New in our team: Mariella Schultes

What is it like to be an Innovation Manager at the Agro Innovation Lab?
The tasks are very diverse. No day is like any other. Basically, we have three different roles as Innovation Managers: We are agile project managers, networkers, and start-up experts. What does this mean? As agile project managers we are responsible for several projects at the same time. These can be individual cooperations with start-ups or with RWA subsidiaries, or also projects related to our various formats, such as acceleration programs or innovation challenges. Furthermore, as an Innovation Manager it is very important to foster your network, both internally and externally. Within the organization, this gives you a good overview of the chances and challenges in the RWA’s individual business segments. Outside the organization, it is of course always important to get to know interesting startups. Due to our experience with a range of startup projects, we are also startup experts. This means that we identify cooperations that make sense for both sides - RWA and the startup itself. However, as I have only been with the Agro Innovation Lab for a relatively short time, I haven’t  yet experienced all the tasks of an Innovation Manager.

Is this how you imagined it?
Yes and no. The three roles of an Innovation Manager were communicated in the job posting and at the interview and I also expected to be responsible for a variety of tasks. So from this perspective, yes, this is how I imagined it. Nevertheless, the “information overload” at the beginning was something of a surprise.  In addition to the internal processes and the projects that I was able to take on from the very beginning, I became aware of the complexity the agricultural sector and of how much I can still learn about it. My background is in innovation management and although I have read extensively about agricultural issues, I will certainly build up a lot more knowledge in this area over the next few years.

What do you particularly like about the Agro Innovation Lab?
The fact that I was involved in all activities from the very beginning and that I was given responsibility from day one. After less than two weeks, I made my first presentation to a potential cooperation partner. That was a challenge for me, but I had a steep learning curve. As we always have new projects I am convinced that I will continuously learn something new at the Agro Innovation Lab.

Why did you want to work at the Agro Innovation Lab?
In my opinion, innovation in agriculture is particularly interesting. There is a lot of change in this sector – because of not only climate change, but also increasing labor shortages and upcoming regulations – and this makes innovation extremely important. I wanted to contribute to finding innovative solutions in agriculture and for this reason, I decided to join the Agro Innovation Lab.
Another reason was the team. In the second round of interviews at the AIL I got to know the whole team and had the impression that I could work very well with them – and this impression has been confirmed.

Please describe a typical day as an Innovation Manager at the Agro Innovation Lab.
My typical day starts between 8 and 9 o’clock with a cup of coffee or a tea. I usually answer my e-mails first, before going through my to-do list and checking my calendar. Then I work on my projects and I have phone calls and meetings with my colleagues or potential cooperation partners. I work very closely with my colleague Hannes, the other Innovation Manager at the Agro Innovation Lab. We often exchange ideas and think about new concepts for future projects. We also have a weekly jour fixe when the whole team – David, Sebastian, Andrea, Hannes and I – come together to discuss our projects, organizational matters or whatever else is on the agenda.

Have there already been moments when you have had to step out of your comfort zone?
A few weeks ago, I visited the Farm & Food fair in Berlin. The aim was to learn about the latest trends in agriculture and thus stay up-to-date in our role as RWA’s innovation platform. Of course, networking is also a very important aspect of such events. Simply approaching strangers was initially a fairly unfamiliar experience for me, so I had to step out of my comfort zone. But everyone was really nice and open and it was great fun to meet so many exciting new people from the agricultural sector and to tell them about the Agro Innovation Lab.

Which three words best describe your experience at the Agro Innovation Lab?
Spontaneously “never stop learning” comes to mind. In my opinion, this is a very good description of our work at the AIL.