Standing out in the crowd

The Public Relations (PR) industry is all about how organisations communicate their message and differentiate themselves or simply just ‘stand out in the crowd’ (www.cipr.co.uk). But the industry faces many challenges from building the profession to ensuring the workforce is well trained and representative.  The PR industry is not unique in having a profession, which does not fully represent the communities it serves. Now in its second year, the high profile Brunswick Intern Programme seeks to address this imbalance in an innovative way (http://bit.ly/6rHyUn). Brunswick (www.brunswick.com), a leading communications company, and unicornjobs.com (www.unicornjobs.com), which specialises in placing graduates in PR jobs, designed the 10-week training programme for recent black and minority ethnic graduates. The six participants receive formal training, meet leading practitioners and participate in practical PR projects.

So how did this year’s six interns fair? Well, judging from their weekly blog (http://bit.ly/8zFqo7), Charlotte, Claude, Jenard, Junior, Param and Tina have certainly had access at senior level in major media and PR companies. By week 10, they had even been able to escape London for the cities of Leeds and Bradford and brush up against the Yorkshire Dales (www.yorkshiredales.org.uk). The two-day Yorkshire experience was instigated and arranged by Northern Lights PR (www.northernlightspr.com) and even included a trip to the Northern Ballet (www.northernballettheatre.co.uk)!

Having spent the morning with Pace (www.pace.com), the set-top box manufacturer based at Saltaire, the World Heritage Site (www.saltairevillage.info), their afternoon focused on innovation. The interns experienced a three-hour innovation workshop at Bradford University School of Management (www.brad.ac.uk/management) designed to help them recognise and develop their innovative thinking. As leaders of the future Charlotte, Claude, Jenard, Junior, Param and Tina will all have to initiate and manage change. Perhaps they have been given a head start with the Brunswick Intern Programme but their ability to bring about change will be based firstly, on the combination of attributes, background, experience, network and values they each have now and secondly, how they set about enhancing their innovation skills.

Judging from their performance at Bradford, change is on the way! Each has the potential to stand out in the crowd.

Dr Nigel Lockett
Director of Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management (CEIM)
www.bradford.ac.uk/ceim
www.nigellockett.com

STOP PRESS Final blog from interns

Reflections on the trip to Bradford University School of Management (by Jenard)

“After a great morning session at the Pace headquarters in Saltaire, we were driven to the Bradford University School of Management, where we had a truly inspirational session with Dr Nigel Lockett. He delivered a master class on innovation.

During the class he showed us the different ways he might conduct sessions like this. For example, he used techniques like role-playing to promote interaction between the people in the class and himself as the lecturer.

But more importantly, he gave us an unique insight into “innovative thinking”, demonstrating such thinking wasn’t something that only a special few could take part in. Rather, it was about strategically looking at the world around you, and having the gusto to go ahead and put new ideas into action.

He gave us some great examples of how just one person in a company can recognise an improvement or innovation that can be made, and how that person – even if they fear others disagree – can push ahead, make a change, and initiate growth for both their company and themselves. I definitely took away the idea that I can be a leader too.”

More …

Fertile soil for innovation?

The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) (www.fera.defra.gov.uk) is the UK Government’s main research-focused investigating sustainable food chains, healthy natural environments and protecting us from biological and chemical risks. Based near York, it has historically been shrouded in secrecy. However, this is rapidly changing. FERA now has an IP Exploitation Manager and spin-out companies located nearby. For example, Forsite Diagnostics (www.forsitediagnostics.com). The company develop and manufacture on-site test kits and is led by Chris Danks since its launch in 2007. Their ‘Pocket Diagnostic’ is the market leader for on-site plant disease testing used by growers, advisors and plant health inspectors. They certainly bring testing for potato blight right into the 21st century (http://bit.ly/7JlX0K)! But I wonder what Pippa Greenwood would say?

FERA and Forsite Diagnostics form part of a more general regional innovation strategy for Yorkshire Forward – the Bioscience Cluster (www.yorkshire-forward.com). It links universities, government departments and industry (there are over 50 companies and 3,700 life scientists work within 8 miles of York). This strategy is also supported by Science City York (www.sciencecityyork.org.uk)

But commercialising bioscience innovation is going to take more than locating firms near to FERA. Getting scientists, academics, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to collaborate is going to be the key to getting innovations to germinate. Recognising that innovation it is fundamentally about people and that it can be managed could be two of the first seeds to sow!

