Helmholtz Innovation Labs

Helmholtz Innovation Labs are physical locations where scientific expertise and the needs of industry and its customers are iteratively matched. Long-term "enabling spaces" emerge here for ideas to be tested out. Their aim is to integrate entrepreneurial partners in joint development projects over the long term. This notion of commercialization distinguishes Helmholtz Innovation Labs, as "Think and Do Tanks", setting them apart from pure research laboratories.

The innovation program "Helmholtz Innovation Labs" aims to establish the recently-developed concept of "maker-/hackerspaces" or "fablabs" at the Research Centers and to adapt it accordingly. These physical "enabling spaces" are intended to represent an interface between industrial research and non-university research, which is embedded in a long-term strategy and thus goes beyond pure contract research and previous transfer instruments.

The Innovation Labs are intended to give scientists and industry partners the opportunity of doing research and developing ideas together on an equal footing. They range from what are known as Open Innovation Labs (establishing long-term strategic collaboration with one or several enterprises on concrete topics in the pre-competition domain) right up to User Innovation Labs (developing application-orientated technology and products through consultation with users and customers or facilitating access to the large-scale facilities, research infrastructures, and data of the Helmholtz Centers).

This close and iterative interaction between science, industry (SMEs and major corporations), and users or customers is not only intended to help improve technologies, but also to bring in, at an early stage in the process, the different perspectives of other market participants that are critical for the success of the development from invention to innovation.

In particular, the Innovation Labs are intended to focus on:

  • Disruptive innovations: Testing ideas/implementing innovation projects which it may not be possible to pursue in the centralized structures of enterprises because they are considered to be too radical.
  • Commercialization: The joint innovation activities are geared towards applications that take market needs into account.
  • Cooperation: New productive links, which also create a network in the case of several Innovation Lab partners, offer an additional incentive for all those involved to adopt a long-term approach.
  • Bidirectional knowledge flow: Knowledge and insights flow from the application/business back into research and into the joint development of the project.

The Helmholtz Innovation Labs program supports concepts which …

  • … integrate SMEs and major corporations as partners in order to promote the exchange of knowledge and thus develop new areas of technology and open up new business segments.
  • … offer the Innovation Lab partners an "enabling space" allowing them to iteratively test, validate, and improve technologies, services, and/or business models.
  • … provide platforms to facilitate learning, research, and development on an equal footing within the partnership.
  • … take account of complementarity, synergy effects, and competition with existing facilities at the Helmholtz Center or in the local environment.
  • … enable serendipity and spill-over effects by bringing together various stakeholders in the innovation and business eco-system.
  • … support cross-industry innovations (linking partners from different industries).
  • … are designed to establish the Innovation Labs on a sustainable basis in terms of a viable structure for the long term.
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  • Photo of Arne Meyer-Haake