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Topic - Innovation Policy

Innovation Policy


Innovation and technology are changing the world and peoples’ lives. Many things that used to sound very futuristic to us have become part of our daily life. And there is a possibility that much of it will soon be overtaken by even newer developments. In order to improve the competitiveness of our companies, create long-term economic growth, prosperity and new jobs, we therefore need to invest in research, innovation and training.

New technologies, processes and services are what drives innovation. In order to address societal changes and global challenges such as climate change, the digitalisation of all parts of our lives, and demographic change, we need to come up with innovative responses and sustainable solutions.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy aims to foster Germany’s innovation capacity by creating an environment that is conducive to investment and by providing funding programmes that are targeted to the needs of the market. We want to inspire people to choose a career in technology and natural sciences. This will also help us secure an adequate supply of skilled workers for the future.

Our goal must be to make Germany one of the world’s most innovative nations, one that is spearheading key enabling forward-looking technologies. To this end, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Brigitte Zypries published an Agenda for Innovation in April 2017 which is based on a two-pronged approach: first of all, the government is to make available technology-neutral funding so as to allow entrepreneurs to decide for themselves which technologies they want to invest in. Secondly, there is to be a greater focus on forward-looking technologies and key enabling technologies. You can find the Agenda for Innovation here. For a brief summary, please click here (in German).

Four figures on innovation activities in Germany

Symbolicon für Münzen

billion euros
is the amount invested by German companies in in-house research and development activities.

Symbolicon für Geldscheine

billion euros
is total amount of money spent by German companies on new products, services and processes.

Symbolicon für Tortendiagramm

per cent
is the share of the German GDP that is invested in research and development.

Symbolicon für Unternehmen in Deutschland

thousand German companies
do regularly bring new innovations onto the market.

Germany – a hub for technology

High-tech made in Germany

Germany has a long tradition of being at the forefront of technological innovation. Around 33,000 companies in Germany are continuously active in research and development; more than 100,000 companies regularly bring new products and services onto the market.

These companies create a positive environment for innovation. According to data provided by the Donors’ Association for the Promotion of Science and Humanities in Germany, German companies invested around 62 billion euros in research and the development of new products and services in 2015. The total amount of investment that goes into new innovations, from their development to their launch onto the market, stands at around 157 billion euros.

There is high demand for technology products made in Germany. In 2014, German companies exported research-intensive goods worth €675 billion. This puts Germany in second place globally, behind China, and before the US.

Germany has an above-average number of ‘hidden champions’. These are usually small and medium-sized enterprises that are world market leaders for their products and services. Their success is based on a long-term company strategy, a high level of private equity and a highly skilled workforce.

An excellent research infrastructure

German companies can draw on the expertise of numerous internationally renowned research institutes (such as the Max Planck Society, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, the Leibniz Association, and the research facilities governed by German ministries) and universities.

German companies have a strong position on the markets and therefore Germany often ranks among the top countries in innovation rankings, generally behind Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries, but always ahead of other major economies. However, Asian countries, such as China and South Korea, are catching up – this means that German companies will need to deal with the fact that the number of global competitors will rise, not least in the technology sector.

Policy measures that help raise Germany’s innovation potential

The measures undertaken by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy for the promotion of research and innovation are part of the Federal Government’s ‘High-tech Strategy - Innovation for Germany’ that covers all of the government’s measures that promote research, technology, and innovation. The Economic Affairs Ministry’s measures aim to strengthen the innovation capacity, particularly of small and medium-sized companies and start-ups.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy provides a wide range of funding programmes for innovative SMEs. Under our ‘From concept to market success’ initiative, we have restructured, packaged and streamlined these programmes. The measures set out in these programmes target the whole of the innovation chain – from creative idea to the implementation of new products and services. A special focus is placed on transferring technologies from research to the market. In addition to this, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy provides funding for specific research and technology projects undertaken by companies – often in cooperation with research institutions – in technology areas such as energy, information and communications technology, the maritime economy, mobility and aerospace.

In addition, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is further improving the framework for research and innovation. In particular, such clothing and equipment includes

Promoting innovation and providing advice

Promoting research and innovation in SMEs

Innovations help maintain the competitiveness of German SMEs. In order to increase competitiveness and harness the potential for development, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has put in place dedicated programmes for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that promote research and development, provide advice on innovation and facilitate cooperation with the academic world.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy provides SMEs with grants and low-interest loans so that they can finance their research and innovation activities more easily. New scientific findings are to be translated into marketable products as soon as possible. This is why the Ministry provides strong incentives for companies to cooperate with research institutes.

Research and innovation projects that are close to the market

Under the Central Innovation Programme for SMEs (ZIM), grants are provided for market-oriented technology research and development projects undertaken by German SMEs.

