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Academia Meets Practice: Takeaways from Working on an Innovation Project

It has been a bit quiet on this blog for the past three months. But there was a good reason for this: From February until May, I had the opportunity to participate in an innovation project by Futury - The Mission 2: “Banking - Be Green!” in Frankfurt, Germany.

Futury is an innovation and venturing platform that connects young people with leading corporates in Germany with the purpose of finding sustainable business solutions for the next generation. Check out their upcoming Mission here.

In Mission 2, in which I participated, we had five teams which worked on innovative solutions on how to make the banking/financial sector greener. In this process, we had the chance to collaborate with a range of notable companies, among others, Deutschen Bank, Bain & Company, DWS, Zürich Insurances, Handelsblatt, and the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. This was truly exceptional!

I was part of Team Education and together with my three teammates (Adele, Sofya, Marius), we have developed an educational platform that connects students who want to learn more about sustainable finance with corporates who want to transform their business towards more sustainability. While our idea generated a lot of interest among the corporates, we are currently still in the phase of reaching out to potential partners to fill our platform with content (more information will follow soon!).

But rather than presenting our idea just yet, I want to use this blog this time to reflect upon my practical experience during this three-months internship and show how academia could profit from some of the methods and processes typically employed in such an innovation project.

Learning new methods of creative thinking and agile working

We know from organisational research that agile working, flexibility, and creativity are the main drivers for innovative business ideas. Here, I finally had the chance to explore how these theories actually work in practice. Not only did I participate in a design thinking workshop in which we learned fast methods of developing business ideas and concepts, we also had an engaging day in which we learned and practically employed (by means of a LEGO game!) agile working principles - the scrum framework - that some of you might already know.

Learning about both methods made me think that they are not only valid for the private sector or the industry of software development. In fact, I think we as researchers should make use of these methods more often when developing our research designs or when brainstorming about theoretical frameworks and practical implications. Too often, we find ourselves in employing methods and frameworks that we are already familiar with. But maybe we should introduce more design thinking workshops to develop new methods, new ways of data collection, analyses or even theoretical concepts.

At the same time, I think agile working is already part of our daily job as researchers. As most of us know from experience, no data collection process, data analysis or the drafting of manuscript work as smoothly as described in the textbook. We as academics are used to agile working principles: be it testing a research instrument (adjusting it, re-testing it, etc.), researching literature (endless snowball effect of finding seemingly additional relevant literature), or rewriting manuscripts due to critical reviews, it’s part of our daily job to work in so-called “sprints” in which we try to master one obstacle after the other.

Nevertheless, I think some of the scrum principles could still be beneficial for academic work - particularly when working in larger research teams with designated research topics where regular reflections and evaluation methods oftentimes fall too short. For example, by having daily stand-ups, reviews after each sprint (cf. every two weeks) and better (re-)allocation of resources within teams, we could increase collaboration, efficiency and work-satisfaction.

Although these are mere assumptions by me, it would be interesting to see and test how a scrum method would actually play out within a research project. If anyone knows an example, please feel free to share with me!

Finding innovative solutions by actively engaging with your stakeholders

One of the greatest experiences for me while working on this project was the regular exchange we had with the corporates and our deep-dive sessions with Bain & Company in which we consistently had to defend our ideas, decisions and projections. Although sometimes burdensome, in the end, it helped us tremendously in sharpening our idea.

What is more, we had the opportunity to interview many (incoming) students in the area of finance/business about their needs and wants with regards to sustainability. By presenting them our idea and having them testing our prototype, we could make use of their direct feedback in developing our platform further and adjust it to their wishes. That way, we found a solution that truly resonates with our target group.

In academia, we often remain within our research community when discussing our findings or research ideas, and usually only get to present the results when all the research has already been done. However, being in regular contact with your stakeholders for which you actually try to find a solution (or answers in academia), does not only save you a lot of time by forgoing questions that might not lead anywhere, you might also add new ways of thinking that might lead to innovative solutions. Hence, we as academics could also profit from having more regular exchanges with industries, politics or other stakeholders for which we try to find answers.

After all, is it not one of the main purposes of academia to researching questions that will help our society and communities to live in a safer, more sustainable, democratic and equal world? To do so, we need to seek more conversations with the industry, with people we want to reach out and find solutions for.


Let me know what you think about my takeaways and stay tuned for more information on our educational platform about sustainable finance!

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