Business incubators have become a common feature of public sector enterprise support in recent years; many of these establishments have proved to be highly effective in nurturing early stage entrepreneurs. They don’t just provide a desk and somewhere to turn up every morning, their added value comprises: a place to network, share ideas and collaborate. The really good ones offer mentoring and coaching, this is often what makes the real difference between success and me too performance. In many UK regions, incubators have become a hot bed of exciting new businesses, the potential employers of graduate talent – Autonomy in Cambridge is a fantastic example.
This concept of incubation needs to feature prominently in the culture and mindset of winning businesses – any ambitious entrepreneurial company should have a “department” or function responsible for building a pipeline of new thinking that delivers potential new revenue streams or adds value to existing customer experiences. I don’t mean a department literally – it’s about having an organisational process that brings together thinkers, doers, sellers and controllers, one that not only develops new ideas but also implements the commercially viable nuggets that emerge from the process of discovery. The concept of incubation delivers a major thrust for gaining an edge in the market place.
It is my opinion that creative intelligence is the ultimate source of competitive advantage – high growth companies tend to be disproportionately more innovative than the rest of the SME population. They explore, embrace diversity, live in their customer’s world, experiment with new possibilities and avoid complacency by making creative thought a habit, not something they do once a fortnight on a Friday afternoon. It must form part of an organisations “soul”.
In whatever arena you want to succeed you must identify and ultimately become part of the community where individuals with common interests share and connect with each other. In these communities you will meet like-minded people whose experiences, thoughts and attitudes could be of massive contribution to your own success. The entrepreneurial world has seen a dramatic increase in the number of business networking groups in recent year’s, these have acted as a source of personal and business development for ambitious people who want to progress their enterprise. These groups encourage networking and interaction – not only do they stimulate business activity, they also act as a portal of real life experiences, these can help in times when:
- Difficult decisions have to be made
- We really don’t know how to address a particular challenge
- We are unsure as to which direction to take
Looking from a broader perspective, regions of social and economic deprivation have seen a rise in the number of community groups – their primary cause being to stimulate activity where residents can come together to focus their attention on self-improvement and making a success out of their life. Such projects encourage individuals to channel their passion into sporting, music and other activities – encourage solidarity and bar raising personal performances! It teaches individuals to extend their comfort zones and believe that life holds far more than the status quo.
You must ask yourself – how connected are you to your community? How visible are you in it? Do you participate? From the successful people I have had the privilege of meeting their achievements have been enhanced as a result of them being immersed in their community – participating gives us the opportunity to:
- Mix with individuals who have similar aspirations
- Build personal relationships that can be vital to you in times of need
- Share your wisdom with them
- Exchange contacts that offer mutual benefit
Don’t be a passive observer in your community network, be an active part and giver – this will come back to repay you many times over – be vocal, let your thoughts be known and immerse yourself in what is going on. In today’s rapidly expanding wireless environment these communities can be virtual as well as physical. The exponential rise in online communities created through Facebook, You Tube and Twitter provide alternative routes to getting involved – don’t ignore the opportunities these tools give you to accessing the “Connectors”. These are the people who open doors in the quest for success, they will emerge from your community.
It is vital that you get hooked in as being an active contributor will over time build a GCC – “Golden Circle of Connectors” – people whose opinions and inputs you both trust and respect, most of all they help you to make things happen.
Get connected and start to build links with those communities that will help you to move forward!
How times have changed in the past ten years. Companies I would have viewed as major competitors at the turn of 2000 have now become close allies – we are sharing knowledge, IP, business ideas and revenue streams. It strikes me that collaboration is very much embedded within the mindset of the forward thinking organisations I meet on a day-to-day basis. Those that hold their cards too close to their chest will almost certainly miss out on new business and product opportunities. Collaboration can present itself in many formats:
- Businesses with complementary skills coming together to bid for large contracts – one where the mix of expertise and geographical coverage offers massive benefits to a customer. This can be achieved as a consortium or through what is commonly referred to as a special purpose vehicle (SPV)
- Companies fusing complimentary products and services to create a new offering – WP did this several years ago, we took creative expertise of a University and combined it with coaching techniques to create the highly successful Winning Pitch TV (WPtv) – a great example of HE working with a SME
- Euro Garages one of the North’s most successful companies brought together petrol stations with Starbucks and Subway franchises to build a new experience in filling the tank.
- We see it everyday on the motorways with Starbucks, M & S and other high street chains teaming up with service operators to create a new service station break – this used to be a joke in terms of food quality, now, very different
- Large pharma companies engaging with smaller niche R & D operators. A much nimbler and cost effective route for multi nationals to build their innovation pipeline
Fundamental to collaboration is a win- win attitude, there has to be a common goal, a shared vision, a sense of trust and purpose, fair commercial gain for both parties. Working as I do everyday with high growth companies, its very clear that those entrepreneurs who think partnership are opening themselves up to so many new possibilities. Stay awake, think about who you can collaborate with, the only warning is, be sure why you are doing it and what’s in it for both of you!