helmholtz Academy aims to develop a consistent understanding of leadership within the association and build strong ties between the centres. It also seeks to strengthen relations between the scientific and commercial/administrative departments of the Helmholtz centres at all levels of management – from junior executives to directors.
Optimising the way science is done
Integrated into the national and international research landscape, the Helmholtz Association is constantly optimising its structures in order to provide ideal conditions for its strategically oriented research.
Through this process, it has made a significant contribution to the dynamic and sustainable development of German science. An important pillar of this process is the strategic collaborations withuniversities and other research facilities that have been established in conjunction with the Excellence Initiative: the founding of the Karlsruhe Institute of technology, the launch of the Jülich-Aaachen Research Alliance, and the strategic alliance between the German Cancer Research Center and the Center of Molecular Biology at Heidelberg University.
The Initiative and Networking Fund has generated effective instruments that are being used to strengthen additional collaborations with universities. The ten Helmholtz alliances and the five Helmholtz institutes – the most recent set up with the TU Bergakademie Freiberg – take up forward-looking themes that have a strategic relevance for the Helmholtz Association. In cooperation with universities and other partners, research around these themes is structured into internationally competitive consortia.
The Helmholtz Association has also been closely involved in setting up the German Centres of Health Research, which will permanently transform the German research landscape. Finally, together with other major players in the scientific world, the association has lent its support to the Freedom of Science Initiative in order to improve general conditions for science.