The Hunter’s innovation space
Innovation in business is recognised globally, nationally and locally as essential to sustainability and competitiveness in a changing world. But how innovative are Hunter businesses and how easy is it to take a great idea to market? Hunter Research Foundation, in collaboration with mentoring and investment group Hunter Founders Forum, recently explored these questions as part of its Regional Competitiveness Research program.
Its Innovation in Hunter Businesses report showed that more than one-third of Hunter businesses introduced new or significantly improved goods or services in 2015, in line with previous HRF studies between 2009 and 2014. Innovation was relatively evenly spread across all industry sectors but slightly higher in the knowledge-based professional services, such as communication, finance and insurance.
While most of the innovation in Hunter businesses was only new to the firm, a growing proportion (4% in 2015) of innovators are introducing goods or services that are new to the world. A willingness to have a go themselves and also to collaborate with others to innovate is also apparent in 2015, with an increase in the proportion of firms undertaking innovation in-house (45% of innovations) or in collaboration with another firm or institution (31%).
But coming up with a novel idea is only the first step. The study found that two-thirds of Hunter businesses had experienced barriers when developing a new product or starting a new business. The proportion soared to almost 100% for businesses who have innovated over the past 12 months or identify as start-ups, entrepreneurs or organisations in the Hunter innovation space. The main challenges experienced by Hunter entrepreneurs trying to bring a new product or service to market in the last 12 months related to finances, costs and cash flow. Those planning to innovate in the next 12 months were concerned about building customer bases and entering new markets.
Access to skills was another major challenge cited by innovators. They recognised the need to either buy in or develop skills in marketing, business and IT.
With more than half of Hunter businesses planning to innovate in the next 12 months, those already on that path strongly agreed that start-ups and innovators would benefit from better coordination in the Hunter’s innovation space. The level of need for external assistance or expertise has increased in recent years, as more businesses recognise the need to innovate and the challenges, skills and abilities required to achieve it.
So what can we do to support our entrepreneurs and make the Hunter’s innovators more successful?
There is currently unprecedented support for start-up and scale-up businesses in the Hunter Region. The Hunter Founders Forum (HFF) and HRF plan to support this innovation drive. At HRF’s next Hunter Economic Breakfast in June, the HFF will support three local entrepreneurs to pitch their product or service, as part of the Hunter Innovation Festival. They will be offered mentoring to prepare their pitch – the first in a series of mentoring experiences that will provide them with practical tools at various stages of their development.
The Business Centre, who assisted with the small business component of HRF’s research, runs the Rippler Effect Innovation Program, offering entrepreneurs national accreditation in innovation training and management.
The Hunter Founders Forum and HRF will encourage start-ups, entrepreneurs and innovators to invest in training and coaching as part of their business development. There has never been a better time to be a Hunter innovator and entrepreneur.
Ruth McLeod Senior Research Fellow at Hunter Research Foundation and John Coyle from Hunter Founders Forum
See the Innovation in Hunter Businesses report on www.hrf.com.au