What does innovation look like? It’s a key question for SMEs looking to grow, but one that can be hard to make the time to address when busy keeping on top of day-to-day business needs.
Last week I attended our ‘Growth club’ at the Business & IP Centre – an event for businesses who have participated in our Innovating for Growth programme, which provides free support for small companies with big ambitions. The theme of the evening was ‘Unlocking the Growth Mindset’, and the event started with a talk by Michelle Keaney and Mike Straw of Inventing Futures, a business consultancy that works with entrepreneurs to deliver personal, organisational and societal level transformations (and successful alumni of Innovating for Growth).
Michelle began by highlighting the level of start-up enthusiasm in the country: over 580,000 new businesses were created in 2014, an increase on previous years and the equivalent of one new start-up per minute. However, not all of these new businesses survive – so how can SMEs innovate to make sure they continue to meet the needs of the market and remain ahead of the competition?
Mike spoke about the concept of questioning assumptions as a key strategy - treatingthe concept of innovation not simply as ‘new ideas’, but as a liberation from conventional thinking. SMEs should make time to stop and ask questions:
Are we doing things in our business just because ‘we’ve always done them’?
Are we reviewing the assumptions we’ve made about market, customer, and product?
Are these assumptions still true?
Being aware of that ‘little voice’ in your head and what it tells you about your business can be an important skill.
The talk also covered creating the environment in which innovation can thrive. Leadership power was a key point, defined as ‘the speed from which you can take your ideas to reality’, and requiring the freedom and confidence to act on your ideas – Mike emphasised the value of creating openings for innovation to happen, of not dismissing possibilities, and of ‘planning in action’ – doing, as well as thinking.
After the talk, we were given the chance to chat in the Business & IP Centre. As well as business advice and support, the Innovating for Growth programme provides a great opportunity for participants to network with each other, and I witnessed a fair few business cards being swapped! Speaking to other attendees, they had found the talk useful in helping them think outside of their everyday work to focus on innovation and growth strategy, and were eager to share their thoughts.
You can find out more about our Innovating for Growth programme here.
The next deadline for applicants is 9.00am Monday 15 June 2015.
Find out more about the Business & IP Centre here.
Innovating for Growth is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund
Sally Jenningson behalf of the Business & IP Centre
Posted by Innovation and Enterprise Team at 1:16 PM
My working day at the Business & IP Centre starts as I wake up from a daydream on the tube at King’s Cross, to the announcement “Exit here for the British Library”, which is just a few minutes’ walk away from my office.
I am on ‘desk-duty’ today, so head straight out to the reading room where all our information resources are located (and freely available with a Reader Pass). The day officially starts from 9:30am Monday to Saturday (except for Mondays at 10am), when the Centre literally opens for business. We take it in turns to cover the enquiry desk, where we answer questions from customers, assist with our impressive set of business databases and give information advice. Today kicks off with an elderly customer who wants a list of contact companies who make butchers’ cutting boards. It is his first visit to the Library, but he has impaired vision and also isn’t confident using computers, so I help him use the Kompass database. It takes us about 15 minutes, but together we are able to generate a list of businesses he can contact.
Today, just like every day in the Centre, half of our customers are brand new. During my two hours’ of desk duty I help 15 people with their research enquiries and download the information they require. These include showing our business databases, our hard copy market research publications, our trade and business directories and our small collection of business start-up books. I often refer people to our set of Industry Guides created by the team to help navigate our content by topic. In my experience most of our customers come in with a business idea but are unsure of what resources are available to help them get started.
Some people require help with ordering from our collection of 17 million hard copy publications using Explore the British Library, and to find publications sitting on our shelves in the reading room. Questions vary from a quick request for a login or download from a database, to a more complex enquiry that will take much longer. This is where we directly get to interact with our customers and make use of what we call the Reference Interview.
It is at this point that I meet Tg Tea Founder Sophia Nadur. She is researching a green tea RTD (Ready to Drink) product which she was planning to launch. TG Tea is an organic green tea drink that is also low in calories, so Sophia is looking for scientific and market research. I find it exciting to see the results of this kind of research in the Centre – and I have been promised some samples from Sophia so I can see what the finished product looks and tastes like.
Source: TG Green Teas
Although the majority of our customers are business start-ups, we still have visits from plenty of patent researchers looking for current and historical inventions. We also provide help and advice relating to the other intellectual property strands of trademarks, copyright and registered designs. And our customers range from sixth form pupils, undergraduates, MBA students, academics, inventors, start-ups and growing small businesses.
