4 Questions to Dr. Vanessa Loreto

Hi Vanessa, it is so nice to have you here with us today! For eight year now, you have been working for edding’s innovation department and your hard work has clearly paid off. In 2018, edding was honored as Germany’s most innovative medium-sized enterprise. As Vice President of the new Business Unit ‘New Ink Solutions’, you are currently exploring the issue of sustainability in ink technology. Can you give our readers some insight into your responsibilities at New Ink Solutions and explain how this new unit fosters the firm’s Co-Innovation?

As one of edding’s six business units, New Ink Solutions aims to form the spearhead for innovation based on new ink and surface technologies. For instance, in the domain “Green Tech Ink,” we focus on innovative ink technologies that can help us to realise more sustainable lifestyles and enable more resource-efficient industrial processes. By building strategic, complementary partnerships, we lay the foundation for successful co-innovation. The resulting constellations benefit from edding’s expertise in ink application as well as our strength in business model design and business development. Branding and sales strategy are also historical core competencies of edding and also the focus of the edding New Ink Solution team. 

We are currently working with a tech startup to evaluate its technology for an innovative, high-temperature-resistant ink. The focus is not only on the possibility of application via the edding Industrial Tech Solution’s Compact Printer product series (thermal inkjet technology), but also on qualitative exploration in the metal industry with regard to the appropriate business model. With this collaborative approach between internal and external stakeholders, we seek to combine the advantages of our project partner’s innovative ink technology with the benefits of our edding Compact Printer series, meaning extreme temperature resistance coupled with connectivity and maintenance-free operation. For certain industrial customers, machine-readable coding and tracking could not previously be realised due to their rough production processes. As a consequence, highly energy-intensive manufacturing processes such as hot forming could be made much more resource efficient by limiting scrap. 

New Ink Solutions is therefore never purely about the ink or the ink in an application system, but always takes a holistic view of a complete business model, with which we and our network aim to develop new solutions to unanswered problems. 

Many long-established companies are feeling increasing pressure to change and are therefore striving for more innovation and product diversification. edding is setting a good example in this respect by devoting itself specifically to this task. One of the results of this was the “Co-Creation Day”, to which edding invited pre-selected founders and startups on April 6, 2022. What was the goal of this event and did your expectations come true?

Although we’ve been actively scouting for relevant trends, technologies, and partnerships with our Corporate Innovation Management team for a number of years, we wanted to use an event like this to raise awareness of edding as an innovation partner in the startup community and, simultaneously, increase our chances of getting on the radar of relevant companies. Accordingly, we were really enthusiastic that this year – still in pandemic times – this event could finally take place.  Our goals were clearly outlined from the beginning and derived mainly from what we didn’t want to pursue: Namely, not a classic, unidirectional pitching event à la ‘Höhle der Löwen’ in a fancy rented – but for us inauthentic – location. Rather, we were interested in the opportunity to show potential partners in a collaborative setting what and who we are – a family business based in Ahrensburg – and how it feels to directly collaborate with us on real innovation topics. For us, creating innovation is first and foremost people’s business, and what matters in the end is the quality and atmosphere of the joint creation. 

In terms of the day’s schedule, this meant that short pitches from the invited startups and our six business units were followed by a working session lasting almost four hours. Two colleagues from each business unit worked directly with up to two startups on a concrete co-creation concept. This concept was then pitched together at the end of the day. The agenda of the day thus directly contributed to our overall goal, namely the joint development of a strategically and commercially relevant cooperation concept that goes beyond the mere idea phase. We achieved this. Our business units are already in the process of concrete follow-up with four of the seven partners invited, and we see this as a very positive sign for very concrete innovation output from the Co-Creation day.

That sounds like a complete success! There are certainly companies that you have inspired with your concept. Hence, it would be interesting to find out what difficulties you encountered during the process and what lessons you could take away from your experience.

Yes, the first edding Co-Creation Day was a real success for us, and the very positive internal and external feedback really inspired our Corporate Innovation Management. So there will definitely be a new edition in 2023 and the lessons learned from the first event will be directly incorporated into it. But it’s also a fact that organising such an event – especially in times of the pandemic and the associated level of uncertainty – is a major effort, as the devil is in the details, and it takes a team of committed and disciplined people working hand in hand. We organised the event mainly as a team of three, with temporary support from our trainees. We deliberately decided against external support and planned and implemented the concept, communication and even the decoration ourselves. We wanted our heart and soul to be reflected in the concept, the day should convey our enthusiasm for innovation and, above all, authenticity to our guests. For us, this effort was worth it. 

In addition to the necessary resource investment for the preparation, the follow-up work should by no means be underestimated. In the end, a successful event means exactly one thing: It is the prelude to concrete cooperation projects. Follow-up is crucial. What are the next steps? Who talks to whom and when? Making sure that the positive momentum is maintained and that nothing gets lost is just as much a part of the day’s organisation as promoting the event in advance. 

In addition to what we learned about the organisation of the event itself – namely that professional event management requires a lot of time and attention to detail – we definitely noticed how important active scouting is in the run-up to the event. So we didn’t rely solely on our landing page for the event and the promotion of the Co-Creation Day on the well-known platforms of the startup community, but also very actively searched for interesting companies. This strategy certainly made the difference for the great set of applicants we ended up choosing from for the day. 

For the scouting, we also used your hy Ecosystem Manager, among other things. A big plus. We would do that again as well.

From the 21 startups that applied for the Co-Creation Day, you pre-selected seven you could imagine cooperating with in the future. Are there specific characteristics that a startup should have in order to be considered for the Co-Creation Day? And what happens to the winning startups after the event? 

There are specific characteristics that a startup should have. First and foremost, the strategic fit between the startup’s business model and at least one of our business units is decisive.  After all, our strategy is our compass for the coming years. It gives us orientation in terms of innovation, but also in particular in terms of which paths we explicitly do not want to pursue.

In terms of content, we can offer potential partners a wide variety of starting points on the basis of our business unit strategies. For example, in relation to the future of collaboration in education and the working world of tomorrow for our Collaboration @ Work business unit, new solutions for creative work or for making everyday life easier for our Creative & Home business unit or innovative offerings in the fields of lifestyle or tattoo for the business unit Lifestyle – whether with physical products, digital service offerings or innovative business models. 

In addition to strategic fit, we are particularly interested in partners who can already deliver a Proof of Concept. This is because we bring our expertise in branding, international marketing, sales strategy and channel management to a partnership. These competencies are most effective when a solution is already market-ready in its basic features and we can work together at full speed on a roll-out. We are always open to early-stage concepts and ideas, but not in the context of the Co-Creation Day. 

What happens now after the event? Four of the seven startups are still in direct contact with their partners from the respective business unit and are already in the follow-up phase. Our Corporate Innovation Management is supporting this process. For example, the business units have the option of requesting support for the next steps from the Corporate Innovation Management. However, this is not a must. It is particularly important to us that ownership of the next steps is clearly aligned. Our business units and their partners take the lead and we provide support where we are needed. This way, we also keep track of the actual – long-term – output of the Co-Creation Day. The next feedback loop with all business units is planned for June – by then 100 days will have passed since the event. So it’s worth taking a look in the rearview mirror.

And at the end of the interview, I wouldn’t want to miss out on emphasising one more thing: Of course, co-creation at edding does not only take place in the context of Co-Creation Day! Whether you’re a startup or a traditional company, we’re always open to an informal exchange of synergies and fresh ideas, and welcome anyone who wants to continue writing the edding success story with us.