Dr Nigel Lockett
Director of Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management (CEIM)
www.bradford.ac.uk/ceim
www.nigellockett.com

Is there something a food[t] or have I just got a BEE in my bonnet?

When we think of successful food retailing companies, most of us think of Tesco, the now huge global company. A few might reflect on Morrison’s achievement in absorbing the Safeway chain, acquired in 2003 (http://bit.ly/5tiq49) and after a hard struggle emerging as a survivor (http://bit.ly/4JNzGD).

But how many of us think of the Co-operative? They have just reported a 17% rise in first-half profit – largely due to an increase in food sales and this only a year after buying Somerfield in 2008 to become Britain’s 5th biggest chain of grocery stores. So what are they doing right?

According to their CEO, Peter Marks, it’s down to taking customers away from its competitors. “We’ve improved our product range, spent a lot of money modernising our stores and all of that together has meant that we’re getting new customers” (http://bit.ly/7JRBdb). But is that really innovative enough to beat off competition from the likes of Tesco?

Founded in Rochdale, Northwest England, in 1844 the group now has 5,300 retail outlets and about 4.5 million members (www.co-operative.coop). However, it’s more that a food store, is democratically run by members and arguably leads the way in ethics and sustainability (www.co-operative.coop/aboutus). Now that could be innovative enough to take on the competition!

Perhaps I’ll BEEcome a member and get one of those pretty honeycomb cards (www.co-operativemembership.coop)

Dr Nigel Lockett
Director of Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management (CEIM)
www.bradford.ac.uk/ceim
www.nigellockett.com

Best place to be a small business?

Perhaps the US isn’t the best place to be a small business after all. According to research by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (http://bit.ly/4DES0T). The US has long seen itself as the home of entrepreneurship – ignoring GW Bush’s gaff ‘The thing that’s wrong with the French is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur’ – with low tax, low regulation and more flexible labour market. But how does the US compare with other nations? Self-employment and small businesses is one way to measure entrepreneurship. The US has 7.2% self-employment compared with 13.8% in the UK and a staggering 26.4% in Italy. Does this really mean that Italy is more entrepreneurial that the US?

What is clear to policymakers in Europe is the need to promote entrepreneurial behaviour as a means of economic growth but also as a means of achieving sustainable enterprise – ‘Inspiring young entrepreneurs to build a better tomorrow’ (http://bit.ly/4ofCfb).

Do business angels have wings?

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) (http://www.accaglobal.com) seems to think so. In fact,  Robin Jarvis, Head of SME affairs at ACCA, said ‘For years individual equity investors have been out of the limelight, first hit by the dotcom bust, then crowded out by easy credit and now discouraged by the economic climate’ in the Financial Times on 14th September 2009.  (http://bit.ly/8UCnyr)

The ACCA have proposals for helping entrepreneurs to create realistic valuations of their businesses, greater support for business angel networks and improvements to tax incentives, notably the Enterprise Investment Scheme.

Maybe it’s entrepreneurs that need wings to get their new ventures off the ground. Although, Geoff Britton, director of GBAC Accountancy & Business Service (http://www.gbac.co.uk), warns ‘Create an environment where businesses prosper’ but ‘don’t over-assist’.

But where do you find a business angel (with or without wings)? You could start with the British Business Angels Association (BBAA) (http://www.bbaa.org.uk) or if you are looking for something between business angels and venture capitalist, at British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association  (BVCA) (http://www.bvca.co.uk), you could try MMC Ventures (http://www.mmcventures.co.uk)

Time to belt up and get ready for take off!

One lump or two?

So Sir Alan has been offered a role as an adviser to small businesses or ‘Enterprise Tsar’ for short (http://bit.ly/7W3MG6).  The Conservatives think Sir Alan must choose between working for the government and working for the BBC’s The Apprentice. (http://bit.ly/7KsHzn). Are they right?

But what is in the interests of the 4.7 million small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK?

What we do know is that politicians tend to go to university then into parliament perhaps having had a job in the public sector. But with less than 10% having more than 10 years of business experience, and most of this will be with corporations, do that need a like sugar to sweeten politics?

Whether we like Sir Alan or not he does know a like bit more about business than your average MP so why not forgot the politics and get real. A caring nation needs to generate wealth from a successful economy is driven innovation fuelled by entrepreneurship.

I don’t normally take sugar but perhaps today I’ll have a lump or two!