How does exploitation work? Overcome the Valley of Death with innovation management activities.

January 29, 2024 | Blogs

European Commission funds innovative ideas, research, and solutions with the aim of boosting the EU’s competitiveness and growth. Besides that, the Horizon Europe programme shall help to tackle climate change and to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. As an expert in Exploitation, also called innovation management, Steinbeis Europa Zentrum works as an enabler and catalyst for impact in EU projects

Organizations in their early development stages can face a series of challenges, called the Valley of Death (VoD). These unfavorable conditions can occur between the idea phase up till market expansion with challenges ranging from limited funding, lack of skills, poor understanding of the business environment, and more[1]. Generally, organizations must move past using up their initial resources towards creating revenue in order to overcome the valley of death. Innovation management shall help EU projects to overcome these challenges.

Source: Sustainable Futures: Overcoming the Valley of Death, 2022

[1] Challenges include but are not excluasive to limited funding, lack of relevant skills/ competences / human resource, poor understanding of business environment, social resistance and cultural challenge, ignoring of commercialization aspects; lack of cashflows etc.). (Source: 2022, Sustainable Futures: Overcoming the Valley of Death: A New Model for High Technology Startups,

According to research, 70% to 90% of innovations fail (2023, Harvard Business Review). This is an avoidable problem from the start, where Steinbeis Europa Zentrum can help.

Invest4Nature’s ambition is to transform the market of nature-based solutions from being almost solely publicly funded to having more private funding. Therefore, there is a need for a standard method for economic valuation of benefits, also called ecosystem services. Invest4Nature will tap on that topic and work on identifying a standard method for economic valuation. To make the results accessible and usable, a decision support system (DSS) toolbox will be developed to showcase the benefits and costs of nature-based solutions.

The aim of the exploitation activities is to bring innovations developed within Invest4Nature – with the support of the European Commission – to the market, so that others in Europe and beyond can benefit from our work as well.

Therefore, from the exploitation perspective, it is essential to ask some questions early on: “who shall use the toolbox as an end-user?”, “what kind of value should this toolbox deliver to the key users?” or “what kind of business model is sustainable for the toolbox to have a life after the investments of the EC?”.

In Invest4Nature, Steinbeis Europa Zentrum helps to moderate the innovation processes from the idea phase, to find the right users, up to a first market uptake, with finding the right business model or partners. All these activities are done in the hopes that the innovations from the project will overcome the valley of death as it develops and carries on past the project period.

In November 2023, Steinbeis Europa Zentrum conducted a first Persona & Value Proposition workshop for the NbS DSS Toolbox.

Invest4Nature General Assembly: Persona & Value Proposition workshop on the NbS DSS Toolbox (Credits: Steinbeis Europa Zentrum)

Besides workshops like these, Steinbeis Europa Zentrum works in Invest4Nature on an exploitation strategy for the whole project and its results. Together with the partners, we describe the project results in terms of content, ownership, defining the exploitation intentions as well as access rights.

This collaborative approach is consistently promoted and encouraged through our work in the project. The most promising project results (like the NBS DSS toolbox above) are selected in the course of the project. In a next step, working groups will then elaborate different aspects like users, values, adequate business models and market conditions in the targeted countries. Furthermore, future steps and responsibilities for a successful and effective utilisation of the project results are also determined within these groups.

Author: Elke Weidenfelder, Project Manager Innovation Management, Steinbeis Europa Zentrum

About Steinbeis Europa Zentrum

Steinbeis Europa Zentrum is the number 1 company for EU projects in Germany and represents more than 30 years of innovation consulting research funding throughout Europe and beyond. Well-connected with international partners and networks, Steinbeis Europa Zentrum stands by companies, start-ups, universities, research institutions and cluster initiatives on issues of innovation management, financing, EU applications, international markets, regional and social transformation and innovation policy.

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