What is innovation and how can businesses nurture it?

Aurel Nastase, Innovation Business Adviser at Northamptonshire Growth Hub
Aurel Nastase, Innovation Business Adviser at Northamptonshire Growth Hub

Aurel Nastase, Innovation Business Adviser at the Northamptonshire Growth Hub, explains why innovation is often confused with ideation, why learning from failure is so crucial to business success and how the Growth Hub could help your business to foster innovation.

When thinking about innovation most people confuse it with the new ideas generation process, continuous improvement, thinking “outside the box” and huge investments.... but innovation is not about who can generate the most new ideas, and thinking “outside the box” is not necessarily about constantly improving existing processes or products. Innovation is about generating value from those new ideas and thinking of ways in which you can break through and surprise your competitors - as Oren Harari said: “The electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of candles”. At the Northamptonshire Growth Hub we like to define innovation as a successful implementation of something that is new or different, affordable, accessible, which adds value to the customer by solving a real problem and drives growth for the creator.

There should be no limits to the source of innovation. It can come from internal teams; to stimulate this type of innovation businesses are encouraged to create an atmosphere where creativity is welcomed by making people feel that they can deliver an idea, and that it is safe to share their own and engage with others. At the Growth Hub we provide workshops such as “Creating a Culture of Innovation” (next session on Wednesday, 25th April 2018), where you can learn tools and techniques that will help you to create this environment.

Although most innovators are finding networking diffcult, they still understand that it’s crucial to collaborate. The need to build links has always existed, now referred to as “open innovation” – which describes networking with people inside and outside of the organisation. If you are not sure about sharing your ideas you might consider attending our “Managing Intellectual Property” workshop on Thursday, 10th May 2018. Lesley Brightman of C.Me Smart Design found this workshop particularly useful through attending she managed to find a cost effective way of protecting her ideas. It also gave her the opportunity to speak with a number of businesses and research institutions which enabled her to broaden her contact network for future collaboration.

"The Growth Hub workshops are the building blocks for any existing business or new start-up venture. Their projects have helped me enormously to get my new business project off the ground providing me with all the tools to get me started and realise my dreams. As a result, I am looking to launch my first product at the end of this year." Lesley Brightman, C.Me Smart Designs Ltd.

Some businesses are unsure how to go about initiating innovation. The good news is that we have reached a point where we can teach successful innovation management. It’s not just about technology, or asking the market what it wants - sometimes you have to lead the market. Our “Innovation in Products, Processes and Supply Chain” workshop (Tuesday, 15th May 2018) can support you in this innovation journey by providing you with a variety of tools and techniques for successful innovation.

At the Growth Hub we often get asked how companies afford to allocate resources in the current economic climate and how businesses justify spending large amounts on experiments that might fail.

As an Innovation Adviser I always say that companies don’t get innovation for free – they always allocate time, money and people to the search for new products, services, methods and so on. However, innovation can lead to powerful cost savings, profitable new products and competitive advantage. Indeed, in some situations the benefit of innovation might be company survival. If you just cut costs and don't innovate you risk being bypassed in the market by more agile competitors.

To help Northamptonshire businesses overcome some of the financial problems that hold them back from being more innovative, the Growth Hub offers grants up to £20,000, under the Innovate Northamptonshire project. These grants will support activities that lead to the development of new products, processes or services.

One of the local businesses that has recently been awarded a grant is Austin Davis Biologics Ltd (ADB), a small family-run science and technology company.

Dr Corrine Austin, director of ADB, says: “The funding will enable us to expedite the development process and the commercialisation of the laboratory kits will generate increased profit margins and enable further employment opportunities.”

Innovate Northamptonshire is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and delivered by Northamptonshire Growth Hub – a partnership between the University of Northampton and Northamptonshire County Council, providing comprehensive and unbiased support for your new or growing business.

To find out more contact us on 01604 212696 or visit: