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Philoneos Offers Family Businesses Innovation and Transformation Support

New circumstances require new action – is a principle that by now, since the corona pandemic at the latest, all companies are probably familiar with. But what does that mean in concrete terms for family businesses? The Munich startup Philoneos offers innovation and transformation support as well as assistance with future-related issues. In our interview, co-founder Dr. Maximilian Lude explains how his startup works, how long-established companies innovate and why SMEs are more innovative than they are reputed to be.

Munich Startup: What exactly does Philoneos do?

Maximilian Lude, Philoneos: Philoneos is a bureau for future affairs, and we accompany family SMEs in innovation processes of all kinds.

Our consultation approach can be divided into three fields of content: First, we have the Advisory field. It’s here that we co-creatively implement a wide variety of projects in the areas of innovation, transformation and employer attractiveness. Our second field is Science Services. At Philoneos, we always try to take current scientific findings and the data we collect ourselves and build a bridge to practical applications. The third field is our Innovation Campus, a platform that we developed for continued education. We use it as an e-learning foundation and make it available to our customers’ employees so they can advance their education.

Not long after our founding in 2018, we were able to get several interesting family businesses on board as customers, and we’ve now been assisting them for a long time. An example is Pfeifer, one of the leading companies in the European wood industry. At the beginning of our collaboration, we introduced a hybrid innovation team for them. The process culminated last year when my co-founder Sebastian Bartling, with support from our team for Pfeifer, designed, built and temporarily managed an external innovation hub. This new company site in the heart of Innsbruck looks at new technologies and startups, identifies new trends and prospects, and implements them. It was very special experience for us and does a good job describing what we stand for as a consulting firm and bureau.

The real question, however, is what we don’t do! To give an example, succession consultation is not on our list. We do have an interesting partner organization for that in our network, namely Haus Next, which is a platform for the next generation of family businesses. So we actually do have a solution for everything.

“We were reluctant about calling ourselves a consulting firm for quite some time”

Munich Startup: There are many consulting firms. What makes you different?

Maximilian Lude: We were reluctant about even calling ourselves a consulting firm for quite some time. None of our employees are classic textbook examples of consultants, and that’s not due to their skills, but rather their attitude. We work closer with customers, want to develop individual solutions in collaboration and to implement them over the long term. We also want to pass on concrete measures that every company can implement themselves.
One aspect that makes us stand out is the dovetailing of science and practice: The majority of the Philoneos family is active in science! I personally was able to represent the Chair of Innovation at TU Munich as a professor for the last three years, lecture regularly at the Politecnico University in Milan and am also a senior researcher at the Friedrichshafen Institute for Family Entrepreneurship at Zeppelin Universität, which is also where I completed my doctorate in family entrepreneurship. To analyze our customers’ status quo, we always start with scientific methods and current research findings.

Munich Startup: How exactly does this dovetailing of science and practice take place?

Maximilian Lude: The scientific portion can range from quantitative surveys to qualitative studies that we perform together with customers in order to get a better understanding of their starting position. These can be employee surveys or even experimental studies, where we test very specific situations in which we jointly define and evaluate the relevant variables.

Philoneos summarizes scientific results for entrepreneurs

We also work very closely with current scientific publications and translate their findings into our consulting approach. It’s not that easy to access this complex parallel world as an outsider, and it’s also not necessarily part of daily business for a manager – regardless of whether in a family business or not – to pore over lengthy scientific papers. That being said, so much can be learned from them for practical application! Because this always frustrated me, I made it my own and my team’s mission to build a bridge between science and practical application for companies. An example is the print magazine that we publish, “Schleudertrauma”, which is basically “research to go.” In it, scientific publications about innovation-related topics are summarized on just one page with all of the key insights. It’s easy to read on the way to work in the morning and you still learn what’s most important and make use of it.

Munich Startup: What is your founding story?

Maximilian Lude: It all started at the Zeppelin University on Lake Constance. I completed my doctorate there at the Institute for Family Entrepreneurship (FIF) on the topic of family entrepreneurship. In my research and communication with family businesses, it quickly became clear to me and my doctoral advisor Prof. Dr. Reinhard Prügl that there is a certain need for assistance with future-oriented topics in many family SMEs. A solution was needed!
Reinhard Prügl heads the FIF, and did so back then together with Dr. Ursula Koners, who is now the managing director of the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden. We were also able to quickly win her over as a shareholder for our project. Because we knew there was no way I could manage operational business on my own, I called my long-time friend and former colleague Sebastian Bartling, who was working at Google in Dublin at the time. He fortunately found the idea of proactively shaping the future of family businesses just as exciting. So the four of us got together and founded Philoneos.

