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Article - Innovation Policy

Innovation Policy


Innovation and technology are changing the world and peoples’ lives. Many things that used to sound very futuristic 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.

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. These funding programmes are to help small and medium-sized enterprises embrace new innovations and digitisation, inspire young people to choose a career in technology and natural sciences, and secure an adequate supply of skilled workers for the future.

Our goal must be to make Germany one of the most innovative nations of all, one that is spearheading key enabling forward-looking technologies, both today and in the future. In order to achieve this, the Economic Affairs Ministry has various programmes to promote the innovative activities of small and medium-sized enterprises. A report is regularly compiled about these programmes and their impact. Germany’s innovation policy is based on the principle “From concept to market success”. This latest report can be found here (in German) (PDF, 177 KB).

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 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.

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 Society, 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, particularly China and South Korea, are catching up. German companies therefore need to deal with the fact that the number of global competitors will rise 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 the ‘From concept to market success’ initiative, we have restructured, pooled 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

Transfer initiative: more ideas - more successes

Minister Altmaier launched the Economic Affairs Ministry’s transfer initiative in March 2019. It aims to foster the realisation of ideas in marketable products. To this end, the Economic Affairs Ministry will work with innovation stakeholders to see which measures to transform ideas into products already work well, and to identify areas where improvements can be made. The aim is to optimise the innovation ecosystem in Germany and thus to boost the number of innovators and the rate of innovative activity.

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. Find out more (in German).

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 (in German).
  • 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.
  • Federal advice on funding 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.

Agency to promote breakthrough innovations

At the end of August 2018, the Federal Cabinet decided to set up an agency to promote breakthrough innovations. The new agency is to help ensure that path-breaking innovations by German companies and research institutions become the tomorrow’s cutting-edge German products and jobs. The new agency will be based in Leipzig and employ up to 50 staff. It will be open to all subjects, disciplines and technologies, will be agile and flexible and, compared with traditional funding programmes, will be pro-risk and will enjoy a much higher degree of autonomy. The agency will run innovation competitions and will fund multi-year cutting-edge projects which put into practice ideas offering potential for breakthroughs. The first innovation competitions are to be launched in 2019.

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 programme offers a large number of services that help support cluster management, foster the development of innovative services, and improve the visibility of innovation clusters.

You can find the model agreement for research and development cooperation here.

Transfer initiative

The sharing of technology and knowledge has a major impact on how marketable innovative products and services are. Despite this, the transfer of knowledge does not go smoothly in many cases – as a result, Germany’s SMEs in particular have a need to innovate. For this reason, the Economic Affairs Ministry launched the transfer initiative on 11 March 2019: it aims to speed up the transfer of research findings into specific products and processes. The initiative, which was included in the coalition agreement, aims to build on and improve the non-sector-specific SME funding programme called “From the idea to the market”. Further to this, the initiative has a tailored innovation programme to support non-technical innovations like digital business models.


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

© Getty Images/Erik Isakson

Financing for start-ups, company growth, and innovations

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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, 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:

  • Inspiring 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.
  • Whetting the appetite of and exciting 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.
  • Familiarising 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’).
  • Taking steps to foster a stronger entrepreneurial climate at higher education institutions and non-university research establishments so that more students will be attracted to the idea of launching their own innovative businesses.
Electrician at Work; Quelle: Getty Images/altrendo images

© Getty Images/altrendo images

Skilled professionals for Germany

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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 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.

Global Quality Infrastructure Project

The Economic Affairs Ministry has launched the Global Quality Infrastructure Project to promote internationally harmonised quality assurance infrastructure systems. Headed by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), it is tasked with carrying out expert policy dialogues on quality infrastructure issues with selected trading partners of Germany. In this way, the project is to help reduce technical barriers to trade and to improve the safety of traded products.

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 bought by public contracting authorities. 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

  • 18/01/2019 - Press release - Funding of SMEs

    Minister Altmaier: Unicorn wanted at the 2nd Pitch Night of the Digital Hub Initiative hosted by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy

    Open detail view
  • 18/07/2018 - Joint press release - Key Enabling Technologies

    Key points for a Federal Government Strategy on Artificial Intelligence

    Open detail view
  • 27/06/2018 - Press release - International Cooperation

    Altmaier welcomes representatives of more than 20 countries to a transatlantic innovation forum

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