We hear a great deal about the importance of innovation, not just to the national economy but to the fortunes of individual businesses. Yet for many entrepreneurs the routes to innovation are limited. We don’t all have access to a large R&D department or have our own ‘skunk works’ tucked away somewhere. This problem is exacerbated by the growing importance of the knowledge economy and the fact that markets are becoming increasingly globalised, meaning even micro-businesses are subject to great competition.
Over the past decade a team at the University of Gloucestershire has been working with micro and small-businesses, initially to find out how policy makers could communicate more effectively with them, and more recently on how innovation can be generated by University researchers working in partnership with businesses.
The new model of innovation places entrepreneurs as partners in the process, ensuring that the research is focused on the needs of the business and how they might be best addressed. The researcher, as an expert and up-to-date with the latest thinking in their field, can refer the business to research that already exists which may begin to answer some of the business challenges. They can also help identify opportunities for new research, focusing the project on the areas of most benefit.
Taking this approach ensures that the issues addressed are those identified by the SME as important but informed by the latest research, saving time and ensuring that the innovations are put into practice more quickly. This way of approaching innovation and learning has been developed through EU projects but is also being put into practice locally. For example in the Cotswolds where ‘Catchment’ aims to connect business development with environmental improvement.
The Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) team at the University of Gloucestershire is a group of researchers whose work is independently recognised as being international in quality. The team broadly works with the farming industry and land-based businesses but are convinced that this partnership approach to developing innovation has a much wider application.
Many people outside agriculture don’t understand how similar it is to many other sectors. Generally these are small and dynamic businesses run by passionate business people who compete in a global market place. “Juggling regulations and the needs of their business to deliver branded products using the latest-in-technology and marketing” describes a dairy farm in Gloucestershire just as much as it does an internet start-up.
The CCRI team is highlighting the wider relevance of their research in a conference at the Royal Society in London in January as part of an effort to convince policy makers of the vibrancy and importance of businesses in rural areas. You can find out more about the CCRI at www.ccri.ac.uk or through the Growth Hub.
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