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Podium discussion: Is Germany fit for the future?

“The USA and China are striving for technological leadership in the most brutal way possible.”

The morning’s panel consisted of Deutsche Börse CEO Dr. Theodor Weimer, Prof. Dr. Sabina Jeschke from quantum computing start-up Quantagonia, and professor of innovation Dr. Katharina Hölzle. They focused on technological progress, discussed the hurdles to innovation in Germany, and tackled an explosive question: Are we getting left behind? Or, to put it another way, how can we promote innovation to ensure that Europe and Germany remain important hubs in the future?

Even though Germany regularly ranks among the leaders in innovation rankings, Prof. Dr. Katharina Hölzle, who served as deputy chair of the German government’s Expert Commission on Research and Innovation (EFI) until June 2022, is sceptical about the country’s innovative capabilities, and stresses that this all depends on which areas innovation is happening in. Unfortunately, she has come to the conclusion that “China leads the way in every aspect of key digital technology”. Dr. Hölzle also held a mirror up to the way German companies innovate, explaining that “we can optimise the gaps between components to the point of perfection, but we struggle when it comes to rethinking the car completely”. Hölzle cited Elon Musk as a role model for this new way of thinking, “regardless of what you think of him as a person”.

The fact that Germany is no longer at the forefront of innovation was also confirmed by Prof. Dr. Sabina Jeschke, founder of quantum computing start-up Quantagonia. Her first trip overseas when starting out in 2018 was to China, because she wanted to experience how rapid infrastructure works first-hand. Since then, she has observed that “the pace of innovation is much faster in China than it is here. Anyone who is shocked by that now will be appalled by it tomorrow.” She then referred to Germany’s artificial intelligence legislation by way of comparison. “Anyone wanting to set up a business in this area will almost certainly avoid doing it in Germany. We’d rather talk about GDPR.” On the subject of policy, she called for clear messaging about exactly where we want to go. “We cannot shape our future as a business hub from the bottom up. We need a top-down approach.”

Dr. Theodor Weimer, CEO of Deutsche Börse AG, shared his fundamentally positive view of companies. He explained that they are probably in a better position than we think, that the innovative capacity is there, and that money is being spent. Yet he also urged companies not to ease up, as 22 percent of the German economy is dependent upon industry. According to Weimer, “anyone who believes the German economy can survive as a service-based economy is mistaken”, adding that the USA and China are further ahead in this respect and are striving for technological leadership in the most brutal way possible. He then provided two revealing figures: the USA invests 750 dollars per head in venture capital, compared to just 80 dollars in Germany. For example, if a German start-up is valued at EUR 8 million, it gets EUR 8 million in financing, whereas it would immediately receive USD 100 million in the USA.

Interview with Prof. Dr. Katharina Hölzle

In an interview, Prof. Dr. Katharina Hölzle describes Germany as the “world champions of incremental innovation” and emphasises the need to make bigger leaps forward, as well as sharing her optimism about Germany’s innovative capabilities.

(* in german)

Interview with Prof. Dr. Sabina Jeschke

Prof. Dr. Sabina Jeschke discusses the hurdles that technology start-ups in Germany have to overcome, how politicians can smooth their pathway to success more effectively, and how universities can turn inventions into marketable products.

(* in german)