A look behind the scenes of the planned innovation center in Helmstedt

Interview /

Windräder auf großen Ackerflächen.
© Unsplash

In collaboration with Wirtschaftsregion Helmstedt GmbH and the Fraunhofer IKTS, the Fraunhofer IST has been working since 1st November 2023 on the establishment of an innovation center for knowledge and technology transfer in the Helmstedt coal-mining region. The aim is to instigate projects with a business-oriented research and development perspective and to then successfully implement them with regional partners from business, science and politics in collaboration with other Fraunhofer institutes. Dr. Guido Hora, Business Development Manager at the Fraunhofer IST, will be responsible for the internal Fraunhofer coordination and will initiate the establishment of a contact office. In this interview, he presents the goals, tasks and requirements of the project. 

What exactly does the innovation center represent? Which topics will play a central role there in the future? Who are the partners?

The underlying concept of this project primarily involves, over an initial period of four years, the creation of conditions in which we can identify, initiate and support regional innovation projects with an emphasis on technology. The focus thereby lies on an open approach with regard to the technologies that are to be implemented in the former Helmstedt coal-mining region. Within the framework of the project, the comprehensive expertise and resources of the entire Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft are to be incorporated into the processes. For the first phase of the project, the following key topics have been identified in collaboration with the Fraunhofer IST, Helmstedter Wirtschaftsregion GmbH and the Amt für Regionale Landesentwicklung Süd-Ost Niedersachsen (Office for regional development in South-East Lower Saxony): 

Solaranlage auf grüner Wiese.
© Unsplash

A) Technologies and services for the energy transition

B) Resource efficiency through the circular economy

C) Sustainable and digital agriculture

The primary aim is to establish and expand regional synergies between Fraunhofer, the TU Braunschweig, Ostfalia University of Applied Sciences and the University of Magdeburg, amongst others. One objective is the development of new services at the innovation center. Furthermore, existing expertise in the area of knowledge and technology transfer will be utilized in order to turn ideas and innovations into reality in collaboration with regional companies at the Helmstedt campus.

What will the work at the innovation center look like in the future? What role will the Fraunhofer IST play at the HELMIZ? What tasks will the Fraunhofer IKTS perform?

At this point, it is particularly important to emphasize that we at the Fraunhofer IST have already been working together with Wirtschaftsregion Helmstedt for more than a year, as well as with Netzwerk Ackerbau Niedersachsen e.V. and other partners in the Helmstedt region, and are already providing visible support to this region with innovation topics. From November 2022 to November 2023, for example, the Fraunhofer IST was responsible for the work package “Regional hydrogen value chains” within the framework of the “HyExpert - Hydrogen Region South-East Lower Saxony” project. The future work will therefore be a continuation of collaborations that have already begun, with an extension covering the new key topics. Essentially, the aim is to help shape promising public innovation projects for the district of Helmstedt right from the application phase and to also provide support during the application process.

At HELMIZ, the Fraunhofer IST will assume the management function and will coordinate Fraunhofer’s internal and external tasks and objectives with a focus on the intensive contextual cooperation with Wirtschaftsregion Helmstedt GmbH. The Fraunhofer IKTS will initially focus on the topic of “Sustainable and Digital Agriculture”. For example, there are already initial ideas to initiate joint developments for climate- and location-adapted crops with the help of modern breeding technologies with a large seed manufacturer from the district of Helmstedt. Furthermore, an expert workshop is being planned at Burg Warberg e.V. in spring 2024 in collaboration with Netzwerk Ackerbau Niedersachsen e.V. (NAN). The aim is to unite agricultural businesses and Fraunhofer for transfer projects.

Cooperation with the TU Braunschweig and the Ostfalia University of Applied Sciences Braunschweig / Wolfenbüttel is planned. What exactly will the cooperation entail?

Regional networking and comprehensive regional cooperation are crucial to the success of the innovation center; this encompasses a close partnership with the TU Braunschweig and Ostfalia University of Applied Sciences Braunschweig/Wolfenbüttel. The cooperation is aimed at supporting regional start-ups as drivers of innovation and economic growth and attracting them to the district of Helmstedt. The entrepreneurs thereby benefit from the experience and synergy effects of both start-up platforms: the regional Entrepreneurship Hub at the TU Braunschweig / Ostfalia and the Venture group of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. Simultaneously, the cooperation promotes the transfer of knowledge between science and business and facilitates access to highly qualified specialists.

KI-Datenanalysesymbole zur Steigerung der Effizienz in der futuristischen Landwirtschaft, digitalisiertes umweltfreundliches und nachhaltiges Erntekonzept.
© vxnaghiyev, adobe.stock.com

What will change for the Helmstedt region in the long term as a result of the innovation center? 

The planned activities for the Fraunhofer IST at the Helmstedt innovation center will extend the technology- and innovation-promotion office that has already been in operation at Wirtschaftsregion Helmstedt GmbH since mid-2022; it was set up within the framework of the STARK project “Taskforce Climate Protection through Structural Change”.

For the district of Helmstedt, with its former lignite mining region, the Fraunhofer institutes’ innovation center addresses and implements the following strategic and operational goals of the current structural-development plan and mission statement of the district of Helmstedt from August 2021:

Von Hand aufgestapelte Holzwürfel mit Symoblen zur Kreislaufwirtschaft.
© Parradee, adobe.stock.com


  • Strategic strengthening of application-oriented innovation
  • Operational support for innovation in business and agriculture, in particular SMEs and the skilled trades

Knowledge Transfer

  • Strategic expansion of knowledge transfer from science to companies
  • Operational strengthening of cooperation between all players in the regional and sectoral innovation system in order to improve the transfer of knowledge 

Fundamentally, the innovation center is aimed at creating new, higher-skilled jobs in the district of Helmstedt in the above-mentioned thematic focus areas.

What do the funding notification and the establishment of the innovation center mean to you personally, as a native of Helmstedt?

This question alone evokes so many emotions in me, which I particularly associate with my childhood in Helmstedt. I often spent the long school vacations with my grandparents, in a former professor’s house in the center of the former university town of Helmstedt, within walking distance of the town’s landmark, the Juleum. I remember Helmstedt as an idyllic small town on the outskirts of Wolfsburg; to me, Helmstedt seemed historic, always well-kept and well-preserved with a certain affluent flair thanks to the many VW factory employees who lived there. My second grandmother worked in the office of the Braunschweigische Kohlen-Bergwerke BKB in Helmstedt, which I still associate with the smell of lignite in my nose. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the image of Helmstedt deteriorated dramatically in my perception. After that, the town and the district went into a steep decline and I was sometimes unable to recognize familiar places. Dilapidated houses – my grandparents’ house is still in a miserable state – vacancies, urban exodus, etc. For a good 10 years now, however, the current town and district authorities have once again made courageous decisions and breathed new life into the town and district of Helmstedt. It already looks very promising – when I walk across the market square in front of the town hall today, for example – but in my view, it needs even more, in particular innovations and enthusiastic people who can and want to work profitably in Helmstedt and thereby contribute towards a growth in regional prosperity. This is precisely where my personal intrinsic motivation lies: to be actively involved in shaping this process through the many Fraunhofer offers that can be integrated and transferred into the development and/or expansion of regional value chains, thereby promoting the regional status of my home town.

Last modified: