Innovation must happen at the SME level

Right now, innovation is the catch-cry of every CEO, business owner or board member that wants more from their company.

The hot money is currently on the two core areas and foci of innovation – start ups and large corporates.

Start ups are hot right now, and quite rightly so.

They are the game changers, the disruptors, the future of Australian prosperity. And they’re attracting the press, media buzz and government interest from the premiers through to the Lord Mayors and Prime Minister. Just think of how the Prime Minister visited River City Labs in Brisbane just before the 2016 Federal election. You wouldn’t have seen this a few years back and highlights the importance that government is placing on start up stories.

Many large corporation have have recognised that without true innovation and change they won’t be around in the future, as the likes of smaller, agile and well invested start ups take their place. So they’ve been setting up their own incubators, start up hubs, disruption labs, even buying agencies to enable this for them. Or simply hot desking in at start up labs. These larger businesses have also been spending their investment money on change and innovation consultants to disrupt, change and build solutions for them, often in figures that most SMEs could never access.

But what about the 1 million SMEs that are the engine room and back bone of Australian economy? How’s their innovation or disruption fairing?

For me, they are the single most important part of this innovation and disruption cycle that we’re currently in. They employ a tremendous number of people in Australia and work hard to stay afloat, let alone grow.

So here’s the challenge.

Many of the smart SMEs in Australia, and a good number of the medium businesses, have been trying to innovate. Sometimes it’s board level led, sometimes the owner of the business has a cracking idea and tries to build an app or website to make significant change.

But unfortunately this isn’t going to cut it. We need the vast majority of Australian SMEs to take a step back and ask why they need to innovate, how they’re going to innovate, who will carry the innovation for them and what impact this innovation will have on their people and clients.

Taking the time to carefully plan out SME led innovation is the single most important thing we can do right now. And for the past 20 years I’ve seen many SMEs throwing their savings at innovation projects such as website ideas, apps or tech in areas that the SME doesn’t even have knowledge in, for these projects to fail. Leaving them worse off and without any change to make any difference to their business.

The time has come for SMEs on masse to innovate, but in the right way.

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