Looking for the next big innovation model

Marc Tobias worked at Fraunhofer IMW from March 2009 to August 2010, and is now a consultant for Innovation Management and New Technologies. In this interview, he talks about starting a division from scratch and his interest in sustainable innovation 

Marc Tobias

Where do you work now (institution and geographic location)?

I am a self-employed management consultant in the D, A, CH region in the field of innovation management, but since 2010 work mainly for and with BGW AG in St. Gallen and as a senior expert for EU projects. We are the consulting spin-off of the Institute of Technology and Innovation Management at the University of St. Gallen (headed by Professor Oliver Gassmann).  My personal concentration areas are business model innovation, digital transformation and sustainable innovation. 

What is your current position title?

Senior Consultant, Innovation Management and New Technologies

When did you work at Fraunhofer IMW?

March 2009 – August 2010

What division/unit did you work in?

I was head of the division »Enterprises and International Markets« and worked with a great team. 

Where did you study and what degrees did you achieve/are you working towards achieving?

I studied business administration with a focus on international management and marketing at the RWTH Aachen and Université des Sciences Sociales Toulouse (Dipl-Kfm.) Afterwards I started my doctoral thesis in international marketing at University of Jena and now at University of Regensburg, which is still ongoing due to private and professional reasons.

What did you find particularly interesting about your work at Fraunhofer IMW? What did it teach you and how did it prepare and help you pursue and fulfill the position you are holding now?

The most interesting aspect was the opportunity to set up and design an entire division from scratch. It was a great experience and very challenging. Especially at the beginning, it was a lot of work. Back then we were in a transition and start-up phase. Acquisition of projects was challenging.  But I learned a lot about it and also about the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft itself.

Another lesson was that it does not make sense to gather a team before having a clear idea of the projects and topics. Back then, the institute was still young and searching for its focus. In the end, we achieved a lot of success, had a lot of fun and were very motivated. The entire culture and working climate changed within these 1.5 years, which is something Professor Posselt and I often discussed. One main question was, »how to motivate people to give their best for the institute?«, and the culture and incentives changed strongly in this regard during the 1.5 years that I was there. I continue to follow the activities of the Fraunhofer IMW and former colleagues. Networks are very important today.  

What are you working on currently and what do you really enjoy about this job?

I am now focusing on innovation and IPR-Management topics in the field of consulting. I am mainly consulting for large and medium-size companies in this field. For several years now the topic of business model innovation has of course been very important. But I am still dealing with »old« innovation management topics, such as designing »open innovation processes« or service innovation. An additional topic relates to sustainable innovation. For several years I was working on an EU-Life project linked to this, and we have now developed the first open innovation and crowdsourcing platform focusing on sustainable innovation challenges (http://www.innonatives.com/). My work-life balance as a consultant is better now than it was before. I work in a very interesting field and my job offers high flexibility, which is also necessary because we have three children. As I have no team to organize, I can concentrate on projects. This makes for a lot of fun.

Did you ever expect to be doing this while you were at Fraunhofer IMW?

Yes, definitely. Initially I considered doing it while working at the institute. If I had continued a little longer, I might have. However, sometimes in life, you have to make a decision and so in 2010 I changed my job, which for me was the right progression.

What were your most memorable moments as a team member of Fraunhofer IMW?

There were so many but just to mention some: I remember several summer beach volleyball evenings with my team, nice parties or chill-out music sessions. My decision to leave the institute was unfortunately on very short notice and took everybody by surprise. My team was really motivated to start the next phase of project development and we had thus undertaken very detailed and realistic planning. I did not feel right at this moment, but I could not yet say anything. When I did inform my team, I know that some of them were quite disappointed. Sometimes the border between »friendship« and »colleague« is difficult to manage. But I think every team leader finds that working with different people with different characteristics challenges us to grow personally and professionally.    

What is your lasting impression of Fraunhofer IMW?

The institute has changed so much since I worked there. The MOEZ was very different. It is awesome what Professor Posselt and the entire team have managed to set up. Congratulations!

What future goals are you working towards?

Actually, I am very happy with the work I do now and am always looking for inspiring projects in the field of innovation management. For me, the topic of sustainable innovation is very interesting because we need to be more sustainable and at the same time innovative. But the question is: how? Sustainable innovation is not just resource reduction. It is about changing business models, it is about changing services, it is about changing products. There is a large potential and I am really interested in various kinds of projects and co-operations in this field.

How do you see the field you are working in changing in the future?

In general, the consulting business will not change a lot. I think depending on what you are looking for, you can find any type of consulting in today’s world. But we are also becoming more »digital«, so this will change the work we do with our clients. From a content perspective, innovation management is a really dynamic field. The St. Gallen Business Model Navigator™ with its patterns is just one example of how new management methods occur and change the companies’ way of »innovation thinking«. We will see what the next »big innovation model« will be. Fraunhofer is one of the leading institutions in this context and we in St. Gallen do a lot of interesting work in this field.