Interview with Professor Clemens Bulitta, Dean of the Industrial Engineering Faculty, University of Applied Sciences (OTH) Amberg-Weiden
What should the product look like? What are barriers impacting market entry I need to consider? Who can support me with the development and subsequent production? Development teams continuously ponder these and other questions during the product design process. A new medical technology innovation lab wants to help solve these problems early on in the development.
In a conversation with Professor Clemens Bulitta, we asked about the lab’s future emphasis and wondered about the benefits for companies in the region.
Prof. Clemens Bulitta
Professor Bulitta, what is the purpose of the Innovation Lab?
Prof. Clemens Bulitta: The Innovation Lab is a project that is part of the BMBF funding initiative "Innovative Hochschule" (English: Innovative Universities). Within the scope of this funding program, we collaborate with East Bavarian universities and jointly proposed a project titled TRIO. The abbreviation TRIO stands for "Transfer und Innovation Ostbayern" (English: Transfer and Innovation in East Bavaria). Our subproject focuses on medical technology as an example of the potential opportunities an innovation lab has to offer and show how it can promote technology transfer and innovation in a geographic location.
Who is your target audience?
Bulitta: We support companies in the region and stakeholders in health and social care, such as schools or preschools. We always focus on medical technology in this setting. Our goal is to evaluate the possibilities this type of structure offers and the needed products, most notably because the Eastern Bavaria region is shaped by small and medium-sized enterprises and a lack of large enterprises, often preventing the former from developing structures for innovation. That’s why there is always a need for partnerships and third-party relationships. We design spaces to foster creativity and spark innovation.
What does a collaboration with you look like?
Bulitta: It depends largely upon the stage of the innovation process. Ultimately, you can only call it an innovation if it is also successfully brought to market. That means we support three phases: The first one pertains to the generation of new and creative ideas, followed by turning this idea into a prototype, and finally its commercialization. Let's say a company wants to further develop and improve an existing product. You can apply creative techniques to generate ideas in this setting. The Innovation Lab provides a unique environment for creativity. It is also equipped with a makerspace and a 3D printer. It can be used for prototyping or simulation. The lab also features microelectronic components. People test things, try them out and –if needed- get advice on how to bring this product idea to market. We also plan to create three network services in addition to these three phases. The on-site physical environment is already available and supports the prototype phase and the incubator stage. What’s more, we want to set up an additional mobile innovation lab and take it directly to the companies. The third element is a virtual component. We want to offer internet-accessible options. This allows us to invite concepts like open innovation for example. We are in the process of developing several other options and rely on a give-and-take approach with our partners. In other words, we have the infrastructure and the staff to support the companies.
In the innovation lab different ideas can be forged and also tried out.
Will you have teams that are comprised of company employees and members your own faculty?
Bulitta: That’s generally the case. We might assume the moderation. You can also consider including students in the process. That’s always subject to the individual case. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. We create choices, but everything will still largely depend on the specific situation. The creative phase is crucial when it comes to developing an innovative idea. When you develop prototypes, you involve colleagues who are experts in the respective field. When it comes to commercialization, you take a more advisory approach.
Are you currently in charge of any projects?
Bulitta: The lab was just opened in mid-March 2019. We hope to launch the first large-scale projects soon. Our first action was to host a creative workshop.
The project is still in its infancy. In the future, there should also be a mobile innovation laboratory that can drive directly to the companies.
You run the project as part of a university network. Do you also jointly manage the projects?
Bulitta: If someone specifically turns to us at the University of Applied Sciences Amberg-Weiden, the project will take place in our Innovation Lab, though it is still part of the overall TRIO joint project. This project includes the Regensburg University of Applied Sciences (OTH Regensburg), the University of Regensburg, the University of Passau, the Deggendorf Institute of Technology and the University of Applied Sciences (HAW) Landshut. We will also offer options via our mobile lab, but the OTH Amberg-Weiden is also going to take the lead on these types of projects. Having said that, this option obviously serves the entire Eastern Bavaria region. We collaborate, we complement one another and learn from each other. Ultimately, all universities want to foster better collaboration with the companies.
How many of your team members are a part of the project?
Bulitta: We have four full-time staff members who support the Innovation Lab and the funding program. We have two additional employees who are in charge of science communication and other issues pertaining to the TRIO joint project.
Do you actively pursue bringing an idea from your lab to market?
Bulitta: We only provide the infrastructure. This project does not aim to enter into special collaborations with companies. We focus on evaluating this type of innovation lab. We seek to generate scientific evidence on how this structure can foster innovation and promote technology transfer. Our emphasis is not on commercializing the ideas.
The interview was conducted by Simone Ernst and translated from german by Elena O'Meara. COMPAMED-tradefair.com