I always feel proud to be a part of the Centre when I see our busy networking area open for ad-hoc working, small business meetings and of course networking. There is definitely a buzz in there today as I walk through on my way back to the office.
After my reading room duty I return to the ‘hidden’ part of the Business & IP Centre. There we work on telephone, email and Questionpoint enquiries. Today I answer questions on a variety of topics, and sometimes have to refer for help to other subject specialists within the British Library, partners and even externally. One example of a query received by telephone was an older lady asking for evidence of the ‘Iron Cows’ she remembered in her childhood. They were milk dispensers available from high-street shops, out of opening hours. Generally though, the queries are business or intellectual property related.
I check my emails throughout the day for queries received by the Business & IP Centre’s Research Team, who offer a priced research service mainly for patent searches (prior art), business information and Public Availability Dates (PADs) for use in legal cases. The client base for this service is international, ranging from start-ups and IP specialists to legal firms. Today I respond to a request from a regular client from a pharmaceutical firm in Italy for some patent-related information.
Lunchtime has arrived, so I stop for something to eat and head to the British Library’s staff restaurant. It is a good time to catch up with colleagues from across the Library. Today I end my break with a visit to the British Library Shop to see what merchandise they have in store to buy a present for a friend.
I head back to the office. Throughout the day there are various tasks or projects going on behind the scenes. I spend quite a bit of time sharing information I hope will be useful to the rest of the team. I share information, knowledge and best practice with other colleagues, departments and partners who deliver our services and projects. Each member of the team also run workshops in the Centre and are sometimes invited to run them at external events. We offer workshops such as ‘Beginner’s Guide to Business Information’ and ‘Beginner’s Guide to Intellectual Property’ to help customers understand and access information. We also host webinars which can be accessed by a national and global audience.
I respond to a customer who would like to book a Business & IP Clinic, and so pass this request to a team member who coordinates the clinics. These clinics can be really helpful to early stage start-ups, as a place to talk through their ideas in private with an impartial listener. Together we can get a clearer picture of what they want to do and the next steps they need to take.
It’s about 3pm in the afternoon and as I work with information, part of my day is used to keep abreast of the news, current affairs, business subjects and online content on social media. Social media platforms are one of the drivers of Open Innovation and collaboration that our team has championed in our Open Innovation international project. I frequently collaborate and connect with others to share information on hot topics, events and useful contacts. Social media tools are great for inspiration and marketing, and they allow us to share knowledge, insights and stories from both inside and outside the Centre. Today I share a story on ‘How to Run a Chocolate Business’ relating it to one of our Innovating for Growth programme clients Amelia Rope, who coincidently has a chocolate-making business and is featured in one of our success stories videos.
Occasionally my day ends late when we have evening networking events and talks. The Business & IP Centre Inspiring Entrepreneurs events have been running for a number of years and they take months of organisation. Usually it is all hands on deck to pull off these events and tasks are delegated to us to organise, host, attend, usher, register, network, market, tweet, blog and answer any queries that delegates may have. We have had a back catalogue of archived past Inspiring Entrepreneurs videos available to view on You Tube, along with screenings in our Business & IP Centre’s around the country and anyone can join in via our live webcast.
So now I have told you about my typical day in the Centre which makes me reflect on the perks of the job. Working at the British Library, I also get to see our exhibitions and our current one is celebrating the 800 year anniversary of the ‘Magna Carta’ and occasionally I have a wander around the Sir John Ritblat Gallery of Treasures (did I mention that this gallery is free for everyone?). I also enjoy attending an interesting evening (or weekend) talk on any topic under the sun, but mostly I love the sense of satisfaction I get when meeting fabulous interesting people, including the seasoned and budding entrepreneurs that come into the building.
This is just an overview of my day in the life at the Business & IP Centre and only scratches the surface of what we do. I hope to see you around the Business & IP Centre London in the near future and please do say ‘Hello’!
Seema Rampersadon behalf of the Business & IP Centre
Posted by Innovation and Enterprise Team at 3:32 PM
Across the Business & IP Centre National Network and at Newcastle Libraries, home of the Business & IP Centre Newcastle, we believe it’s important for everyone to have a think about copying. We want individuals and businesses to know about their rights to use content and creations that are either in the public domain or under an open license - and to learn more about copyright generally. As we say in our intellectual property workshops make sure you “don’t infringe!”
