High growth entrepreneurs have an innovation department

26/08/2014

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”. 


High Growth Entrepreneurs – Have you got an innovation department?

22/11/2011

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 which 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”. My next few blogs will explore some simple yet highly effective ideas for embedding a culture of incubation.


Cities Provide Energy for Global Starts – 165 University Avenue

22/08/2011

165 University Avenue is a small rented office building on the main commercial street in the centre of Palo Alto, California – Silicon Valley. Also known as the “Lucky Building”, over the years it has incubated a number of “gorilla” businesses, names that include, LogitechGooglePayPalDanger, IncMilo.comeye IO and Yummly. Silicon Valley cannot be replicated, its unique, however, I strongly feel that we can learn a lot from this vibrant world-class entrepreneurial region.

Through the High Growth Foundation I am particularly keen to work out what we need to do to create our own blockbuster businesses up North and throughout the rest of the UK.  The Billion Dollar Club in the US acts as a forum for companies with a market capitalization of $1billion, no surprises that Silicon Valley companies are well represented in this list.  In recent years most notable UK companies that would fall into this elite group would be the spin outs from Cambridge University, Autonomy and Biovex from UCL. How many of these have we created in the North West? I just can’t believe we have not got the talent, I think  the environment is wrong.

We have some great incubator units in the Region, but would one in the heart of Manchester help to create a blockbuster as the West Coast of the States has repeatedly done. The external environment is crucial when you are trying to build a business, it supports creative thought and innovation – a place where there is a buzz, somewhere to go for a coffee, a pizza or a beer after work is so important. After all we are human beings and being stuck out on a limb in some Enterprise Zone I don’t think is the answer. Ambitious entrepreneurs want to be surrounded by like-minded high energy people with links to finance and capital. That happens in city centres.

We need a radical rethink about how we help the stars of tomorrow. The UK cities offer a great environment for breeding tomorrows superstars – but still we are keen to push new entrepreneurs out into the sticks where there is little energy and no spark. Maybe time for a rethink on where we encourage our beacons of tomorrow to set up. Do we have the equivalent of 165 University Avenue in Manchester?  It’s not in the City Centre as it is in Palo Alto.


The Enlightened Company

20/02/2011

What is it about some companies that make them shine way above the rest? They have differentiated propositions, take a massive lead on competition, build a strong brand and just outperform others.

More specifically, I am really interested in some of those massive companies that have entered onto the world stage and become literally global phenomena in less than a decade. Great examples such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Google come to mind. These outstanding founders often become labeled unfairly as techie geeks. However when you probe further into their academic background some are obviously technical many have an arts degree. Reid Hoffman founder of LinkedIn – BA in Symbolic Systems and MA in Philosophy, his co-founder Peter Thiel also of PayPal fame BA in Philosophy, Chris Hughes co Founder of Facebook BA in History and Literature, and Eduaro Saverin also co-founder of Facebook BA in Economics.

For me it raises a number of questions that I would love to delve into further – would knowledge and technology based businesses benefit from a founding team that combines scientific/technical and creative talent. Does this create an enlightened company? – One that sees opportunities from different angles embraces ambiguity and curiosity and also one that is willing to explore various options and keep an open mind as to what is and what is not possible.

We are continuously being reminded that the UK needs to commercialise its R & D and knowledge assets and we massively lag behind the US in this arena. Equally we are told that academics and technologists need to become more entrepreneurial if we are to reverse the fortunes of turning IP into revenue. So what is the missing link?

In 1981 Roger W. Sperry won The Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine – he discovered that the left side of the brain was associated with analytical thinking the right with more creative thought.  Is it fair to say that when the mindset of a founding team combines both; greater is the likelihood of success? So what are the implications on all those massively talented scientific individuals who are exploring a business idea – given they are probably dominated by left-brain thinking, would an injection of right brain support help to accelerate the idea to market process?

Just how important is the role of combining technical/scientific functional mastery with creative thinking. Would university incubators and others involved in stimulating high growth businesses and spin outs benefit from bringing individuals from humanities and arts faculties into the mix.  After all diversity and interconnected thinking drives innovation.

It’s about time Manchester and indeed the rest of the UK started to create some of the Gorilla companies such as Facebook – after all we have the talent. Maybe we just need to get the so-called geeks talking to the creative’s – and throw an accountant in there as well!