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Put Innovation at the Heart of Your Business

– Contributed content –

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25 May 2020. Innovation is a buzz word in many industries. But if you are balancing your business on the scales of scientific research and development, innovation isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a way of life. Putting innovation at the heart of your business is essential if you want to show off your skills and develop something totally new to wow the market.

The problem is that being innovative is expensive. For every amazing idea you have, there will be countless failures, disasters and non-starters. So, how do you fund your innovative practice and ensure that you are getting the most from your experimentation?

The key is to plan in detail but also to allow some breathing room so that you can develop, change tack and grow. Unlike other businesses, innovative businesses must always look to the next thing and plan well beyond their current project. This means that you need to be ready at all times and be prepared to think on your feet!

So, where should you start?

Factor innovation into your business plan

Innovation is key so it should feature heavily in your business plan. This means that you need to budget for your experiments and ideas, including the time you predict you will need, the space, the equipment and the people too. While you might be tempted to just jump in and start playing, the worst thing that can happen is that you run out of money halfway through, so budgeting properly is key.

Because innovation is so important, it’s likely that you will have to eke out the rest of your budget to cover the other fundamentals of running a business. For example, you will need to make sure that you have enough cash to pay for marketing, accountancy and wages – to name a few! Outsourcing is often a good way to save money so you could outsource marketing to The Digital Lion to get great results and you could outsource other services like IT, accountancy and legal too.

When innovation is accounted for within your business plan, you should then look in more detail to decide where best to spend your budget. Naturally, this depends on what your project is and how you want to approach it but planning ahead will really help to prioritize your spending. So, while you might be able to make do with pens and paper, it might be worth investing in a laser cutter. Think really carefully about what is necessary and what is a luxury in this case.

On that note, you should consider the challenges of building your own research facilities. While you might be able to design your space around your projects and the way you like to work, building yourself can be extremely expensive. If you do decide to build, it is imperative that you don’t just build for now – you also need to look to the future and create a space that can evolve with your business ambitions.

Apply for funding… and keep applying

Applying for funding is one of the best ways to ensure that you are able to keep your business afloat and explore new avenues within your industry. There are always options to explore such as seed funding, crowdfunding, government funding and private investments too. Indeed, some companies have a dedicated member of staff looking for funding options and filling out the application forms – something you might like to consider if you move quickly from project to project.

One good way to get the funding you need is to partner with another company. A great recent example of this is Avantium, a sustainable technology solutions company, which is partnering with numerous drinks companies to develop new plant-based packaging. Their website is well worth a look too because they encourage investors of all sizes to help fund their work. Working like this ensures that the company is conducting relevant research that is commercially viable and appealing to investors all the way along. Very smart!

If your work is particularly relevant to one industry, it is always worth making some friends so that you can work together. Networking is essential for all businesses and innovation, in particular, relies on being in the right place at the right time. Discussing your ideas and projects is also a brilliant way to refine your ideas and think more clearly about an industrial application. While coming up with a new material or design is always great, if you want to make money, you need to make sure that someone wants to use it!

Plan, experiment, evaluate, refine 

At the heart of all good science is the ability to plan, experiment, evaluate and refine. But when this is part of your business, you need to think about how this suits your financial model and strategy for success. So, how long do you expect your experimentation stage to take, how many people do you need to hire to perform this stage, what resources do you need?

Of course, how you progress will largely depend on what happens in each experiment. You might have an idea of what will happen but ultimately, the whole point of an experiment is to see what actually happens. Because of this, you should allow some wiggle room in your plans. Make sure you set aside a contingency plan to account for a longer experimentation process and any extra equipment or staff you might need as well as the many other things that can go wrong!

Evaluating your project effectively is also really important. If you are relying on staged funding or you need a new cash injection, you need to be able to show what you have done and explain what you are going to do next. With this in mind, your evaluation shouldn’t be limited to your scientific process, it should also include the financial implications and business viability.

How you refine your designs and experiments is really important. When you are innovating, it is tempting to complicate ideas and incorporate as many different facets as possible. But we know that simple solutions are often the most effective and sell best. Remember that when you are refining an idea, you aren’t just making something that works, you are making something that other people want and will pay for!

Hire the best team and nurture them

In any business, the team is what makes the magic happen. The same is true in innovative businesses but who you hire and how they think is probably even more important. Hiring the right team is essential and you need to ensure that you provide a creative environment for them to thrive.

Diversity is a common theme among blogs discussing team building and when you are combining science and business, you need to have a good idea of the mix of skills you need. The best way to ensure you get the right team together is to analyze the needs of your project and then hire accordingly. But, don’t just hire the person who has the qualifications. During your interview process, you should also test how each candidate thinks creatively so that you have a range of different approaches to problem-solving.

Part of the fun of innovation is that everyone is learning all the time. This is why you need to make sure that your team is made up of enthusiastic people who are willing to explore the unknown. Nurturing your team is really important, especially if your project isn’t going quite to plan! Make sure you have regular team meetings to bring everyone together and welcome everyone’s opinions. Allowing your team to blossom together is vital to your overall success.

Look to the future

The future is constantly changing but what most businesses don’t realize is that they can influence it. When innovation is at the heart of your business, you must always keep your finger on the pulse of what is happening around you and how your business fits in. At the moment, some of the most pressing issues are the environment and climate change, population increases and technological change. Regardless of what your business intends to do, the most successful entrepreneurs read everything and you should do the same.

Looking to the future must incorporate every aspect of your business. Your plan must leave room for development as you move from project to project; your team should have space to grow and develop their skills; your funding applications should begin well in advance and give you time to plan and prepare. The more you plan and project your ambition forwards, the easier it will be to manage your business and ambition together.

When you put innovation at the heart of your business, it can be difficult to manage your finances, ambition and team too. However, putting innovation front and center is also the best way to stretch your team and push your business to the cutting edge of your industry. The future is always in the making and it is the innovators who get to shape what it looks like. So be ambitious, take on the big challenges and allow your creativity to take the lead. Is it risky? Yes, but that is also what makes it so exciting.

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