The ERP innovation programme provides low-interest loans for SMEs and persons offering professional services. The idea behind this programme, too, is to promote innovation and to quickly bring new practical ideas to market.

Pre-competitive research

In order to hold their own in the international race to innovate, SMEs need to have (access to) research facilities whose R&D efforts are tailored to their needs and whose findings can be quickly and efficiently translated into marketable products and services. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy provides funding for pre-competitive research under its collective research programme (IGF). The results achieved under this programme benefit all companies in Germany. Under the INNO-KOM programme, funding is provided for non-profit research establishments that undertake applied research projects in structurally disadvantaged areas.

Advising companies on innovation

The German government provides SMEs with advice on innovation, helping them to build up expertise in developing new innovations. This means for example that companies receive information on how to manage innovations in an efficient manner and on what funding programmes are available at national, regional and EU level.

  • The Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy’s Innovation Vouchers (go-inno)
    The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy provides innovation vouchers for SMEs working in the commerce and skilled crafts sector that use the services of external consulting firms. For more information, please visit (in German) – the Ministry for Economic Affair’s official website for the ‘go-inno’ funding programme.
  • German Agency for Materials Efficiency (demea)
    SMEs wishing to identify inefficient elements in their manufacturing process and to take steps towards a more effective use of materials can turn to a consultancy firm certified by demea. The objective here is to lower costs and optimise processes by adopting a smarter approach when it comes to using materials. For further information, please click here.
  • National contact point for SMEs
    The national contact point for SMEs (NCP SMEs) provides information and advice about the funding programmes offered by the European Commission, particularly about SME-specific funding schemes, and about how companies can claim venture capital under the EU’s ‘Horizon 2020’ research and innovation programme. If you want to keep updated about the latest news, please sign up for the newsletter (in German) published by the national contact point for SMEs or visit the (in German) website.
  • Information service on federal support for research and innovation
    The Federal Government’s information service provides information on all issues surrounding the research and innovation promotion programmes provided by the Federal Government, the German Länder and the European Commission, on important contact persons and on its current funding priorities. In addition to this, the information service provides special assistance for SMEs free of charge.

Fostering networks and clusters

Many companies and research institutions work together in regionally or industry-specific clusters and networks in order to create the best possible value chains and improve their competitiveness and innovation capabilities.

  • Clusterplattform Deutschland – a website run by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs together with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research provides a good overview of the cluster-related policy measures undertaken by the Federal Government, the German Länder, and the EU. The website lists all regional and national cluster initiatives in a way that is clear and concise. It also provides a forum where the members and researchers of the different clusters can engage in dialogue.
  • The ‘go-cluster’programme offers a large number of services that help support cluster management, that foster the development of innovative services, and improve the visibility of innovation clusters.


Warehouse, image regarding the subject of SME financing; Quelle: Getty Images/Erik Isakson

© Getty Images/Erik Isakson

Key enabling technologies

Developing state-of-the-art technologies for Germany

In order for German businesses to continue to be leaders in the international markets, Germany needs to ensure that it has high-quality research facilities that conduct research into key enabling technologies.

To this end, the Federal Government provides funding for R&D projects across a wide range of technology sectors. Most of these are conducted by companies in cooperation with research institutions. From biotechnology to the aerospace industry: If you want to learn more about a particular key enabling technology, click through the images in the gallery.

Innovations for the future

Getting young people excited about technology and nurturing young talent

The extent to which we will be able to master the big challenges of our time depends on our ability to make scientific breakthroughs and develop new innovations. Policymakers, representatives from the worlds of business, academia and education therefore need to raise awareness for new technologies in an unbiased way, highlight how people can benefit from these technologies in their daily lives, and encourage young people to choose a career in technology.

Skilled professionals – with academic or vocational qualifications – are the key to innovation and competitiveness, to growth and employment, and to prosperity and a good quality of life. Right now, however, it is proving difficult to fill many vacancies in Germany’s engineering sector – a sector which is so crucial to the success of our economy – and to recruit people with excellent technical skills. Demographic change could cause this skills gap to further widen in the coming years.

Our goals:

  • We want to inspire enthusiasm for jobs related to natural and engineering sciences. This means that technical and scientific courses have to play a greater role in school and university curricula. Given the growing lack of skilled workers, these types of occupation offer outstanding job and career prospects.
  • We would like to whet the appetite of and excite the interest of children and young people for technology so that more young people – women in particular – choose a profession in the natural sciences or engineering.
  • We want to familiarise school students from an early age with the natural sciences and engineering in a way that they will understand. Young people can already experiment with technology in the labs of research facilities associated with the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (for example, in the German Aerospace Centre’s ‘school labs’).
  • At higher education institutions and non-university research establishments, we are taking steps to foster a stronger entrepreneurial climate so that more students will be attracted to the idea of launching their own innovative businesses.

