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What makes a business entrepreneurial?

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Yorkshire is renowned for its high number of innovative and entrepreneurial companies, but what makes these businesses different?

Yorkshire has a rich heritage of entrepreneurial role models from Titus Salt in the 1800s to Sir Ken Morrison today and we are seeing this tradition continue. Despite challenging market conditions, a number of companies in the region have flourished and found new opportunities from the economic downturn. This creative and opportunistic mindset is one of the key characteristics of an entrepreneurial business – the willingness to adapt and use the changing landscape as a stimulant to spot emerging gaps in the market.

Linked to this is the need for constant innovation to drive forward growth. Successful businesses are those that relentlessly seek improvement – whether it’s innovating the product, process, routes to market, or the brand. It is crucial that these dynamic firms protect their investment by ensuring their intellectual property is adequately covered.

In an increasingly globalised knowledge economy, differentiation through developing new ideas and innovation is essential to stay ahead.

Successful businesses often leverage their relationships with academia, either to help them develop new solutions or to recruit graduates that bring unique skills and insights to the business.

Government is increasingly focusing efforts on bridging the gap between university research and the needs of the private sector. For example, the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre is playing a key role in doing exactly this. We have seen major organisations such as Rolls-Royce, Sheffield Forgemasters, Westinghouse and Tata Steel collaborating with the university to develop new ‘added value’ products and processes to help differentiate them in the international nuclear sector. Similarly, Siemens is working closely with public and private sector organisations in the Humber to creating new opportunities for entrepreneurial businesses which want to be involved in the offshore wind turbine supply chain.

While ideas are often generated in academia, it usually takes an entrepreneur rather than an inventor to take a new product to market and each should play to their own skills. Entrepreneurs must be realistic and invest in buying in key people who can provide the expertise they lack – whether as staff or as outside specialist advisers. Great businesses invest in their people, letting them share in success and rewarding talent in order to retain them.

Steve Kerridge, managing director of Science Warehouse, a spinout from the University of Leeds, explains the phenomenal growth of the business over the last five years. “There are many factors that underpin our success, but among the most important is our relentless focus on being best-in-class; and our investment in our people. These enable us to deliver technology solutions that are truly unique, built on strong intellectual property and delivered by staff who are passionate about what they do.”

Clear leadership and an ability to share the vision with the rest of the team as the organisation evolves is also crucial, although finding effective ways of cascading key messages to all staff becomes more challenging as the business grows. As businesses mature and second generation family members become involved, issues can arise from the desire to build on the founder’s achievements and develop the vision in order to take the business to the next stage.

Entrepreneurial businesses often invest in more sophisticated processes and technology than one would expect for their size and turnover. Again, by thinking ahead and having the confidence to take a calculated risk, they gain a competitive advantage. As businesses become more complex, increasing consideration will need to be given to issues such as risk and knowledge management, investing in people and skills enhancement to ensure that the business stays ahead of the competition.

In depth market knowledge is, of course, vital. There is a need for an angle or an understanding of some change dynamic in the sector that creates knowledge and gives competitive advantage. John McDonnell, managing director of world leading Yorkshire lighting company Harvard Engineering, largely attributes its continued success to an ability to listen to customers’ needs and develop innovative products to meet those needs. The firm’s manufacturing facility in Leeds houses one of the best equipped research and development laboratories in the country, ensuring that it remains at the forefront of the global market - this expertise was recently recognised when it received the prestigious Queen's Award for Enterprise for Innovation.

With the client firmly positioned at the centre of the business, the proposition and processes stem from understanding not only what the client currently needs, but, just as importantly, predicting what they will need in the future and being in a position to supply this demand.

Source: This article was featured in Yorkshire Post Top 100 SMEs Supplement, Tuesday February 2012  

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