December 2021
Photo: Ralf Christofori
Wetzlar Network

Innovation Connected

For highly specialized medium-sized companies, it’s a strenuous effort to get innovations off the ground and make them successful if they act on their own. In concert, they’ll accomplish more – and even more effective when interconnected in an innovative way. For that to happen, a sponsored innovation network is to be established under the umbrella of the Wetzlar Network.

The innovational strength of small and medium-sized companies is often under-appreciated. In many cases, they are unable to unfold their full potential due to a lack of capacities or financing models. Solo efforts are rather difficult to manage. Where several companies act in concert, the chances for success are significantly higher – especially, if joint R&D projects are professionally supervised and pushed forward by network managers.

Funding program for innovation networks pays off for small and medium-sized companies

The Zentrales Innovationsprogramm Mittelstand (ZIM), sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), is geared to facilitating such innovation networks. ZIM is meant to contribute to bolstering the innovational strength thus consolidating the competitive advantage of medium-sized companies with a lasting effect. Apart from individual and cooperative R&D-projects, they also fund innovation networks in which joint ideas for the development and marketing of innovative products, processes or technologies are put into effect.

“This funding program for innovation networks pays off for small and medium-sized companies in the region”, says André Noack, adviser on the board of Wetzlar Network. “Its support enables them to concentrate completely on what they do best while a professional network management takes care of everything else.” In close contact with the companies, Noack is currently scanning their needs, collecting ideas and analyzing overlaps. The Optics Center Wetzlar could serve as a central contact point. “Innovation networks already funded through ZIM include projects in optical metrology, nanoanalytics, or sensor technology. It is also imaginable to have an innovation network in the photonic value creation chain that covers many fields of competence which already exist in the region ranging from optics production, electronics, sensor technology and mechanics to logistics and marketing”, André Noack explains. There is no lack in innovators, he is convinced.

Exchange between companies, open to all technologies and industries

In order to receive any funding, an innovation network needs to consist of at least six small and/or medium-sized companies which are independent of each other. Additional partners can be brought in, such as research facilities or university institutes. The maximum amount available to national ZIM innovation networks is EUR 420,000, granted in two phases over a total period of four years. Apart from the network management, it is also possible to fund efforts in assessing the feasibility of an intended R&D project or even sponsor supplementary measures for the market launch. The first meeting of interested companies already took place in October. It was about which potentials for sustainable innovations could be unlocked in the networks, reports André Noack, adding: “We are very keen on an exchange that is open to all technologies and industries and we would be very happy if even more companies from the region develop an interest in the concept of the innovation network.” For: In concert, they will accomplish more – and even more effective when interconnected in an innovative way.


André Noack