Our first session at the JEDI Plenary was on What is Innovation for an Entrepreneur. As a follow-up to that session, we covered Tools for Taking Advantage of Innovation. During this session, the five panel members were quick to offer up their expertise in their respective fields surrounding innovation, strategies and business. In case you missed it or would like to review the discussion, we’ve summarized some of the key points here.
The members of the panel were:
- Shane Perley-Dutcher, owner of Aduksis Jewellery Designs
- Sally Ng, Executive Director at Planet Hatch
- Danielle Collin, Supply Team Leader at the Office of SME
- Dave Chisholm, Retail Operations Manager at Saint Mary’s Retail Sales
- Hugh Hicks, Director Enterprise Development at ACOA
These panelists come from different industries but they all have a unique perspective to share regarding entrepreneurship. Each panelist offered their insight into the variety of tools that are available to entrepreneurs and how these tools can be used to take advantage of innovation.
The session was delivered in a question/answer format and each panelist contributed their thoughts.
What Does Innovation Mean?
The session started with the topic of innovation. Panelists shared a definition of innovation that applied to them and their organization.
“Innovation for us, is creative thinking and coming up with ideas so that a small independent can compete with the big chains,” said Dave Chisholm when referring to the independent grocery store and gas station that he helps run. “Things like value-added service, carrying groceries to your car, and pumping your gas. In the smoke shop, we designed the shelves so they could be stocked from behind, to keep out of the way of people trying to shop. The key is to come up with new ways of doing things that people may appreciate.”
“It’s not about creating something from scratch,” said Sally Ng. “It’s about leveraging the resources that you already have. What is the goal of what you are trying to achieve?” Once you have that information, it is easier to innovate.
“Innovation is a daily practice,” said Shane Perley-Dutcher. “Creativity can transform pretty much anything. It’s a day-to-day practice with your customer and client. You have to be open to new possibilities.”
Strategies and Tools that Help Bring Innovation into Businesses
Many strategies for bringing innovation into your business start with talking to other people, being open to different ideas, and listening to feedback.
“Oftentimes companies have a specific idea in mind but if they are open to input there can be other applications and other opportunities,” said Danielle Collin. “Look to your customer; network, get feedback. See if there are other applications for your business or product. There might be many other avenues for you.”
Hugh Hicks encouraged getting someone to come in and look at what you are doing. “Get a fresh perspective on your business and ideas. Simply by having a second set of eyes, you can get ideas for redesign, or realign the way you are doing things. You may be able to be more efficient with the assets you already have if you look at things in a different way.”
Sally Ng works within the start-up community and the people she works with are willing to try anything. “You need to be willing to try new things. Connect to the community, this will help you be innovative. Get educated in what else is going on, get as much exposure as you possibly can. Attend community events, get involved.”
One such community event is Startup Weekend where Sally is a Global Facilitator. “It’s a collaborative environment where you can try things out. You take an idea from scratch to a pitch at the end of the weekend. There is a 1:8 ratio of mentors to attendees.”
A strong team is important for success.
“Know your strengths and weaknesses,” said Hugh Hicks. “ACOA looks at the management team. A strong management team can make a mediocre product work but a weak management team cannot necessarily make a strong product work.”
Dave Chisholm recommended providing opportunities for advancement to staff, especially in retail. “Watch for young gems who are good at customer service and have a good personality. Let them know there is a career in retail going forward.”
Partnerships and Joint Ventures
When joining forces with other players, leverage their skills and support so that you can accomplish things that you may not have been able to do on your own.
Dave Chisholm spoke about being an independent retailer competing with large chain stores. He shared how big companies have big budgets and head offices to do marketing, pricing, etc. To compete with this, Saint Mary’s Retail has partnered with another company and this has allowed them to be viable in this highly competitive market. He also spoke about how partners can provide expertise and training.
Shane Perley-Dutcher has a small business and is always open to input and support. “JEDI has been a support to my business over the years, as well as the College of Art and Craft Design. Know your resources and who is on your side. Take criticism and take honest opinions. Get critical feedback to help you grow.” Shane had the opportunity to attend an exclusive event in Chicago to represent New Brunswick and with JEDI’s support, this trip became a reality. “It was a great experience,” said Shane.
“Look at your own needs,” said Sally Ng. “Define your own strengths. Make sure your partners complement you. If they have the same strengths as you, that may not be what you need.” There is a strength finder test online for $10. This will help you determine your own strengths and to find people who have strengths that complement your own.
Responding to an RFP
Strategic partnerships, the RFP process, and then something completely different.
Hugh Hicks talked about forming strategic partnerships when pursuing large contracts. “Oftentimes, large multi-national firms don’t want to deal with a small company from New Brunswick, but they do like to deal with a group of companies that have banded together to provide a turn-key solution.”
Danielle Collin works in the Office of Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) and she had some great advice on the RFP process. “Where ever you see the word mandatory, if you can’t provide that thing, go out and partner with someone who has that thing. Call a buyer to find out information. Check with SME, they will help you with the tender documentation, they will explain it and guide you. SME has connections with other levels of government as well. Be sure to get someone else to review your proposal. They can check to see if you have met the mandatory items and help find things that you missed.”
“Some industries are easier to get into than others,” continued Danielle. “An option is to partner with someone who already has government contracts. This will help you gain the experience you need to have a better chance to get them in the future.”
Sally Ng’s opinion was that if you are just starting out, you shouldn’t pursue government contracts at all. “Start-ups probably won’t make it through the procurement cycle. Get experience elsewhere before you pursue those government contracts. If you only have one customer, like government, if they have budget cuts, you won’t have a customer anymore and you will be out of business.”
Forge forward no matter what. It can lead to interesting opportunities.
“Don’t let fear stop you from trying,” said Shane Perley-Dutcher. “Acknowledge it and move forward. Face yourself, be honest. You are going to continually come up against challenges. Embrace it. Embrace innovations. Forge forward no matter what. It can lead to interesting opportunities.”
“Do your homework. Be strategic. Understand your customer,” said Danielle Collin. “Is there a job that needs to be done better, is there something that sets you apart from the rest of the industry? Communicate that.”
“Keep an open mind and keep your eyes open to what is happening to see if it can apply to your situation,” said Dave Chisholm.
“Don’t be afraid of new technology adoption,” said Hugh Hicks. “Have a look at the technology you are using and make sure it is relevant to be competitive on an international stage and it is relevant for the markets you are targeting.”
“There are tons of free resources available online,” said Sally Ng. “Find the tools that can be good for you and if you can’t find them yourself, tap into resources that can help you find them.”