Innovation Allows SMEs Not Only to Survive… But to Gain an Edge

Assessing last year’s winner of the Excellence in Innovation award, Wilfred Mitchell OBE, FSB Northern Ireland Policy Chair, explains why small business need help with big ideas

This year, FSB once again have the pleasure of sponsoring the Excellence in Innovation award at the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards 2016.

This is an important category to FSB to raise awareness, as innovation is integral to the survival and growth of small businesses. Coming in many forms, innovation is something that is open to all small businesses as it is, simply put, a new idea, a new process or way of doing something new within a business, in a smarter or different way that makes a positive difference.

Last year, FSB presented the Belfast Telegraph Business Award for Excellence in Innovation to Hannan Meats in Moira, Co Down.

This local small business responded to increasing market competition by establishing a groundbreaking way in which to store and adapt their product. Peter Hannan introduced a new way of storing meat with Himalayan Salt that not only enabled him to remain a market leader, but to also attract global high-profile customers, including Fortnum and Mason.

If the Northern Ireland economy is to prosper, it is essential that our small businesses have confidence in the future. Too often, small businesses are faced with external circumstances, both at local and Government level, that create significant obstacles. Indeed, the drivers of innovation include rising costs, changes in customer expectations, legislative and economic changes.

Innovation enables a small business not only to survive adverse changes, but to gain a competitive edge and lead with the reputation of a market leader. Significantly, small businesses with their more intimate knowledge of their customer base, as well as greater flexibility, are best placed to innovate.

In November, we launched our Northern Ireland Assembly Manifesto for 2016, entitled Realising the Potential of Small Businesses. Within this document, we have called on the new Executive to focus on higher skills and knowledge as without the correct skills in place, local businesses are always going to struggle to increase innovation.

This is especially relevant given that innovation is driven by market competition and small businesses. Therefore, cuts within the area of skills and higher education significantly place the future of the Northern Irish economy into jeopardy.

Innovation must be encouraged from an early age, in partnership with entrepreneurship. FSB would therefore call on the need for entrepreneurship to be built within the curriculum and encouraged at all age groups. Starting your own business should be presented as an attractive career option for young people in Northern Ireland, and innovation can be encouraged at a young age through both schools and colleges.

Moreover, the FSB manifesto highlights that innovation funding is a key area in which the Executive can continue to play a leading role. Historically, R&D expenditure in Northern Ireland has been too low, comparing unfavourably to almost all other UK regions. Encouragingly, there has been progress over the last number years. But this has to be better realised amongst SMEs with awareness and support opportunities.

SMEs need help in identifying that innovation is an essential component to the culture of their everyday business. That it sits alongside other business necessities such as access to finance, business support, attracting investment and smarter regulation.

For this reason, the FSB Manifesto takes a holistic approach to boosting the small business environment – with recommendations enabling tangible future returns.

Emerging from a challenging economic period and in a time of increasing global competition, an encouraging external environment and supporting internal environment are demonstrated as being integral to successful innovation in SMEs.

The awards up for grabs

Award categories:

1. Excellence in Marketing

2. Excellence in Exporting, sponsored by FedEx

3. Excellence in Management and Leadership, sponsored by DEL

4. Excellence in Innovation, sponsored by FSB

5. Best Use of Digital and/or Social Media, sponsored by Saville Audio Visual

6. Young Businessperson of the Year, sponsored by Almac

7. Excellence in Technology, sponsored by BT

8. Best Small/Medium Business, sponsored by Tughans

9. Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility

10. Outstanding Contribution to the Tourism and/or the Hospitality Industry

Judges’ Awards, sponsored by British Airways:

11. Businessperson of the Year

12. Overall Business of the Year