High Tech Pioneers: Teams first. Technology later.


»High-Tech Pioneers«. The motto of Fraunhofer’s new Company Building Program goes as follows: »Team first. Technology later«. The concept connects the best of two worlds: skilled researchers and experienced founders. Since the beginning of the year Dr. Thorsten Lambertus leads the team behind »High-Tech Pioneers«. In the following interview, he answers questions about the program.

What added value does the programme give researchers and Fraunhofer-Institutes? Why should one attend?

Thorsten: »High-Tech Pioneers« offers Fraunhofer researchers and Institutes several opportunities and advantages.

Above all, we offer a significant acceleration in the implementation of business models and the understanding of new markets. For experienced founders this is a routine and a passion all at once. We can win them over by offering excellent technology from Fraunhofer-Institutes and build teams with them, who have the potential to get the best out of the technology. In the best case, this ensures long-term stable income through licensing, further contract research and, if necessary, income through exit. Adding to that, the researchers are not forced to leave their institutes because we can complement entrepreneurial researcher-teams and also develop entire founding teams.   

Moreover, we observe, an increased motivation of the researcher groups who have managed to win over an experienced founder and thus see an even better chance to bring their »baby to the market«.

What significance does the composition of the team hold for technology usage? 

Thorsten: Founding a company only works as well as the people who found it. Hence, »teams first«. The right team is the key to success. The linkage of the best of the two worlds - first class technology and skilled founding expertise – builds such a team. Pure technological excellence can’t do the job on its own. Only by connecting the complementary abilities, we can get the maximum potential out of the technology. In such ways, the markets of tomorrow can be created and a company with actual added value can be build. 

What makes a good mix? 

Thorsten: As I said before, a good spin-off team is heterogeneous in its abilities and covers all essential roles of a founding team. Technological excellence as well as founding expertise is essential. Most importantly though, chemistry between the team mates must be right. A compatible value base, same motivation and ambition combined with dedication and commitment are needed. However, next to a good match concerning personalities and skills, both sides should clearly state their expectations. This way, no one gets disappointed.

What should be taken into account, when building teams? Do you have a secret formula?

Thorsten: I am a big supporter of the »Prototyping Concept«. We construct prototypes and then test and develop them for weeks and months. This works like a technology- and business model development. One should be able to try out different types, and everyone should know what they want or don't want and express it clearly to their team. It is vital that one feels safe and comfortable in a team and one’s role – kind of like a marriage.

Can you tell us how Team-Prototyping works?

Thorsten: Currently we start the team development with two very intensive days of work. We bundle up high founding and technological expertise. From the first second on our focus lies on people getting to know each other, hence »teams first«. For this we do not only create a very informal and close atmosphere but also develop and link different team-prototypes, who work together (by using findings from team research). At the end of the day, everyone should have had the opportunity to get to know different personalities. Based on this, everyone then creates a wish list where they state which people they would like to work with more closely. On the second day, only people who have matched each other on their wish lists, do then meet. Here, we work with a focus on business cases, product vision and personal commitment to found. The goal of the workshop is a »Handshake Agreement«  about working together closely in the coming weeks, in order to make the right decision quickly: do we want to found or not.

How long does a team go through the program?

Thorsten: »High-Tech Pioneers« isn’t a program as such. »High-Tech Pioneers« is a continuing support system during the founding-/ innovation process, in order to build and develop founding teams. Thus, we support the teams, alongside other programmes which assist a founding, as long as they are in need.

Thank you very much for the Interview, Thorsten and good luck with »High-Tech Pioneers«.