Patents and standards

Protecting intellectual property, developing new standards to encourage innovation

In 2015, just under 32,000 patent applications were filed in Germany – more than in any other European nation. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy aims to foster a spirit of innovation in Germany whilst at the same time ensuring that intellectual property is protected. Standardisation can help innovative products and processes to be rolled out more quickly.


Standards define the state of the art in technology in almost all areas of our lives, and they stipulate the requirements that products and services must fulfil. Standards help provide for systems capability, assure quality, create transparency and protect consumers. Standards can also help to reduce the amount of time needed for innovations to become widely available on the market.

The Federal Government’s standardisation policy objectives are set down in its standardisation strategy. Standards need to be developed globally so that technical barriers to trade can be eliminated, innovations can be rolled out more quickly, and technology-related legislation can be refined. Find out more.


Intellectual property needs to be protected in an effective way – at both national and international level. This is particularly key in a technology-based economy like Germany where it needs to be ensured that companies can bring their innovations to market and stand the test of global competition. If we want our globalised economy to work well, we need to ensure that intellectual property is effectively protected. International efforts that aim to improve the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights therefore need to be continued and refined. Find out more.

Quality assurance infrastructure

Research, measurements and accreditation

Germany provides a technical and legal framework that is conducive to innovation and constantly works to improve it. Germany is known for its safe products, for its efficient market surveillance and for standardised measurement methods. All of this helps guarantee free trade, and is an important element in building up a competitive technology base in Germany.

The research facilities associated with the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy

The PTB is Germany’s national metrology institute. It ensures the standardisation and dissemination of metrological units and correct measurements. For example, the ‘official’ time is determined by using a number of atomic clocks that are among the most accurate clocks worldwide.

The Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) provides for safety and reliability in the area of chemical, environmental and materials engineering. For example, the Institute tests the containers used for the transport of dangerous goods and draws up the safety standards required for these. It is also responsible for developing and providing reference procedures and materials, particularly in the areas of analytical chemistry and testing technology.

The Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) provides advice to the Federal Government and to the private sector on all matters related to raw materials and geosciences. The German Mineral Resources Agency (DERA), which is an agency of the BGR, is responsible for monitoring raw materials and for providing businesses and policymakers with information, for example about which renewable technologies may be relevant in the future.

Metrology and measurement procedures

Maintaining a sophisticated and reliable metrology system is key to developing new technologies, trading fairly, and safeguarding citizens’ quality of life. Our legal framework therefore needs to be designed in a way that takes account of the emergence of new innovations and stays abreast of new technological developments (such as smart meters), whilst at the same time being nimble enough to allow for the development of more efficient procedures. It is in this context that the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has initiated a reform of the legislation on measurement and calibration. Find out more.

Conformity assessment and accreditation

Conformity assessment and accreditation are important building blocks of our quality assurance infrastructure. A conformity assessment is conducted in order to test whether or confirm that a product or service conforms with the requirements laid down in the relevant European or national provisions. All across Europe, conformity assessments are usually conducted by private-sector organisations. This is why European and national lawmakers require that a (quasi) government body confirms that these organisations are capable of carrying out these assessments. In Germany, this confirmation is issued by the DAkkS in the form of an accreditation. Find out more.

Innovative procurement

Providing incentives for delivering innovative public procurement processes

As a major purchaser of new products and services, the public sector has considerable influence over the development of new innovations. Each year, the Federal Government, the German Länder, municipalities, and public-sector companies buy products and services worth more than €350 billion. A large part of these are innovative and sustainable products, services and systems. This helps give a strong boost to the development of innovations.

The Centre of Excellence for innovative procurement

The Centre of Excellence for innovative procurement (KOINNO), which receives funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, advises public procurement officers on how to streamline public procurement processes and buy more innovative products. The Centre also supports procurement bodies as they commission research into products and services that are to be used in public procurement. Funding for this is available from the European Commission, and German public-sector institutions are called upon to apply.

The Centre of Excellence awards a number of prizes to honour the procurement of innovative products and innovative public procurement processes. All public sector procurement bodies in Germany can compete. The winners are awarded their prize at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy on the ‘Day of Public Purchasers’. This presentation of best-practice examples in procurement helps other public procurement bodies to improve their processes.

Further information

  • Topic - Funding of SMEs

    Financing for start-ups, company growth, and innovations

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  • 17/01/2017 - Press release - Investment Strategy

    Press release: Symposium on Modernising Germany – Innovation Agenda #de2025: Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel advocates making investment a priority


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  • 20/07/2016 - Press release - Fostering Innovation

    Press release: More venture capital for innovative firms - a 1 billion euro increase in start-up funding from the German Economic Affairs Ministry and European Investment Fund

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  • 15/03/2016 - Video - Fostering Innovation

    Video: Press conference on innovation and growth financing

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Pipette and test tubes on innovation policy; Source: Getty Images/Andrew Brookes