Curiosity, creativity and passion for emerging technologies

Interview with Georgina Neitzel, Head of ERGO Innovation Lab

Digitalisation & Technology, 13.05.2024

Innovation combines three things: curiosity, creativity and technology. All of them have always captivated Georgina Neitzel, ERGO's new Head of Innovation Lab in Berlin. With columnist Markus Sekulla she spoke about the potential for companies to elevate their business through building on trends and edge innovation – with today's focus on the AI mega trend.

Merantix AI Campus

The ERGO Innovation Lab recently moved to the Merantix AI Campus in Berlin. | Image: Merantix AI Campus

First question and let’s start easy: Who are you and what brings you to the ERGO Innovation Lab?

I’m Georgina Neitzel I’m leading the Innovation Lab based in Berlin, now in my fifth week. My background spans innovation management, product management, and data science. So, what brings me here? Primarily, it's my experience in innovation management coupled with a technical skill set, in other words, I can code. Plus I was drawn to the challenge of leading an innovation lab after spending nearly seven years at BCG Digital Ventures. There, we developed end-to-end digital ventures alongside corporate partners, from concept ideation to venture incubation, serving roles as both a data scientist and a product manager.

Let’s get right to it and take a deep dive on innovation. What fascinates you about it? Why do you choose a career in innovation management?

There's a short story and a long story. Let's start with the short one. I'm inherently a very creative person, and simultaneously, I have a deep love for technology. Growing up, I witnessed many remarkable technological advancements like the internet, personal computers, and the iPhone. Being able to engage with new technologies always fascinated me. Innovation, in essence, combines my curiosity, creativity and passion for emerging technologies to create something entirely new that addresses previously unsolved problems.

And now I’m curious about the long story!

I mentioned the technological advancements that captivated me during my childhood. Additionally, my academic journey played a significant role. I studied Industrial Engineering and Management at the Berlin Institute of Technology. It was during this time that I delved into statistics and machine learning, long before data science gained its current prominence as the “sexiest job of the 21st century” as noted by the Harvard Business Review. My fascination with this field has only grown over time. Witnessing the evolution of artificial intelligence and the development of increasingly sophisticated algorithms capable of solving complex problems continues to intrigue me. Moreover, the prospect of integrating these advancements into new products excites me.

Georgina NeitzelLet’s take one step back: What does the Innovation Lab do day in and day out?

Sure, there are three core activities that we focus on. Firstly, we constantly monitor technological and socio-economic trends, analyzing how these trends might impact ERGO in future and identify potential use cases for the company, that address for example future customer needs. Therefore, we leverage our network, including technology experts from industry and academia. Secondly, we actively bring these technologies into ERGO and develop products and prototypes, which address the anticipated needs. For instance, we recently worked on applications in the metaverse as our latest project. Our team functions as project managers, collaborating with technological freelancers to build, test, and iterate these applications, validating our hypotheses about their benefits for ERGO. Thirdly, we conduct workshops, such as Design Thinking sessions, for the entire company, aiming to inspire other departments. Additionally, we advocate for the adoption of new tools, like GenAI, which enhance the effectiveness of these workshops .

Now I think big company needs an innovation lab. What's your focus in the lab today, and perhaps in the next few months? Are there any particular technologies you're concentrating on?

Currently, we're immersed in several projects. One of our key focuses is on robotics, not only for internal magazine articles but also for potential white paper publications. Concurrently, we're enhancing our technology monitoring funnel to stay abreast of emerging trends. We're leveraging technology, such as Generative AI, to streamline this process. Furthermore, we recently introduced AI-supported Design Thinking workshops, a significant step forward. In our last session, we demonstrated how colleagues can utilize Gen AI to expedite the design thinking process. From synthesizing vast amounts of information to creating personas and interview questionnaires, even generating prototypes and mock-ups, Gen AI facilitates various aspects of the process. Moreover, it enables simulation of interviews with target groups that may be otherwise inaccessible, enriching our ideation and testing phases.

We're talking in May 2024. What are the trends that you think are particularly important right now? And on the flip side, what trends might not be on everyone's radar but will become significant in the near future?

Of course, the No 1 mega-trend I (and everyone else) see is generative AI, which has far-reaching implications across industries and job roles, especially those involving desktop tasks. The rapid emergence of innovative Gen AI applications is noteworthy, with new ones entering the market daily. 

As for trends that might be underestimated but hold substantial potential, quantum computing comes to mind. While it may not be at the forefront of everyone's attention yet, it's certainly on my radar. Although quantum computing is still in its infancy with limited applications, its transformative power is immense. In the coming years, as it gains momentum, we can expect it to revolutionize industries by providing unparalleled computing capabilities, enabling solutions to previously unsolvable problems. It's an exciting prospect to witness the advancements in quantum computing and its impact on various sectors.

How do you find new trends that are worthy to dive into?

We use various sources for insights. Firstly, we tap into our large expert networks, which includes tech & innovation experts from academia and industry, we also benefit a lot from our location at the Merantix AI campus, which is home to other technology experts and innovative AI start-ups. Of course, we also attend conferences, meetups, and smaller-scale events to stay connected with industry trends and network with peers. Furthermore, we rely on trend studies, papers, and consult industry reports. However, the most valuable source of information, in my opinion, is engaging in conversations and discussions with people—listening to their insights and exchanging ideas with experts at conferences.

If I were to choose one conference to attend in the next 12 months, which one would you recommend?

I highly recommend attending Tech Open Air here in Berlin. It's a fantastic, multidisciplinary conference with a vibrant atmosphere, offering valuable insights and networking opportunities with tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, innovators and investors from all over the world. Plus, it takes place in the summer, making it an enjoyable experience all around. 

Since you've been working with innovation across various companies for many years now, could you share any trends from the last decade that you expected to see significant development but didn't quite live up to the hype?

I love the question, Markus. Blockchain and NFTs come to mind. 

There was immense hype surrounding blockchain technologies, and many attempted to force use cases based on blockchain where it wasn't necessarily warranted. It became somewhat of a buzzword, often used unnecessarily. While blockchain has proven effective in increasing transparency and security, particularly in applications like smart contracts, its applicability beyond these specific use cases is limited. Many applications simply don't require blockchain technology despite the initial enthusiasm surrounding it.

How do you and your team utilize Generative AI?

One key application is in trend monitoring. We gather information from various sources, including social media, professional networks, and conference discussions, to identify emerging trends. Gen AI assists us in aggregating this data and generating weekly reports summarizing the most discussed topics. This significantly expedites the research process and enables us to focus more on prioritization of trends and focused exchange with topic experts.

Can you give us an outlook? Where will AI take us?

I believe AI will increasingly integrate into our daily lives, becoming ubiquitous for everyone. We're already witnessing AI applications in areas like autonomous driving, smart cities, and personalized medicine, both in research and practical implementation. What's crucial is what I call AI empowerment—training people to utilize AI effectively as a tool to enhance human capabilities rather than fearing obsolescence.

While we can't halt progress, but we can steer it responsibly. Embracing AI as a tool for empowerment rather than exclusion is key. It's about regaining control and leveraging AI to enrich our lives rather than feeling sidelined by it.

Thank you for the conversation!

Interview: Markus Sekulla

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