Innovation is alive and well in the North East

Carole White, CEO at TEDCO Business Support explains why the North East should be optimistic about a bright and innovative future in business. 

Innovation is a term that is often thrown around in the business community. But it isn’t always clear what constitutes innovation and what is merely good practice within an enterprise.

Business leaders typically talk about innovation as “creating solutions that can add value to customers”. That is an important distinction. While creativity is the process of thinking of something new; innovation within business means implementing those new ideas with goals in place and an end result in mind.

This is where many enterprises fall down. Brainstorming sessions and blue-sky thinking is all well and good but the truth is this: coming up with ideas is fast and cheap; the execution of ideas is where the real work (and cost) lies.

Often, true innovation is most apparent when you see it in action. And in the North East we are fortunate enough to have a burgeoning innovation culture. Over the last decade, there have been many tech start-ups that have flourished in the region, many of which have been supported by regional development funding and tech-specific initiatives. New products have come to market, new employment opportunities created and, in many cases, businesses have gone on to be sold to large multi-national corporations.

A recent example of a tech business built on innovation is Trench Networks. This Northumberland-based company has grown in just 3 years into an award-winning provider of Internet services for the construction industry. A 15-year career in IT and communications for a construction firm convinced Kevin Latimer that a better solution was needed on building sites where telephone signals and Internet connectivity have always been notoriously poor.

After seeking investment for their Outpost solution, Kevin and business partner Claire Hollyman launched their fully integrated communications system to market, providing instant access to phone and Internet networks and winning themselves numerous start-up awards in the process.

Now, with a growing client portfolio across the North of England and beyond, Trench Networks is a prime example of what can be achieved through innovation and a lot of hard work.

Of course, innovation isn’t just reserved for the tech sector. We can look to almost any industry to find bright ideas that have been implemented to provide new opportunities.

Take for instance, Seaweed & Co., a supplier of seaweed to the food and nutrition markets, as well as the creators of their own finished seaweed infused oils. Founded back in 2015, Seaweed & Co. has not only dedicated time and resources to educating people on the huge health benefits of seaweed (the most broadly nutritious plant you can eat); it has also developed new technologies in the Outer Hebrides to ensure that the quality of products is superior to anything else on the market.

The development of new technologies, with international patent pending, that had not previously utilised in the seaweed market is a clear mark of innovation – one that required the business’s owner, Dr Craig Rose, to secure finance via a Virgin StartUp loan. By looking at what was currently being offered by the few businesses in this particular niche, Seaweed & Co. has invested in research and development to set the highest industry standards.

The results for Seaweed & Co. have been quite remarkable with orders now coming in from both food and ingredients businesses in both the UK and abroad. From Spain to South Korea, Scottish seaweed is making a global name for itself.

These are just two examples of how North East-based businesses are innovating and succeeding. But there are many more enterprises – both new starts and established organisations that are working hard to innovate.

It is worth remembering that innovation doesn’t occur in isolation. To get a strong idea to bear fruit an idea needs to be developed and manipulated. True innovation doesn’t follow the accepted norms and so gaining insight and support from experts in different fields is all part of the innovation process. Whether it is getting the right finance in place, accessing the right resources and expertise or simply having a sounding board to work through a problem with, collaboration is key to innovation.

For all those aspiring business owners with creative ideas locked in their heads, why not challenge yourself to share that bright idea in 2019. Find the right person to talk it through with, explore the potential and, if the proposition is right . . . innovate with it.

In the last five years, the experienced, passionate and driven team at TEDCO Business Support have helped more than 3,600 businesses to start up and grow in the North East. Find out more about TEDCO can help you by visiting www.tedco.org

 

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