How innovative is Leipzig really?

In a study, the Handelshochschule takes stock of the situation and wants to help companies to increase their enthusiasm for the future - and to create scope for this.

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Lino Markfort, Innovationsmanager der Immobilienfirma "CG Elementum" steht auf dem Gelände der "Plagwitzer Höfe", einem Hotspot für innovative Projekte in Leipzig.
Lino Markfort, the responsible innovation manager of the real estate company "CG Elementum" on the site of the "Plagwitzer Höfe", a hotspot for innovative projects in Leipzig. © Anja Jungnickel

By Sven Heitkamp

Meaningful innovation is when people talk to each other. That could be one of the findings of a new Leipzig study presented on Tuesday afternoon. Because it doesn't always seem self-evident. The renowned private HHL Graduate School of Management, the City Leipzig and a new "Digital Impact Lab. of the LF Group therefore wanted to know: How innovative are the hip eastern German metropolis and its companies?

This also revealed how it is better not to do it: In an innovation project, a company had provided for a new bus stop in front of the front door so that customers could reach the location better without a car. But no one had talked to customers beforehand - and the stop now stands mostly deserted. "The exchange with customers is a great innovation lever that can be used even better," says Claudia Lehmann, Professor of Digital Innovation in Service Industries at HHL, and one of the authors of the study.

Nevertheless, the Leipzig region received good marks in the survey. The location has always been considered an innovation hub, the authors judge. "Today, many of the former industrial sites provide a home for innovative startups, a thriving creative scene and innovation centers such as the Federal Agency for Leap Innovations," concludes one. "The strong network of universities and research institutes, as well as the city's increasing prominence from the worlds of culture and sports, attract many well-educated people to Leipzig who have the potential to act as drivers of innovation."

The view is similar at the nationwide real estate developer CG Elementum, a subsidiary of Gröner Group AG with around 600 employees, which was interviewed for the study. Lino Markfort, board officer and responsible for innovation topics at the company, says: "Leipzig is a location rich in opportunities, where a lot is founded, with an active startup scene, important institutions and many thought leaders - but the radiance as a beacon could still be increased."

The "Plagwitzer Höfe" in Leipzig were renovated and converted to attract creative, young companies.© Anja Jungnickel

CG Elementum itself is implementing innovative projects in the city, including the Plagwitzer Höfe, where space is being created for culture, retail, gastronomy, technology, offices, galleries and apartments in listed industrial architecture. CG Elementum is also helping to build a hotspot for the games industry in the city center. But more could be done to bring companies together, says Markfort, a business economist. "Leipzig offers many important places and good networks between business and science to exchange information about new trends at an early stage. But there's still room for improvement there, too."

The online surveys of almost 250 employees and 24 in-depth interviews revealed that the innovative strength, innovation culture and willingness to embrace new ideas are now rated as high in every second company. "I was pleasantly surprised by the results," says Professor Lehmann. There are examples of different formats: Leipziger Messe, for example, has launched an "innovation board." A working group that takes up suggestions and ideas from employees on new projects, products and processes and accompanies them with the management. At the Leipzig Chamber of Industry and Commerce, there is a virtual "Ideas Management" - a platform on the intranet where employees can submit new suggestions. Young, well-known companies have already established innovation managers who ensure that ideas are exchanged and managed.

However, show the study result also that the other half of the respondents still see clear potential for improvement, Lehmann admits. For an innovation-friendly corporate culture, an environment must be created that encourages employees to contribute ideas and develop solutions, emphasizes co-author Timo Brunner. This includes, among other things, education and training on innovation methods, free space and fixed times for creative work, cooperation with external partners, networks and universities, coaching for managers to drive innovative projects forward - and bonuses for successful new projects.

"If everyone just works in their own room, on their own floor, in their own department, it's obvious that sharing is difficult," says transformation coach Justine Walter of the Digital Impact Lab, which advises companies in German-speaking countries. So you have to open doors. You have to be able, allowed and willing to innovate, says Walter. In addition, innovations in the company are often driven by external influences such as new legal requirements, the Corona pandemic, the shortage of skilled workers or the energy crisis. Companies should be prepared for this. And last but not least, according to Professor Lehmann, the study itself aims to provide an impetus to increase the willingness to innovate and the enthusiasm for the future in Saxony's companies.

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