In this blog, Claire Partridge, a regular face at Tontine and by day, a Scottish Enterprise Innovation Specialist, is talking to us on the subject of dispelling myths around innovation.
Claire offers bookable 1:1 sessions at Tontine, one Wednesday per month, to advise companies on their innovation planning, product development and potential funding options to help move projects forward.
Innovation and Dirty Laundry
Innovation is a strange word in Scotland, perhaps it’s our culture, or our way of playing down our achievements. People generally don’t see themselves as “innovative”. So many clients I talk to think they aren’t doing anything interesting, or it’s just “what we do”. But actually; it’s the complete opposite.
So, I’m taking the chance to dispel some myths around innovation in this blog, from my 4 years in this job and experience of working with 500+ businesses in that time…
Innovation and Invention are the same thing
Sorry to break it to you folks, they aren’t. Innovation is about taking an idea, building upon it, seeking customer input and commercially exploiting it, to make money for the business. Invention is more about creating things, playing with ideas and then parking them somewhere, as a great idea.
We often see great “ideas” but they fall apart at the lack of a founding team with a diverse skill set, or an understanding of how that idea could be built out into a product or service that meets the needs of a particular group of customers.
You need to be the next Google
Lots of clients come in feeling like they need to be the next Google, or Skyscanner. For some, that’s a goal to aspire to and they’ll get there. For others, that’s so far down the road, they can’t begin to see how they’ll ever get there.
Innovation can be about making improvements to something that already exists, or it can be developing something from scratch, to service an incredible small, niche market segment. The important fact in all of this, it’s not about size or scale, it’s about the ability to sell more to existing, or engage a whole new customer base, to grow your business.
Service design isn’t innovation
Trust me here, it is. Take Smol for example… fundamentally they sell dishwasher and laundry tablets. Nothing interesting there.
Then you take it up a notch - less packaging than big brands, delivered to your door, as and when you need it, 24 tabs at a time, free postage and direct to the customer, cutting out the retailer, so it can be as much as 50% cheaper than a major brand purchase in the supermarket.
That’s innovation – making it quicker and more convenient for the end user. You no longer need to remember to buy your detergent with the weekly shop, you don’t need a cupboard to store your big box of detergent and it’s automatically recurring, so in theory, you shouldn’t run out… and did I mention it fits through your letterbox?
Case closed, service design most definitely is innovative.
Build it and they’ll come
This is one I couldn’t disagree more with, I can’t stress enough how important it is to define a value proposition before you start on the development of something. I’ve lost count at the amount of clients who’ve invested thousands of pounds in developing brands and prototypes before they’ve asked the fundamental question to a potential customer “would you buy this?”
Defining a value proposition is a great way to move away from product/service and back to pains, gains and solutions to problems for customers. Not creating a product you think will sell, instead, developing a solid value proposition with direct customer input.
For anyone keen to find out more, head to YouTube and search “value proposition canvas explained”. You can also download a blank canvas from Strategizer, to start building your own proposition if you’re keen to start with this way of thinking.
Grants will get your product to market
Another “I hate to break it to you” moment. Grants can help develop products, but they won’t get you in market, launched and making money. We often get companies approaching our team and telling us that if only they had a grant, they’d be able to launch something.
Scottish Enterprise financial support will be very unlikely to get you all the way to the finish line. We’re a stakeholder as much as other funders would be. We’ll help you (sometimes providing up to 70% of costs for a small project) however, we expect the business to be financial committed to a project, too. Why would we invest in an idea, if a company is too scared to back their own project financially? Our grants are generally paid out either part way or at the end of a project, so we’d expect the company to have some cashflow in place to be able to start the funding and development journey.
And as an adviser, it’s one of the first questions I ask – what resources do you have to take this to market, both in finance and in human resource? Whilst we can help provide support to businesses, we can’t fully fund their projects, or if there’s little resource to move forward, it makes it really difficult to work up a commercialisation plan. Companies need to think about what they want to achieve from the outset, as innovation projects can be resource heavy on an organisation, but equally, with a bit of help, can reap great rewards.
Innovation is unlikely to make you a quick buck – it’s about planning for the long term in the business, working out which direction you’re going into and setting the strategy for the years to come.
Now I’ve shared my wisdom with you, I’m off to wait patiently for my laundry capsules to arrive.
Innovation & Enterprise Services: Innovation Support - Scottish Enterprise
Tel/Skype: +44 (0)141 468 5217 | Mob: +44 (0)7826 868854 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit the Innovation Support Service webpage here.