Research management – Getting ideas into the market

Dr. Anne-Julie Maurer
© Fraunhofer IAF
As research manager, Dr. Anne-Julie Maurer wants to focus at interdisciplinary cooperation in order to facilitate embracing research projects.
Fraunhofer research-manager
© Marc Müller
Prof. Oliver Ambacher, head of Fraunhofer IAF, and the personal training mentor, Barbara Becker, compliment Anne-Julie Maurer to completing the research-manager training.

Applied research for the entire society – this is the aim of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. But how can we provide a stable bridge between Fraunhofer research and innovative products for industry and society? In future, »Fraunhofer research managers« will be dealing with this challenge: 20 executive and specialist employees have completed their internal training as coordinators and ambassadors of Fraunhofer research. Anne-Julie Maurer, head of marketing and advisor to the director of Fraunhofer IAF director, explains concept and contents of the training and her ideas for Fraunhofer IAF.

»Research manager« sounds rather promising. But what exactly does it mean?

For me, research management is the 360 degree perspective which is absolutely essential for transferring research into useful and tangible products and technologies. Monitoring science, the market, partners, and customers as well as given framework conditions is fundamental. As a »research manager« I consider myself as a contact person for all relevant stakeholders when it comes to bringing together technology and users, and also representing the Fraunhofer research in public.

My fellow research managers and I form a close network for the scientists of our institutes, providing them with information about the various processes within the different institutes and setting up links for potential joint projects.

What exactly were the contents and topics of your training?

How can you create an innovative environment that is necessary for a successful transfer of our research into the market? What are the needs of our customers, what will the future bring? These are just a few examples of questions we dealt with throughout the past year. The aim of the six modules was to develop strategies on how to transfer our research results into marketable products, how to acquire new research projects and how to initiate closer cooperation with partners from industry. The topics reached from general concepts and strategies of project management, entrepreneurship, market research and futurology to customer-oriented techniques of marketing and sales.

What are the challenges for successful research management – and which approaches for possible solutions would you suggest?

One of the challenges for researchers worldwide is the competition within the research community. Of course this may stimulate productive development – but in research it is very difficult, if not impossible, to predict or analyze which party will provide the »best« research result. Competition in research isn’t natural, it’s man-made. From a research managers’ point of view I would like to counteract this a little bit. A close network among the scientists is a substantial advantage for successful research – not only in a defined project consortium, but also in industry projects requiring different competences. More projects could be won if we worked together and offered our joint competences. For instance, if one institute offers the expertise for devices and technology and another institute provides the necessary software for the evaluation of generated data we could offer the customer a much more comprehensive solution. However, cooperation and collaboration requires trust, and that takes time to build.

»Open Innovation« offers an interesting approach here: in this research and development concept all ideas and developments are openly shared and therefor available to everyone. Everyone can contribute their ideas and work and can help advance the state of research. This encourages interdisciplinary work and often generates completely new ideas. I am still trying to work out how to apply this to the concept of Fraunhofer.

What is your approach to develop of marketable offers?

Based on the »St. Gallen Business Navigator«, a concept developed at the University of St. Gallen, we got to know 55 different business models during our training. Which model will be successful strongly depends on the technology as well as the customer – since the offer has to match the relevant customer’s needs. For instance, the business model for a medium-sized company, a large corporate group or a public sector institution will vary in its kind and scope. During our training we worked in interdisciplinary teams of natural scientists, economists and humanists, discussed several cases from our institutes and developed a business concept on the basis of »guaranteed availability«, which is currently successfully being implemented in one of the Fraunhofer institutes.

Which are the first steps by implementing research management at Fraunhofer IAF?

I am currently trying to establish interdisciplinary workshops with colleagues from different departments in order to find out which technologies are ready to market and how we could convert them into offers that will create value for our customers. Also, I am sure that there  is still a lot of hidden potential in the institute. Ultimately we are trying to set up new structures and to define new ways of working together within IAF and with other institutes.

Your own scientific career actually started as doctoral student of English linguistics. How did you become a research manager?

During my studies and my PhD I worked as a freelance translator and gained insight into the research of Fraunhofer IAF. I was fascinated by the applied nature of the research done here and the strong focus on future technologies. Then I realized that when you want to get ideas into the market it does not only take complex technical know-how but also strong negotiation skills and an understanding of the market and economics. When the position as advisor to the director opened up I saw all these pieces combined, together with the opportunity to contribute to the strategic development. So I decided to jump into the deep and – and jumped right into research management.

How would you describe working at Fraunhofer?

»Always one step ahead« – the exciting part about my work at Fraunhofer is that I am involved right at the beginning of the creation chain of new developments. We deal with future needs and technologies and I get to see things that the public will not hear about until 5 or 10 years later. We are permanently in touch with the latest trends – and sometimes even one step ahead of them.

Which three keywords best describe research management?

»Achieving more, together«