That’s why we are having a bit of an alternative event in Newcastle on 27April. Copying – right or wrong? is a question and answer session with author and activist Cory Doctorow and law lecturer Rebecca Moosavian. Cory Doctorow makes several of his books available for free download on his website (under a Creative Commons license) and Rebecca Moosavian’s research focuses on the appropriateness of applying property rights to culture.
Copy-right or copy-wrong?
We know that to copy something is wrong; it’s been ingrained in us since we were children - and as we grew up copying took the name of ‘plagiarism’. Whether your interests are listening to music, appreciating artwork, watching films or TV series, we know copying a song, a film or a TV show without permission is wrong. Every time we watch a DVD we are told that copying the DVD is piracy. Websites are often closed down because of infringement of copyright – the right given to creators or owners of the intellectual property to control what is done with their works and YouTube videos are removed. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were more talked about for being found guilty by a US court of copying the late Marvin Gaye’s songs than for their musical talent (the court did not make any comments on the latter).
CC BY-NC-SA Chris Messina (Cropped ; Original picture on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/factoryjoe/6709784133)
And yet, I copy. Yes. You do too. We all copy. As you can imagine, I would never admit to doing anything illegal and I am certainly not accusing you, of committing any crimes either! That must mean there are cases where copying is right, legal and even encouraged. For example, you buy a CD, then copy it onto your computer, then copy all the tracks again on your MP3 player so you can listen to the album on the go. That is perfectly legal - and it has been very clearly so in the UK since the last changes to copyright law came into force in November 2014. So let’s see what the law does allow.
When it is legal to copy
- Copyright does not last forever - even though new laws can change its duration, copyright has an end – in most cases, count 70 years after the end of the year in which the work’s creator died. What happens to the work after that? It enters the public domain – it belongs to everyone, and anyone can use it, without asking permission.
- Copyright exceptions - the law recognises that there are cases when we do not need to ask for permission to re-use a work. For example, when we make a copy for private use (like with our CD), or we copy and publish an extract for review purposes, or when creating a parody of a famous picture by copying it and adding something humorous to it.
- Open licenses - sometimes the copyright owner will publish their work and tell you it is fine for you to copy it without asking for their permission. The most common way to do this is to use Creative Commons licenses – like the ones on the pictures illustrating this post. CC BY-SA on the image below means “this work is licensed under a Creative Commons license; you can use it without asking for permission as long as you credit the author and share it under the same license”.
But let’s get back to business. How does all this apply to you as an entrepreneur? When you create something, you are proud of its originality and inventiveness (and rightly so); you would be horrified if someone copied you. In business, entrepreneurs legitimately want to stop others from copying them: if a competitor copies your unique selling point, then how are you going to differentiate yourself in the market? In the Business & IP Centre Network and the other PATLIB centres you can discuss with an adviser how best to protect your creations against copying. We will tell you all about copyright, but also designs, patents and trade marks.
Some large companies, like Dyson, have an impressive intellectual property strategy to protect their ideas. However, other companies like the one behind the Sriracha sauce has a more lenient strategy and encourages others to use their product name in order to generate free advertising and Elon Musk recently announced that other companies are now welcome to copy and use Tesla’s patented technology. Each company needs to think about what is the right approach for their business.
There are also industries that thrive on a type of copying – one that is called “inspiration”. Think about fashion, music, art, etc. It poses some pertinent questions for business owners; how would you react to another business copying you? Would your reaction be different if you were copied by individuals? Do you think people who copy and share your content on social networks without your permission are right, or wrong? This World Intellectual Property Day take the opportunity to get informed and discuss the role of intellectual property to encourage and control innovation and enterprise in your business.
If you are not able to join us in Newcastle for Copying – right or wrong? on 27 April you can still follow the event on Twitter using #CmnsR4ever and let us know in the comments: what do you think? When is it right to copy? When is it wrong? What should be made legal / illegal in terms of copying?
Aude Charillonon behalf of the Business & IP Centre Newcastle
Aude is Library and Information Officer at the Business & IP Centre Newcastle and leads the Commons are Forever project, which aims to empower participants about our rights to use creative works that are free of copyright, and to in turn share what we create with others.
Posted by Innovation and Enterprise Team at 4:49 PM