Accelerating innovation07 Nov 2013
Leading entrepreneurs and business champions share perspectives on the role of failure, invention and conviction in successful innovation at Accelerate 2013…
A day of networking and learning at the ACC in Liverpool began with Wikipedia founder and “pathological optimist” Jimmy Wales urging an audience of start-up leaders to fail fast and not wait for the perfect idea to hit you. “Most entrepreneurs learn through embracing their failures,” he said, touring delegates through the failed ventures that eventually led to the fifth most visited website in the world.
Partnering with Liverpool Vision to support Accelerate 2013 – the festival for fast-growth firms – the National Business Awards hosted its second Growth Leader Forum on 27th June as part of a programme of content for over 2,000 entrepreneurs.
Part of the National Business Awards’ own thought-leadership programme for 2013, the debate drew perspectives on innovation from a panel including Martin McCourt, former CEO of Dyson and now an interim CEO and Chairman for Montagu Private Equity; Doug Richard, Founder of School for Start-Ups and one of the original BBC Dragons; and Sara Jones, Co-founder of the multi-award winning online recruitment marketplace, HiringHub.com.
Setting the scene with some insights into how Liverpool Vision is supporting and enabling innovation in the region, CEO Max Steinberg emphasized the city’s own culture of adaptability and transformation as a globally recognized ‘city of culture and commerce’ - and host of the International Festival for Business in 2014.
“The IFB will be the most important international business event for Britain in 2014 and it is happening here in Liverpool,” he said. “Through partnerships with the Confederation of British Industry, UKTI, British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses, IFB 2014 will appeal to businesses across the UK and beyond, from small firms to large corporates, and from pubic to private sectors. It will be a showcase of everything that is brilliant about international and British business, bringing 250,000 visitors to Liverpool next year.”
Sara Jones, one of the Accelerate 250 from the North West, is applying disruptive innovation to an entire industry with its marketplace model for recruitment. “The recruitment industry has been starved of innovation for well over a decade, with the last major shake-up being the introduction of job boards,” she explained. “So when we introduced a completely new online model we had to change the way companies view recruitment, and alter their habits, showing them that now, through us, there’s a better way to recruit via third-party agencies.
“Even though Hiring-Hub.com is proving faster, cheaper, and much more efficient than traditional recruiting routes, change is feared. We've had to be clever with our messaging to distinguish ourselves from the other ‘noise’ recruitment within the industry. It’s an ongoing challenge.”
The power of endorsement
Conviction in a new idea can be tested by a number of challenges, but the complementary skill set of co-founder Simon Swan – and a number of national and regional awards – have boosted confidence. “My knowledge of the recruitment industry combined with Simon’s marketing background has helped us prove the success of our model with numerous awards – which reassure clients and silence the naysayers,” added Sara.
Serial entrepreneur, angel investor and enterprise campaigner Doug Richard, himself the recipient of an Honorary Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion, is helping to foster economic development and innovation by training and supporting new entrepreneurs through social enterprise School for Startups.
Doug picked up on a delegate question about enabling innovation from the top down and bottom up; who should own innovation and where should it come from? “At the growth stage, you want everyone inventing and it’s all about managing change,” he explained. “But when the model is finally working you want everyone to focus their creativity on this vision.”
Focus on the best idea
Martin McCourt, who shared insights on how he got the best out of Britain’s most high profile inventor, echoed this point saying that the best inventor entrepreneurs innovate around a single vision. “James [Dyson] knew the importance of total focus and determination on the idea,” he said. “Change only one thing at a time, do as many prototypes as are needed to prove the success of the idea, protect the invention every inch of the way, and never give up.”
But with many entrepreneurs building a business around an idea they may have formed while still an employee, how can employers keep IP in the organisation? While large organizations like Telefonica have created platforms like Wayra to invest in and support spin-off start-ups, what can smaller firms do?
Whatever the size of business, it’s up to the CEO and Board to create a culture of innovation, said Martin: “They must be clear and visionary about what the business stands for and where it wishes to be; and what it wishes people all over the world to say about its business when they see its name on a product. The Board must have a reputation with its workforce of being progressive, forward looking, reasonable and supportive.”
While Boards set the context for creativity, accountants and finance directors can help to present the business case for innovation and get ideas funded.
“Without careful planning and execution some of the best business ideas do not see the light of day,” says Clive Lewis, Head of Enterprise at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). “A finance director will lead their team to investigate, analyse and see the interconnections and patterns between the numbers and develop the business case for innovation in their organisation. It is with this financial planning that new ideas will get funded and ultimately brought to market.”
The Finance Innovation Lab, an incubator for systems change in finance jointly hosted by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and ICAEW, was launched in 2008 to incubate new business models, innovate in mainstream finance and new forms of civil society, and accelerate the capacity of leaders to create change.
Named one of the '50 New Radicals’ changing the face of Britain for the better by The Observer, it has learned the following over the last five years according to Clive Lewis:
- Your strategy takes a lot of work - you have to be prepared to put the hours in and adapt
- Orchestration over emergence - there's a point at which experimentation no longer works and what's needed is a strong, clear intention and strategy
- Be rigorous - say no to things that are misaligned, set clear boundaries and focus - mission first, organisation second, then the needs of any individual
- Funding gets easier - once you are clear you attract people and organisations who want the same things
Finalists for the 2013 National Business Awards will be announced on 16th July and profiled in a dedicated supplement produced by the Daily Telegraph on 28th September. Winners will be announced at a glittering ceremony at the Grosvenor, Park Lane on 12th November. To reserve advertising space in this year’s Finalist Supplement or book your places at this year’s ceremony call Anthony Akoto on 020 7234 8710 or email firstname.lastname@example.org