VOSS Incubator - Developing radical innovations

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In order to ensure long-term success on the global market and keep the company on a positive development trajectory, VOSS has decided to establish a separate unit – the VOSS Incubator.

Through the expansion of the company’s current business segments, the VOSS Incubator aims to lay the foundations for new areas of business in the future.

The new unit is based in Aachen, Germany, and is a place where innovative ideas can be fast-tracked. Its base at the Aachen campus of RWTH Aachen University also gives it access to a wealth of innovation and technical expertise. Within the established ecosystem on campus, fresh ideas can be developed rapidly, prototypes tested, and markets validated.

The INC Invention Center its lending its expertise to VOSS Automotive GmbH to help set up the incubator, which is led by Paull Zeller from the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology. Mr. Zeller is the Group Head of the Technology Management Department and has many years of project experience. He has also been responsible for a number of incubators in the past. The role of Network Manager at INC is held by Eva-Marie Schubert, who is supporting the incubator in matters relating to the structured provision of technology and market information. With a strong network on the Aachen campus, she is perfectly placed to find suitable experts for the individual projects and provide active support. The newest member of the team is Dr. Thomas Welfers, who is overseeing day-to-day business at the incubator. The innovation team will be completed in October with the arrival of Anne Bernardy.

The innovation team gives insights into the work of the incubator in an interview:

What sorts of challenges are companies facing these days when it comes to introducing new innovations?

Paul Zeller: Nowadays, the process of implementing a new product generation within a company is very clear and standardized. However, when it comes to bringing in more radical innovations, these internal processes are often pushed to their limits. In spite of this, I feel very strongly that radical innovations are essential to ensuring the long-term success of a company. In the present climate, companies are faced with two major tasks. The first of these is to secure and build on their existing business to create solid foundations for new developments. The second is to develop new business areas that are currently regarded as radical innovations. 

Eva-Marie Schubert: When it comes to this second task, many large companies decide to set up a corporate incubator. We are delighted that VOSS is now joining these ranks.

Could you give us a bit more information on how a corporate incubator such as the VOSS Incubator operates, and what its activities are?

Paul Zeller: Of course! As a separate development unit of a company, a corporate incubator is a place for fostering radical innovations that could be the starting point for future business activities. By detaching itself from the corporate structure and dispensing with many of the conventional formal processes, the incubator can operate with the agility and effectiveness needed to achieve this goal. The staff who work at a corporate incubator need not be experts to make it a success. The incubator also has the task of evaluating new technologies, primarily with the aim of bringing new business ideas to life.

How do you intend to keep the incubator’s objectives and the development methods used at its site in Aachen distinct from the procedures that are used by VOSS in Wipperfürth?

Dr. Thomas Welfers: Fundamentally speaking, there are significant differences between the remits of the Wipperfürth and Aachen sites. The potential offered by agile methods primarily comes to the fore in situations where we are not yet sure what the end product will be and what the path toward it looks like. In contrast, stable project management is suited to conventional development projects where the development objective can be defined relatively precisely in advance in collaboration with the customer. It is also important to stress that the two sites are not in competition with one another, nor is the incubator seeking to act as a reformer. We simply want to research areas that have not yet been looked at. 

Dr. Thomas Welfers, what attracted you to the position of Innovation Manager at the VOSS Incubator?

Dr. Thomas Welfers: Before I joined the incubator, my career path had presented me with a number of opportunities to work on innovative ideas in their early phases. I often found myself faced with the problem of the ‘blank page’: Where do I start? What direction should we take at first? What are the constraints and limiting conditions? I came to realize that working in an environment that gave me great opportunities to shape new developments while grappling with considerable amounts of uncertainty really inspired me. Although the tasks at hand may be vague at first, it is not long before you start to see success once the projects have begun. I have always found this very motivating.