How SMEs could use R&D to fuel business growth
INVESTING in innovation may seem counter intuitive during a cost-of-living crisis but it is, in my opinion, a crucial step towards stimulating business growth.
Research and development (R&D) is commonly perceived as a specialist area. Some believe it is the preserve of scientists or organisations in sectors such as aerospace, defence or space, but the truth is that innovation is for everyone and R&D is an extremely powerful tool when it comes to scaling your business.
It is the process of investigating, discovering, and creating new knowledge, technologies, products, or services that can help your business to grow and remain competitive. SMEs can use R&D to create innovative products, improve existing ones, and reduce production costs. I have seen many businesses stay ahead of the competition by developing new markets, and increasing their customer base through R&D.
By conducting market research and identifying gaps, Northern Ireland’s SMEs can differentiate themselves by using R&D to develop innovative new products or to improve the quality and features of existing products or services. This could help them to attract new customers and retain existing ones.
R&D can also help to reduce production costs by streamlining processes, utilising new materials or technologies, or improving product design.
Engaging in R&D is often an exercise in collaboration. SMEs could benefit from collaborating with other businesses, universities, or research institutions to share knowledge and resources, and to develop new technologies or products.
Of course, R&D doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It must be encouraged, resourced, and celebrated. Promoting an innovative culture requires a mindset shift that focuses on creativity, calculated risk, and change. By implementing these practices, business leaders can create a culture that encourages innovation and creates success.
However, they must provide the necessary tools to facilitate this. I believe that the implementation of three key concepts can help build a culture of innovation. These are: Ideation; Kaizen and; Managing New Product or Process Development (NPD.)
Ideation refers to the process of generating, developing, and sharing new ideas. It is a critical component of the innovation process. Business leaders would benefit from using a suggestion card and a standardised evaluation to generate ideas internally.
Often used to drive innovation, Kaizen is a Japanese term that means ‘continuous improvement.’ It is a philosophy and methodology that focuses on making small, incremental improvements to processes and systems over time, with a view to achieving better outcomes.
Innovation, on the other hand, is about creating new ideas, products, services, or processes that have the potential to transform a company's business model, disrupt an industry, or penetrate new markets. Kaizen and innovation may seem like very different concepts, but together, they can create a culture of continuous improvement and experimentation by focusing on the customer’s needs, encouraging experimentation, and empowering employees.
The management of New Product or Process Development (NPD) can be complex, but there are several key steps that can ensure success. Without NPD Management, R&D efforts can fail to deliver meaningful results.
Although Northern Ireland’s SMEs continue to navigate a difficult economic landscape, I know from working closely with our local business leaders that they can and will thrive by seeking expert business advice to innovate and fuel growth.
:: Robert McConnell is managing director at Pinnacle Growth Group (https://pinnaclegrowth.group)