Wolfgang Gerstlberger, Associate Professor for Integrative Innovation Management at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU), has been involved in various innovation-related projects throughout last two decades. Among them is the EU-Project Future Renewable Energy (FURGY), with a total EUR 1 406 637 funding granted by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). By bringing together SMEs and scientists from German-Danish border sides, Wolfgang and his project team create a network of knowledge and support innovation and technological development in the fields of energy efficiency and renewable energies.
Prior to joining the SDU, Wolfgang served as a head of an Endowed Chair “Innovation Management & Small Business Research” at International Graduate School Zittau, in Germany, which today is a department of Technical University (TU) Dresden. He holds a Master’s and Ph.D. degree in Social Sciences, and a Habilitation in Business Administration from Kassel University, Germany. In this interview, Associate Professor Wolfgang Gerstlberger, also a member of the UIIN Scientific Board, shares his insights in the field of sustainable Innovation and public-private technology/knowledge transfer.
Wolfgang, what are your main fields of research and interest?
My two main research fields and interests are sustainable innovation and technology management as well as public-private knowledge transfer and technology partnerships. These two fields of research and policy practice are closely linked in several ways.
Firstly, successful innovation projects with additional, non-economic environmental and/or social goals, e.g. in the renewable energy or welfare technology sector, often require long-term public-private cooperation in networks or joint ventures. Such inter-organizational partnerships consist of firms, universities and local, regional or national governments.
Secondly, effective public-private technology and knowledge transfer has not only financial and other economic benefits for firms, but as well for the universities and other public entities, such as the municipalities.
Furthermore, such public-private technology and knowledge transfer also supports the economic, environmental and social development of regions and nations in the longer run. Strong national, regional and local innovation systems, particularly those with a clear sustainability focus, are one important institutional precondition of such positive socio-economic and environmental effects.
Can you tell us about the projects that you are currently involved in?
Based on my research, teaching and consultancy experience from the last two decades, my current projects address different angles. The first part of my ongoing project work deals with the development of quantitative performance measures for technology/knowledge transfer between universities and small and medium-sized enterprises.
Preliminary findings of this project, which I started in 2008 together with Professors Tobias Kesting from the University of Applied Sciences APOLLON – Hochschule der Gesundheitswirtschaft in Bremen, Germany, and Professor Thomas Baaken, Director of the Science-to-Business Marketing Research Centre in Muenster, Germany, will be published shortly in an article for the International Journal of Technology Management, titled “Benefit segmentation approaches for innovation-oriented university-business collaboration”.
A second set of current projects addresses the development of industry-specific performance indices for corporate sustainable product and service innovation. My partner in this endeavour is Alejandro German Frank, Professor for Industrial Organization and leader of a research group for Organizational Engineering at the Department of Industrial Engineering of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil (UFRGS). The first results of this joint Brazilian-Danish work are already available to the public.
What do you consider to be the scientific challenge(s) in this field; where do the greatest needs for research lie?
In my opinion, and considering my scientific and practical experience, the first and probably the most important challenge in the field of sustainable innovation and public-private technology/knowledge transfer, an area still new and emerging, is a need for additional and strong theoretical frameworks to complement already established theories such as “National, Regional and Local Innovation Systems” or the seminal “Triple Helix” concept.
Furthermore, a second and also a very relevant and important challenge from my point of view is the growing scientific and practical and policy demands for further and more detailed empirical studies. Such additional studies should be especially investigations, aiming at large-scale international comparisons and/or in-depth single or multi case studies.
Finally, I still see a large research gap and a big challenge regarding the systematic methodological development in this rather new research field. With their future projects researchers in our field should aim for more advanced mixed-methods research designs, which combine quantitative and qualitative approaches in a systematic way.
My last suggestion for future research is for more and more advanced multi-level research designs, combining e.g. further theory development and data collection for the levels of firms, universities and municipalities or regions.
What would you recommend a young scientist just starting to work in the field of sustainable innovation and public-private technology/knowledge transfer?
My first recommendation refers to the possibility for participating in the development of a significant conceptual contribution. Typically, together with her/his supervisor and/or more senior colleagues, a young scientist can contribute to the existing large research gap in terms of further theory development in this field. Such a theoretical contribution will probably very often start from an interesting case study or survey findings, and later in the research process reach a more generalized and theoretical level. The growing number of studies, which deal with different technology/knowledge transfer and sustainability aspects of local, regional and national innovation systems all over the world are worth mentioning in this regard.
Secondly, I would recommend to participate in an attempt to provide a methodological contribution to the field, e.g. a novel mixed-method research design, which combines interesting and relevant case study as well as survey or secondary statistics results.
Thirdly and finally I would encourage a young scientist to participate in an ambitious, large-scale international study, which covers different countries or regions.
Would you like to learn more? Contact Associate Professor Wolfgang Gerstlberger at SDU via UIIN Connect