3 Questions to Gleb Tritus

We’ve talked to the Managing Director of Lufthansa Innovation Hub, 3rd time winner of the Digital Lab Award, about the state of Corporate Innovation Units in Germany.

Did the positioning and perception of the Lufthansa Innovation Hub within the Lufthansa Group change in Corona-times?

Definitely – for the better. We have shifted our focus from the “tomorrow” and “day after tomorrow” of Lufthansa Group to the “here and now”, helping the core business to cope with the pressing crisis through digital-enabled efficiency. This might not be our primary discipline, but it is making a clear point both towards leadership and working level that we can deliver very fast, very cheap and with the sharpest solution orientation you could have in a legacy corporation.

Thereby, I truly believe that Covid-19 can be the “finest hour” for many digital labs making this very point. At the same time, the financial constraints coming along with the aftermath will inevitably end or at least heavily re-position many of these activities that have failed to deliver. As far as we are concerned, we are well positioned for this process that is in my opinion overdue for the German corporate innovation landscape.

What are today’s biggest challenges for Corporate Innovation Units in general?

The squeeze between market reality vs. core business expectations as well as the inevitable need to explore vs. short-term-targets remains an overarching challenge: the various innovation vehicles are basically asked to reinvent the respective corporation while building on its path dependency, implementation dogma, and risk aversion. This is contradictory on so many levels! Balancing these two schools of thought is still a make-or-break, just as it was ten years ago.

Meanwhile, the time span to validate such a unit has become shorter than years before while top-talent and – more than ever driven by Covid-19 – budget availability have been decreasing. The next year will be a moment of truth for the whole landscape.

How do you see the German Corporate Innovation Landscape in comparison to other countries?

Structurally, it is surprisingly multi-faceted: from what I can tell, there is no second market worldwide with such bandwidth of corporate innovation labs (currently >270!), internal and external accelerators, transformation consultancies, etc.

Obviously, structure alone does not guarantee results: in terms of exploration willingness, risk appetite, and budget allocation, we are clearly lacking. For instance, venture capital is still widely underestimated as a corporate innovation vehicle. Many corporate-startup partnerships have symbolic value, if any. And the few company building activities worth mentioning by German incumbents are mostly doomed to fail in terms of ownership allocation and entrepreneurial freedom. Eventually, the anchoring of these activities in the respective top management boards makes the point that the “Deutschland AG” is still getting there.

To put it heretically, we are jumping from a variety of diving boards in a fancy innovation water park while still learning how to swim.

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