| 6 minute read

Exploring Siemens’ ecosystem approach

Elena Galán-Muros
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For this episode, I had a conversation with Natasha Eckert, former Global Head of University Relations and now Senior Consultant at Siemens, about how it has revolutionised university partnerships through their unique ecosystem approach. Stay with us to learn more about the advantages and challenges of this approach and how Siemens manages these intricate partnerships.

In this article, we summarise part of that conversation, but you can listen to the full interview in our podcast:

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Balzhan Orazbayeva:
Siemens has been running a global strategic cooperation program with selected universities for over 20 years. In 2021, this program was expanded from more than 25 universities to a total of 16 research innovation ecosystems.

Natasha Eckert, can also you tell our listeners more about your role at Siemens?

Natascha Eckert:
I’ve worked with Siemens for 25 years and I’m now responsible for the strategic partnership programs, mainly with universities. I’m coming from the research side, and we are linked to the Corporate R&D Department of Siemens.

It’s a global department, we report to the CTO, and that means that our program mainly focuses on research collaboration, co-innovative programs and projects with the universities. But we are also very closely linked to our talent acquisition team, to the teams who run the educational formats with the universities, and to the sales teams. Siemens does a lot of building technologies, and universities are the perfect customers in this area.

Balzhan Orazbayeva:
Can tou provide an overview of the overall strategy that Siemens is pursuing and how it fosters collaborations with universities?

Natascha Eckert:
We are trusting universities from different angles, so the focus of our strategic program is research and innovation. We partner with many publicly funded research programs, but we also have a close look on educational formats. Siemens also is very engaged in the software business, so we deliver a lot of product lifecycle management (PLM) software. That means software where you really can design a product and smart factories, simulate them, model them, or set up a digital twin.

This is something where Siemens has a strong footprint, which means that we provide academic software licenses to universities.

We also engage in curricula, so where we offer the software, we also offer the use cases, and we train the students and the professors to use the software.

Talent acquisition is something that is absolutely key for all the industry companies, and we are in a very early stage of making Siemens visible as an attractive employer. We run a lot of student challenges, hackathons, capstone projects, and I think the appealing thing here is that we don’t offer textbook challenges, but we deliver the real challenges out of our businesses.

And the new angle, our 360 approach to universities, is because now universities are customers of Siemens. As soon as it comes to digitising campus or universities, to make the campus greener or more energy efficient, we deliver products, services, or even consultancy.

We don’t want to address a university like a “normal business customer”, we want to work together for mutual benefit.

Balzhan Orazbayeva:
What led to the decision to move from the bilateral partnerships that Siemens has been building for many years to multi-stakeholder engagements within those innovation ecosystems?

Natascha Eckert:
Frankly speaking, there was a pretty simple reason: Three years ago we had some organisational changes within Siemens. We span out the whole Siemens energy business, and they were very engaged in renewable energies, which is a super interesting research field for universities and a highly attractive field also for students to join the company and to work in this area.

After the spun out, some universities decided unfortunately to also step out of our approach. Overnight, we lost really a huge part of our overall engagement with the universities.

Besides that, our observation for the last year was already that universities were no longer solo players. They were working in their own innovation ecosystems and had many partnerships with other research institutions.

You could see that also with the third mission, universities started to kick off their own businesses and commercialise their own IP. This was the reason why we said “maybe it’s too narrow only to focus on one”.

So we started talking with our partner universities here in Munich about what they thought about the ecosystems, and if they were open to proactively inviting other partners or bringing in their global alliance partners.

We got great feedback, and we created a program, the Siemens Research and Innovation Ecosystems (RIEs). We have 16 of them in a global setup. We have Siemens RIEs in the US, Asia, Europe, and we are also trying to expand the engagements within those ecosystems.

Balzhan Orazbayeva:
What role would other partners then play in these kinds of interactions?

Natascha Eckert:
We are involved in publicly funded projects like Horizon Europe, DARPA, so different programs all over the world. There, we engage with universities and research institutes, but we also proactively invite different partners out of the ecosystem.

If take a look at Germany universities, we are entering open doors because they have more and more of those kinds of cross-partner.

This also means, for example, if we run conferences on a certain topic, we invite other institutions, even other business partners, and we let them doing their pitches. It is a great opportunity for them to present their results, their research, their business model, and figure out if there are opportunities for them on the Siemens side; and vice versa, for Siemens to see if there is something we are missing in our portfolio. It speeds up our development processes and creates a shorter time to market. We use these kinds of academic start-ups as a vehicle to improve Siemens’ internal development processes.

Ready for more?

If you’re interested in how other universities and businesses develop their strategic partnerships, listen now to our episode How Siemens, 3M, UniMelbourne and NCSU create meaningful partnerships.

Also visit our case studies collection Fostering talent through education partnerships to get a glimpse into transformative university-industry partnerships that are bridging theory and practice to future-proof the careers of students. 

Stay tuned for the next episode on this series and don’t forget to follow us on your preferred podcast platform!

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