May 17, 2021. Özlem Türeci and Ugur Sahin were until recently only known to pharmaceutical experts. However, the Covid19 pandemic and their successful development of an effective vaccine against the SARS-CoV2 virus brought the two founders of the German pharmaceutical company Biontech sudden fame. And completely deservedly so. Their story proves the benefits to civilization that lie in the power of innovation.
The couple is currently only the best-known example of a long line of great inventors and developers in Germany. Just recently, the German Institute for Invention again honored outstanding innovative achievements with the Rudolf Diesel Medal, Europe's oldest prize for inventors. I was very pleased to have been nominated this year in the category "Most Successful Innovation Achievement". The winner, by the way, was real estate entrepreneur Ortwin Goldbeck. My sincere congratulations on his impressive achievement as an innovator and company founder. It is usually special personalities like Goldbeck or Türeci and Sahin who create innovations with their drive to find an even better solution. They are the reason why Germany is consistently one of the most innovative economies in the world according to the annual innovation index of the Bloomberg agency. Germany is currently in fourth place, and last year we were even the "Innovation World Champion".
Germany's most valuable raw material: Bright minds
I also find it very interesting that the number of patent applications in Germany has risen by a good three percent over the past ten years - but applications by immigrants have risen by 84 percent over the same period, according to the Institute of the German Economy, with migrants with Indian and Chinese roots leading the way. This suggests that Germany would do well to continue working on an open welcoming culture. Because one fact cannot be denied: Germany's most valuable raw material is still its bright minds. And due to demographic developments, it is dependent on an influx from outside.
Innovations are vital for the survival of a society and an economy. This was first noted by the famous Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter. In his standard work in economics, "Theory of Economic Development," he explained in 1911 that innovations are developed not only for economic self-interest, but also for the joy of creating. According to Schumpeter, an innovative entrepreneur becomes a monopolist through his innovation. Usually, competitors react by quickly imitating the ingenious invention or improving on it and thus outdoing it. Schumpeter thus described the interplay of innovation and imitation as a central driving force of competition - and thus of progress and the prosperity that comes with it.
But what exactly is innovation? The Duden dictionary defines the term for business as follows: "Realization of a novel, advanced solution to a particular problem, especially the introduction of a new product or the application of a new process." According to the Gabler-Wirtschaftslexikon, however, there is no "closed, generally valid innovation approach or no generally accepted definition of the term" in science so far.
We have always been able to find a solution to a previously unsolved problem
For me, of course, the topic of innovation is first and foremost based on my experience as an entrepreneur. OHB is an aerospace company, we develop highly complex solutions for applications in space - quite often these are developments which are at the limits of what is technically feasible and which we then send into an environment which, from a terrestrial perspective, could not be more inhospitable. Many projects in our company's history have never been done in this way before. However, our engineers have always been able to find a solution to a previously unsolved problem. For me, therefore, one of the secrets of innovative capability is that companies value and encourage the competence and creativity of their workforce. Because this creativity regularly unearths innovative solutions - solutions that can then be used to create additional benefits for society.
In the best case, the innovation leads to the company filling a gap in the market or even creating a new market that did not exist before. Schumpeter called this process "creative destruction". Creative destruction is triggered by innovations that are driven forward by entrepreneurs with the aim of gaining acceptance on the market. Today, we call this process disruption. And there are enough cautionary examples of what happens to a company when it fails to keep up with innovations in its market.
Research and development are the foundations of prosperity
There are very high demands on our space products in terms of technology, protection, communication and so on - so in that respect, development is naturally a big issue. I like to put it this way: Today, we live off the products we're making right now, but which our customers won't be able to use until the day after tomorrow. But my responsibility is to ensure that we still have something to do tomorrow - and there will be developments that will not be in service until the day after tomorrow. And that requires innovation, the crucial key to which is research and development.
For me, research and development are also the foundations of prosperity and progress. That's why it's so crucial that we awaken an appetite for innovation throughout society. And that's where I get the impression that we need to create much more awareness of this in Germany. We need to promote the fact that we need to be fascinated by progress, by innovation, as is the case in countries like the U.S. or China.
Institutions such as the German Institute for Invention and the annual awarding of the Rudolf Diesel Medal for outstanding innovation achievements are therefore important impulses to keep the necessary attention for progress and development high. "The great man does not live for himself, but for all" - this saying of Rudolf Diesel stands for a fundamental spirit shared by the many millions of companies in Germany - namely the inventive spirit.
Born in 1962, Marco Fuchs studied law in Berlin, Hamburg and New York. He worked as an attorney in New York and Frankfurt am Main from 1992 to 1995. In 1995, he joined OHB, the company that his parents had built up. He has been Chief Executive Officer of OHB SE since 2000 and of OHB System AG since 2011. Marco Fuchs is married and has two children.