Why innovation matters?
What is innovation, apart from a buzzword that often strikes indifference into the hearts of small business owners.
“It seems like there’s two commandments — thou shall innovate, and thou shall collaborate,” jokes innovation advisor Ken Green.
He believes the I-word can get thrown around too, causing many to tune out. “It becomes a lot of white noise.”
Green is keen to strip it back to basics so business owners see innovation as a practical advantage rather than an abstract concept.
“Innovation is just a way to doing something differently,” Green says. “It can be to get some advantage, or point of difference over your competition,” he says.
It may be to boost internal efficiencies or productivity. “Or you might do something that’s bespoke or customised for a particular application or customer — that’s innovation.”
Many businesses do it without calling it innovation. Green says he frequently visits enterprises that have developed widgets to aid sales or production, but are unaware they are “innovating” — and may, therefore, also be eligible for research and development grants.
Green, who works as an innovation facilitator for WA’s not-for-profit Business Foundations, helps SMEs partner with other businesses or researchers to develop new processes or products for their business.
When he visits a new client, he keeps his message simple. “I don’t ask, ‘Are you innovating?’. I ask, ‘What are your problems and what are your opportunities?’.”
In recent years, Green says WA has increasingly embraced innovation to drive efficiencies and reach new customers in an increasingly competitive market.
At its heart, innovation is about getting the jump on your competitors, and that can mean the difference between your business surviving or folding in a downturn.
“Innovation happens in times of constraint,” Green says. “You see it when there’s an imperative to change, there’s an imperative to do things differently.”
Green says the slowdown of WA’s economy had seen the focus shift to innovation. Successful innovation was tied to a keen understanding of customer pain points — a focus WA companies sometimes overlook.
It also required time, resources and skills. In downturns, businesses may have an excess of time but not much else, says Green. Which is why partnering with other businesses or university researchers had become a popular way to bridge skills and resource gaps.
The Federal Government provides funding for innovation collaborations. It can be accessed via the CCIWA-run Entrepreneurs’ Programme.