LAST WORDS: Innovation and the Entrpreneuer

Enterprise Hub Network Director Marilyn Huckerby has her say. In this edition she’s interested in the differences, and links, between innovation and entrepreneurship, and why they deserve attention and support.

Innovation and the entrepreneur

A lot gets written (some of it in Hub magazine) about the importance of innovation to the development of UK plc. Other articles are written about what makes a successful entrepreneur, and how important they are to a thriving economy.

They’re both vital of course – successful growth businesses need both innovation and entrepreneurial flair to survive and thrive, and in the best of these the innovator and the entrepreneur (who might occasionally be the same person!) support and benefit from each others skills and attitudes.

The role of the Enterprise Hubs is to provide support to new businesses that are developing innovative ideas with a high growth potential: companies that have spotted a market need of significant size and have clever ideas on how that need can be satisfied - at a profit. By definition, these companies will also have to have an entrepreneurial aspect to succeed. Some companies may well get to market quickly without the support of Enterprise Hubs because they can combine a genuinely new and exciting idea with the business skills to exploit it effectively without additional help. But many companies will be missing some of the ingredients to grow a successful business: they may be strong on the innovation, but not quite able to articulate the business proposition fully, or to know where to go to secure the necessary resources or expertise. Here is where the Enterprise Hubs can help, with their commercialisation experience and network of partners, service providers and useful contacts.

So how do these two key things that Enterprise Hub Directors look for in new business ideas relate to each other? Innovation in a business sense is about coming up with the new: new products, new services, new business processes, new business models, so it’s an essential part of what successful businesses do every day.

Entrepreneurship is about spotting new market opportunities, developing an innovative business proposition to address the market and then marshalling the resources needed to deliver the proposition. It may be tempting to see innovation and entrepreneurship as being synonymous – but this would be a misleading assumption to make.

The ability to develop a new product, service or idea, and being able to turn that innovation into a viable business addressing a real market need require quite different skill sets.

It’s rare to find all the skills and attitudes required of both the innovator and the entrepreneur in the same person.

Innovate, or stagnate

Another assumption to rectify is that, “Innovation is just about new technology”. Some of the most innovative businesses around today are in the creative and service sectors: filling an existing need in a new way, or taking advantage of changing circumstances to develop a new service can require more profound and continual innovation than inventing a new gadget. Examples would be Amazon and Ebay which have paved the way for Internet retailing. They both use clever technology – but the underlying ideas are really about innovative new ways of retailing. More pure technology businesses can sometimes be “one trick ponies”, there is a danger of a successful invention pigeonholing a company, and actually deterring further innovation.

What is certain is that businesses of any size stagnate if they stop innovating: there is no middle ground where past laurels can be comfortably rested upon. But equally there is no company, of whatever size and age that can’t revive and renew its potential to grow through developing a capacity to innovate.

This is why SEEDA set up the Innovation Advisory Service – to help existing, established SMEs to become more innovative, and grow as a result This has to involve developing the capacity of the business to innovate and to be entrepreneurial, side by side.

The entrepreneurs in the business need to be innovative to think their way around the challenges of getting the ideas to market, but they may not have the experience or technical skill to come up with the new ideas in the first place.

Being an innovator involves vision, risk taking and a degree of flair, but that does not mean that everyone with a good idea has the entrepreneurial skill to make it work as a business proposition.

An experienced entrepreneur knows that successful companies use the skills of many people, and they will be looking for other innovative people to strengthen their team – since there will be many challenges to overcome including finding money, developing the product/service, adapting the internal business processes, finding customers – all of the many and different challenges that growing businesses face.

So the conclusions to draw are that successful growth businesses promote and develop innovation and entrepreneurial skills and thinking in their companies – and that there is more to innovation than new technology!

Author: Enterprise Hub Network Director - Marilyn Huckerby

Created Date: 18-12-2007


Go back

High Growth Business Coaching Website