“We quickly realized the living room was no longer enough”

Sebastian and I started working from his living room in Munich, but quickly realized that it was no longer enough for us. Co-working spaces were too expensive for us back then, so we looked for our own office that would provide enough room for us and our student employees as well. We found office space right near the English Garden, but that also got too small for us since we’ve been growing gradually each year and now employ eight people. We now have a large, open office on Klenzestraße near Gärtnerplatz and are very happy there.
But because we couldn’t just abandon the retail space in Lehel, we turned it into a wine shop called Sir Thompson. Almost all of the Philoneos team members are involved in it and we’re trying out the holacracy concept there together. It’s exciting!

What actually is innovation?

Munich Startup: What exactly does it mean for an SME to want to become more innovative?

Maximilian Lude: What I would first like to say is that I don’t believe the notion of SMEs not being innovative holds true. After all, most family businesses have existed for many generations, specifically because they have always implemented new innovations and adapted to the ever-changing context. I call this phenomenon “tradition through innovation.”

Nonetheless, the question is obviously justified. What needs to be taken into account here is that there isn’t just one definition for the term innovation. It could be something that is new for your own company or the constant development of it. The practical implementation of innovation, however, is a whole different matter. An example of a concept used in the academic realm is that of ambidexterity, of being able to use the right and left hand equally. For a company, this means using one hand for exploitation, i.e. continuously developing its core business. The other hand is used for exploration to always find new business opportunities.

The Champions League for SMEs is carrying out and balancing both disciplines at the same time. And a major challenge is to take your own employees by the hand during these changes and to make them always want and enjoy change, to even motivate them to proactively become a part of it and to give them the feeling that they can play a proactive role in shaping the future.

The context will always change – and at a speed that is increasing exponentially. This means innovation is also a people business, and it’s allowed to hurt sometimes. That is the only way to achieve long-term success.

“For me, the key message for the next few years is adaptability”

Munich Startup: An SME has to first realize they have a problem with innovation before they can come to you. From your experience, how do they come to this realization?

Maximilian Lude: These processes are just about as heterogeneous as the family businesses themselves. We’ve noticed that the generational change is often a driver of innovation. This has also been proven by scientific research.
In recent years, however, the changing context was also a decisive factor. Global pandemics, climate change and progressive digitization have changed what we expect from work in addition to our consumer and user behavior.

Two years ago, working from home on a regular basis wasn’t even imaginable in many SMEs. Fortunately, it’s now become common practice almost everywhere. The context is changing, there’s no doubt about that. For me, the key message for the years ahead is adaptability – to show resilience as a company and to adapt to the constantly changing conditions.

Munich Startup: How have you experienced the Munich startup industry in recent years? In principle, great potential lies in the collaboration between startups and SMEs.

Maximilian Lude: Munich is a true melting pot for the startup industry in my mind! In addition to the many SMEs and large industrial players in the fields of mobility and IT, there are now also many startups that have emerged from the university landscape. The number and quality of these startups absolutely speak for the potential of the very tech-oriented universities of Munich.

Philoneos: SMEs innovate through cooperation with startups

That being said, there is still a great deal of potential to be realized in the collaboration between startups and SMEs. I think the future of innovation for SMEs lies in cooperation with startups. I’ve often seen how two worlds, values and cultures collide and have to deal with one another. What’s interesting is that it’s in interdisciplinary teams with different backgrounds that the best ideas and business model innovations most often emerge. For just that, we’re developing idea hackathons here at Philoneos in which either students or startups come together with SMEs to develop innovations. You’d be surprised to see the kind of inspiring ideas that emerge! I think this is precisely where there is huge potential for both sides to learn from and with each other and to shape the future.

Munich Startup: Risk or security?

Maximilian Lude: Risk all the way! However, I can only afford to have this attitude because I manage the company with Sebastian. We are very different and our skills complement each other perfectly. We’re also able to learn a lot from each other and balance each other out. He would probably say security and I would always say risk.