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LEAD User Network and help shape the future!

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What are LEAD Users?

LEAD users are advanced users or users who are themselves dealing with a problem very intensively in a specific area. The term was coined by Eric von Hippel, economist and professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, in the late 1980s. Hippel discovered at that time that it was not the manufacturers themselves but the users who provided important innovations. According to Eric von Hippel, every LEAD User has the following characteristics: 

They are ahead of the mass market.

LEAD users already have needs or requirements that other market participants, such as early adopters, will not have until some time later

They themselves benefit from the innovation.

LEAD users benefit greatly from an innovation. In some cases, they are already working on it themselves.

Who can be a LEAD User?

LEAD users can be individuals, experts, companies, start-ups or organisations. 

Where are LEAD Users involved?

LEAD Users are used very early in the innovation process, and make a much more important contribution: they design the innovation together with a manufacturer, or sometimes even autonomously.

How do we deploy LEAD Users?

LEAD users play an important role for us in organizing hackathons and LEAD user conferences. Depending on the search field, we identify people whose competencies contribute to the solution of the search field. In general, we are looking for LEAD Users from 2 areas: the actual target market where innovation is sought. And: from analogous areas - i.e. related industries in which similar challenges exist.

Your benefit? We bring you together with the most innovative international organisations and offer you a perfect networking platform. Work together with the most renowned companies on the innovations of the future. 



Thorsten Kern - the portrait of a LEAD user.

A LEAD User is a kind of cross between hobbyist, scientist, inventor, technologist and creative genius. So a rare species. Thorsten Kern is an ideal-typical example of this race of people. He only found out that one like him is called "LEAD User" when we invited him to a LEAD User conference. Not just any LEAD User. What Thorsten Kern had done for the innovation of the automobile, we wanted to transfer to a completely different industry. And we succeeded.

His doctorate with teaching and research at the University of Darmstadt was followed by 21 patent applications of his own. Thorsten Kern was Executive Director at Continental Corporation AG until December 2018. This company, founded in 1869, is world-famous as a tire manufacturer, but today it is also an important player in the automotive supply industry in the field of electronic components. Since January 2019, Professor Kern has headed the Institute for Mechatronics in Mechanical Engineering at the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) Hamburg.

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Thorsten Kern

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More things to read and look at

Definition: What is a LEAD User?

Numerous innovations fail. There are many reasons for this. Unfortunately, however, they are only known when a great deal of work, money and effort has already gone into the invention. However, if LEAD Users are involved in the development process, the risk of failure is greatly reduced. This is shown by studies, practice and many successful inventions that users have helped to think up and implement. But what is a LEAD User?

An interview with the inventor of the LEAD User method

On a business trip to Boston, Angela Hengsberger had the opportunity and honour to interview Prof. Eric von Hippel, the inventor of the LEAD User method. Here you will find a description of the basis and the goal of this method.

What distinguishes LEAD User from customers?

The great importance of customer orientation in the innovation process is largely undisputed. Nevertheless, 50 per cent of all innovations miss the needs of customers and are withdrawn from the market. Traditional market research, with its focus on "average customers", often falls short of the mark here. Advanced LEAD users close this gap. They are ahead of their time and anticipate future needs of the target market.

How the LEAD User Method has evolved

Many will wonder why we, LEAD Innovation, have focused so strongly on the LEAD User Method. When we first encountered the method more than 16 years ago, we were immediately enthusiastic and convinced that it could be used to produce great innovations.

Process innovation: How LEAD users supported the Voith Group

Voith is regarded, among other things, as a pioneer in the processing of waste paper. With the help of the LEAD user method, the company was able to develop a new process that saves up to 50 percent energy compared to the old method. LEAD users from completely different areas helped in this. The background of the project "Low Energy Paper Mill" can be found in this blog post.

New patents: why 14 out of 15 LEAD User projects are successful

Innovations are no coincidence, they can be planned. With the LEAD User Method you use the knowledge and motivation of experts who are themselves interested in improving a product or in completely new solutions. This gives you concepts for new patents that are sure to be successful on the market. We can prove this with our success statistics. In this blog post you will also learn how successful the LEAD User Method really is, and that it leads to success even with tricky tasks.

LEAD User innovations to be proud of

How quickly LEAD users find solutions for tricky product innovation tasks is a constant surprise not only for our customers but also for ourselves. We would like to tell our success stories to the whole world - but we must not. Secrecy of the results is of course part of it. Only sometimes there are small exceptions - then we may tell about our inventions.

Handbook LEAD User Method

Developing new products, services or even processes is expensive. Especially when these develop into flops. With the LEAD User method you can involve particularly progressive users in the creation process in 4 phases and a relatively short time. At the end you will receive a detailed concept for your new product or process development.

Case Study: Gardena

Gardena was looking for an innovative tool for gardening. And commissioned us to work with LEAD Products, our format for innovation development, to create a new tool that would precisely reflect the changes in the market.

How the LEAD User method works

In this video you will learn how the LEAD User method works.

Procedure Hackathon & LEAD User Conference

Gain insights into how a hackathon or a LEAD User conference works in this video.


LEAD Users in our Network


Countries from which LEAD Users come


LEAD User Projects & Hackathons


% Patent Rate



Become a LEAD User - shape the future with us.

Our Hackathons and LEAD User conferences bring together experts from three different areas: the company's innovation team with the pre-defined problem, LEAD Users from the target market (users of the products/services) and LEAD Users from analogous areas. During 2 to 3 days, innovative concepts and prototypes are created using various creativity techniques. LEAD Innovation acts as moderator for the 3 days. Our events usually take place in a large European city. Travel and accommodation will be organized and paid by LEAD Innovation.

With your application we will add your competencies to our database. If a project matches your competencies, we will contact you and present the project to you in a short phone call. If the project is interesting for you, we will discuss further steps.

Fill in the form and be a LEAD User at the next conference!

I would like to become part of the LEAD User Network.