“The thematic focus of the cooperation with the university has been an excellent fit for our company’s strategic direction”: Prof Dr Irina Tiemann, EWE

Prof Dr Irina Tiemann is a Senior Business Analyst at EWE. As one of the largest utility companies in Germany, EWE is active in the business areas of energy, telecommunications and information technology. One of EWE’s objectives on the energy market is to make innovation a part of everyday life. In order to develop its capabilities on this path, EWE is the lead business partner of the innovative, challenge-based module “Digital Transformation: Strategies and Sustainability”. In this module, the company co-develops sustainable digital business models together with students at the University of Oldenburg. We spoke to Prof Dr Irina Tiemann about her company’s motivation to participate in the module as a challenge provider as well as her experience in her role as company representative.

Why did your company decide to collaborate with a university in a sustainable venturing challenge?

Prof Dr Irina Tiemann: EWE has a strong focus on sustainable markets and is always looking for new and creative approaches for promising business models. Thus, the thematic focus of the cooperation with the university has been an excellent fit for the strategic direction of the company. The exchange with the university and students is aimed at supporting the internal start-up teams in reviewing early-stage business ideas with lean approaches and creative ideas of the students and open new perspectives.

Which ideas and solutions did the student teams develop and what stood out to you in particular?

Prof Dr Irina Tiemann: Students developed ideas and solutions for an internal sustainability-driven start-up team, providing specific analysis based on agile methods, including interviews, panel surveys and prototyping.

A student in exchange with EWE during a workshop. © Sebastian Vollmert

Have you implemented any of the solutions developed by the students, and if so, how?

Prof Dr Irina Tiemann: Recommendations of the students were taken up directly by the internal start-up and have been considered in strategic decisions.

What exactly was your role during the challenge?

Prof Dr Irina Tiemann: I changed my roles between coordinator, coach and jury member.

What expertise and insights have the students and academic staff brought to your company and how has this benefitted your development and innovation processes?

Prof Dr Irina Tiemann: The students brought helpful insights for the validation and development of the business model of an internal start-up and new perspectives on different sustainability aspects of the business model.

“A good balance of personnel capacities, time exposure and usable results for the company must always be given.” – Prof Dr Irina Tiemann

In your view, how to best ensure that university-industry collaboration is successful?

Irina Tiemann: To ensure that business partners continue their participation, a good balance of personnel capacities, time exposure and usable results for the company must always be given. In addition, there should be a long-term thematic fit that both partners share as well as adequate space for experimentation.

Would you recommend other companies to collaborate with universities in challenge-based learning formats as a corporate partner, and if so, why?

Irina Tiemann: I would particularly recommend cooperation to companies that have a desire and need for exchange with students and would like to stand out as an interesting employer.


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Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg
Department of Business Administration, Economics and Law
Adj. Prof. Innovation Management and Sustainability
Ammerländer Heerstr. 114-118, 26129 Oldenburg, Germany

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