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Photo Credit: Kienbaum

19.01.2022

Industrial Collective Research (IGF): Effective funding instrument with a unique selling proposition

Industrial Collective Research (IGF) has successfully facilitated pre-competitive, cross-industry and transfer-oriented cooperation between industry and science in Germany since 1954. This is confirmed by an evaluation study commissioned by BMWi from Kienbaum Consultants International GmbH, the results of which were published by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) at the beginning of January 2022.

Despite their wealth of knowledge and experience, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) often cannot afford their own research activities. In German SMEs, however, there is great innovation potential in product and technology development for economic and at the same time sustainable solutions. Industrial Collective Research (IGF) has offered a solution in Germany since 1954: pre-competitive, cross-industry and transfer-oriented cooperation between industry and science. This is confirmed by an evaluation study from Kienbaum Consultants International GmbH, the results of which were published by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection (BMWK) at the beginning of January 2022.

Facilitated access to practice-oriented research results

The final report states that "overall, a positive conclusion" was drawn regarding the achievement of the goals of the IGF funding programme for the benefit of small and medium-sized enterprises. This performance review is based on quantitative surveys of and, in some cases, intensive interviews with 474 small and medium-sized enterprises, 564 research institutions and 82 research associations. Goal achievement, impact and economic efficiency were reviewed for the period from 1 September 2017 to 31 December 2020.

About two thirds of the SMEs participating in the user committees of collaborative research stated in surveys on network development that they established contacts with an average of three networks or partners per year. Over 30 percent have directly used one or more research results for the further development and optimisation of their own products (including 40 percent), services (including 24 percent), processes (including 24 percent) and also for patent applications (including 3 percent).

Almost all of the companies and research and technology performers surveyed acknowledged the support provided by the successful knowledge and technology transfer and the facilitated access to practice-oriented research results through the IGF. Over80  percent of the research associations and institutions emphasised the training and further education of scientists within the funding programme as an additional positive effect. Four percent of the SMEs surveyed recruited junior academic staff from IGF projects. Last but not least, 15 percent of the research institutions registered patents, utility models and trademarks in connection with IGF projects during the evaluation period.

Strong increase in research commitment and demand by SMEs

At the same time, however, the evaluation also makes clear that, in contrast to the budget, the number of IGF applications increased significantly in the years observed. Inevitably, the discrepancy between submitted and funded applications increased: 2017: 67 percent and 2020: 46 percent. "This was in no way due to the quality of the applications, which are reviewed by independent reviewers, but rather to the continuously increased research commitment and need of German SMEs," explained the President of the AiF Federation of Industrial Research Associations "Otto von Guericke" e.V., Professor Sebastian Bauer. The AiF accompanies and coordinates industrial collective research on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action. In 2021, the BMWK (former BMWi) made around 200 million euros available for IGF for outstanding research projects and network building between medium-sized companies and research institutions.

Recommendation for action: Continue the IGF programme

The study concludes with the recommendation to continue the Industrial Collective Research (IGF) funding programme. It says: "The IGF has proven to be an effective funding instrument. The effects achieved with the funding pay off significantly in terms of achieving the programme's goals. For many decades, the IGF has demonstrated its unique character in the German (and European) funding landscape and thus represents an important part of innovation funding in Germany.

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