Companies faced with new challenges should maintain Innovation investment

Gearoid Mooney, Enterprise Ireland Divisional Manager, Research and Innovation discusses how investment in Innovation pays off.

A particularly noticeable feature of Enterprise Ireland client companies post-recession, is that those that continued investing in Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) through the lean years have come through as thriving businesses with above-average employment and export levels.

If you are not spending on RDI then you are probably out of step with your peers. Our Annual Business Results survey for 2015 found that 91% of respondents spend on Innovation, of which 66% used Enterprise Ireland R&D grants.

Our survey also found that clients who availed of our Innovation supports, had employment levels 25% above average and exports 30% above the average of our client base.

Even more striking, is the finding that companies that got involved in collaboration – often with additional Enterprise Ireland support – had exports ten times the client average and exceeded the average employment level by 35%.

This is no surprise. In many cases, Innovation gives businesses an edge on their competitors and therefore a better share of the market. So for Irish exporters facing into a potentially tougher market in the UK – not least because of challenges around currency – it is worth bearing in mind that price is not the only determinant of consumer choice.

Product design is essential to most offerings, and with many having one-to-three-year lifespans, continual renewal is needed. Hence the advice to keep investing in Innovation in good times and bad.

Innovation defined

Business Innovation is about creating and profitably applying new ideas in your company, bringing new products, new processes and new services to your customers.

The spectrum of impacts can range from major product or service-line breakthroughs, through to finding more efficient ways of working and becoming more profitable.

Business Innovation isn’t only for start-ups and large companies. It has a bottom-line impact on businesses of all sizes and stages of development.

It is also not something you only do during good economic times, it is what can help you sustain existing business and provide scaling opportunities for the future.

This isn’t just theory. The hard facts from our annual analysis of our clients’ financial performance go back many years and cover periods when business conditions were at their most expansive and during deepest financial crisis.

The truism over these years is that those companies who consistently make significant investments in their innovation have superior sales growth even when the general business climate is tough.

Great companies also make a virtue of their Innovation capacity with their customers and use it as a means to get clients more invested in doing business with them in the future.

Of course the investment has to be strategic, embedded in the culture of your company and tapped into the constant pulse of your customers’ requirements.

It should be funded efficiently, well managed with a team that knows how to deliver for your business and well aware of the trends and thought leadership around your offering.

It can sound complex, but these are all things Enterprise Ireland understands and we have a growing set of tools to help clients with every consideration.

Innovation basics

Before you start, get your internal procedures right. Appoint a dedicated senior manager to be responsible for your RDI and know how to measure progress and be sure your company can make use of the innovation you are developing.

Listen to the voice of your customer. If possible, test your progress with customers as you go through the process.

As the statistics show, getting the right external interventions at the right time brings in the best available knowledge to enhance the success of your Innovation drive.

So if your enterprise does not have appropriately skilled RDI staff then finding external skill resources to supplement the team can be a way to overcome that challenge.

You may only need additional skills for a defined period of time. Collaborations are a favoured approach but retaining the right consultant or advisor is also a good idea.

Clients unaware of how to access this type of expertise can avail of our services which for instance, can help you find the right third-level research partner. This also applies to facilities or equipment that may only be needed for the project at hand.  

Clients can also log on to www.knowledgetransferireland.com where a wealth of resources can be found that may be of help such as information on research talent, equipment availability and sample collaboration agreements.

Another possibility is to look to other companies who may be involved in similar research either currently or in the past. Of course be prepared to give something back. Peer-to-peer sharing works both ways.

Finally, be prepared to re-invest profits in Innovation. This can be supplemented by state resources, grants, tax credits to offset some of the cost or increase the ambition of your project.