The classic model of cooperation: A company perceives a need for research or development – for example it wants to launch an innovative product, improve a method or technique, solve a logistical problem, or audit a process to obtain certification. A discussion with Fraunhofer identifies possible solutions and clarifies the form the partnership could take and the estimated cost. Regardless of whether the project is large or small, its goal is to solve the problem and to launch the innovation within the company or on the market.
Large-scale projects with multiple partners
Some challenges are so complex that they require multiple partners to develop a solution. Clients in this situation have access to the full range of Fraunhofer Institutes. It is also possible to incorporate external partners and additional companies. Fraunhofer researchers have plenty of experience in running large-scale projects efficiently and fairly – and they know how to check what government funding is available.
Fraunhofer also has an international presence. Many Fraunhofer staff have international experience and sophisticated cultural and language skills, and they are personally familiar with global markets. As a result, companies operating internationally can often draw on Fraunhofer’s services abroad, too.
Fraunhofer is determined to foster promising new technologies. Pre-competitive research which starts off without any ties to specific development contracts often results in long-term partnerships with companies. One example is the Dortmunder OberflächenCentrum (DOC), a surface engineering center that brings together companies from the steel industry, Fraunhofer Institutes, universities, and universities of applied sciences. The goal of this network is to foster the application of new coating technologies.
Innovation clusters – networks that enhance efficiency
Complex projects often require a whole range of different skills and disciplines to succeed. Long-term collaboration between multiple research institutions and companies often provides key benefits, which is why Fraunhofer decided to create its innovation clusters with support from the German government. The goal of a cluster is to bring together competent partners from within a region to solve challenging tasks. Clusters incorporate industry and universities, as well as other locally-based non-academic research institutions which are capable of making important contributions to the topic at hand.
The physical proximity of the research organizations, investors and companies generates networks that can lead to new business ideas and start-ups. Regional innovation clusters close the gap between the business and research communities, and successful clusters stimulate competition and give rise to productive cooperation that ultimately benefits everyone involved.
Fraunhofer researchers are creative and know how to put good ideas into practice. They often take the step towards independence by founding their own company with an innovative development, product or method. Fraunhofer itself only participates in these kinds of start-ups up to a certain extent. Sometimes the customer who commissioned the new development is interested in taking a stake in the spin-off company itself, a decision that enables them to play a long-term role in the ongoing success and further development of the technology.
Spin-offs generally maintain close ties to the original Fraunhofer Institute. These start-up companies know from their own experience how beneficial it can be to cooperate on research projects, so they typically choose to maintain their contacts and their links to Fraunhofer.