Germany: ZIM network annual conference: Pooling creative forces for ecological innovations from medium-sized businesses
  • 2024-02-01
  • Entrepreneurship Research Center on G20 Economies
  • Edit
  • On November 30, 2023, the 2023 German ZIM Network Annual Conference opened with the topic, "Ecological Innovations with ZIM Innovation Networks". At the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action in Berlin, around 200 medium-sized companies, multipliers and representatives from science, administration and politics discussed the importance of innovation networks as a source of inspiration for market-oriented, ecological thinking and action in SMEs. During this conference, three practical examples of ecological innovations and five selected ZIM innovation networks were presented.

    State Secretary Dr. Brantner said, "Entrepreneurial solutions from small and medium-sized enterprises for greater ecological sustainability also offer great economic potential. Especially for smaller companies, there are often special opportunities here if they realize their ideas in cooperation with others and bundle their creative forces together. That is why it is important to the Ministry of Economic Affairs to enable networking and exchange between people who meet ecological challenges. ZIM innovation networks offer a suitable framework for ecological innovations of committed entrepreneurship in medium-sized companies."

    The meeting invited three ZIM networks in the field of ecological innovation to give demonstration report cases:

    l  UtBr – environmental technology and soil reclamation

    Cecilie von Bernstorff, T+I Technology and InnovationsConsult

    l  DeepFarmBots – AI-based agricultural robotics for efficient and sustainable agriculture

    Dr. Björn Mamat, ifectis innovation support

    l  Functional facade – future technologies for sustainable building envelopes

    Mirko Hänel, Technology Transfer Center Bremerhaven

    As part of an accompanying exhibition, five selected ZIM innovation networks were presented, as well as information and advice on various federal funding programs and measures, they are,

    l  Building greenery

    Society for the promotion of medium-sized businesses

    l  BioEconomy – Network for the production of bio-based products

    EurA AG

    l  CleanRiverSolutions – Development of systems to reduce contamination in water bodies

    Center for Product, Process and Process Innovation

    l – network for smart digitalized agriculture and sustainable food production

    Franconian Funding Research Society

    l  InnoBauHolz – Innovative technologies for structural timber construction

    Dresden State Academy of Studies

    The Central Innovation Program for SMEs (ZIM)

    The Central Innovation Program for SMEs (ZIM) is a nationwide funding program that is open to all topics and industries. Medium-sized companies and research institutions that collaborate with them receive grants for challenging market-oriented research and development projects that lead to new products, technical services or better production processes. In addition, the ZIM promotes innovation networks in which the network partners – several medium-sized companies and often research institutions – work on a joint technology roadmap, exchange knowledge and develop ideas for new innovative projects.

    Projects funded by the ZIM are divided into three categories: individua R&D projects, R&D cooperation projects, and innovation network.

    1. Individua R&D projects: individually fund the R&D of an enterprise (domestic enterprises only). Innovative companies operating in Germany with fewer than 500 employees can receive up to 45% of their R&D costs, with the greatest policy support for businesses in the eastern federal states and Berlin.

    2. R&D cooperation project: at least two companies or at least one company and at least one research institution. Small-scale enterprises can receive greater R&D funding, and half of the costs of R&D projects for small enterprises in the east can be borne by the government. At the same time, the government encourages cross-border cooperation, and German companies that cooperate with foreign partners in the ZIM project can receive a 10% bonus on top of the regular funding rate, with a maximum funding rate of 60%.

    3. Innovation network: including at least 6 companies, and large companies and scientific research institutions may also join. However, ZIM only provides financial support to German companies. Foreign companies and scientific research institutions need to be responsible for their own R&D funds.

    The program funds 3,000 innovative projects each year, with total allocations in 2020 amounting to €555 million. Project duration averages 28 months. Judging from the funding rate and funding ceiling, the focus of support is on small businesses. For example, the funding rate for small start-ups (less than 50 employees and established less than 10 years ago) is 45%, with a maximum amount of 247,500 euros; the funding rate for small enterprises (less than 50 employees) is 40%, with a maximum amount of 220,000 euros; For medium-sized enterprises (less than 250 employees), the funding rate is 35%, with a maximum limit of 192,500 euros; for medium-sized enterprises with less than 500 employees, the funding rate is 25%, with a maximum limit of 137,500 euros. According to reports, 80% of companies funded by ZIM grants have fewer than 50 employees.

    Approval of the applied project depends on the degree of innovation and marketability. It must exceed the current level in terms of functions and parameters of products and services; it must reach the most advanced international level; the project has significant but predictable technical risks; the company's competitiveness will be improved continuously; it can open up new markets and increase employment opportunities, and have suitable scientific and technological personnel. Since the implementation of the ZIM program in 2015, more than 4 billion euros in funding grants have been awarded. As of 2022, 25,379 projects have been funded. In 2020-2021, 7547 projects were funded with a funding amount of 1.3 billion euros.


  • Partners

  • Global Health Innovation Center (GHIC)
  • World Intelligent Incubation Network (WIIN)
  • National University of Singapore
  • Canada-China Institute For Business & Development
  • TusPark Research Institute for Innovation
  • Cross-strait Tsinghua Research Institute
  • Tsinghua X-Lab

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