Innovation is not a choice but a necessity for Small and Medium Sized (SMEs) Enterprises, the World Economic Forum estimates 5 million jobs to be lost in the next five years courtesy of the fourth industrial revolution as technology spreads to all parts of our lives. Barriers to entry into various industries are lowering courtesy of technology and as investors move into emerging markets, businesses that are not backed by investor money are in constant danger of being kicked off the market unless they innovate. Here are three simple things you can do to innovate in an SME.
Research doesn’t always need billions of shillings in a budget (more on that later), one can make use of the government research bodies formed specifically to support the development of SMEs. For those in agribusiness, visit Kenya Agriculture Livestock and Research Organisation (KALRO), if in processing and manufacturing visit Kenya Institute of Research and Development (KIRDI) offices in your respective county.
I have encountered KIRDI offices in interior areas like Ukunda in Kwale County, so they are well spread throughout the country. The government research institutions offer free or subsidized training on new technology (KIRDI charges around sh10,000 for training on food processing). Visit, find something likely to give your business a competitive edge, include your employees in the training. Additionally, you can visit research universities like Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology or Egerton as well as learn from the internet from countries like India whose SME sector are big on innovation.
Scamper is a technique for innovation that you can use to come up with new ideas for products and services that are guaranteed to be unique from what is already existing. When using scamper you start with what is already in existence, with the acronym S.C.A.M.P.ER as a guide.
Substitute a part of an existing product or service (e.g. change material used), Combine two or more things e.g. a mop that can also be used as a broom. Adapt a product to serve a different purpose or a technique used in another field e.g. a team of medical practitioners adapting techniques used by pit crews in formula one car races to make long surgeries more efficient.
Modify a process or change the perspective of how you view a process. Put to other use, where you take something that traditionally has been used one way and changing its use e.g. using bottles as plant beds. Eliminate or elaborate a feature e.g. a shoe without laces, a phone without buttons. Rearrange, change the position of a feature e.g. the handle of a bottle from the side to the top, a pen that can write on both sides etc. the technique can be used effectively on both goods and services.
Create a small R&D budget
Big businesses have big Research and Development (R&D) budgets for a reason, e-commerce company Amazon, Alphabet (Googles parent company) and Samsung spent $16.1, $13.9, $12.7 billion on R&D respectively in 2017. Of course, SMEs don’t have that kind of money but that doesn’t mean that they can’t have a budget for R&D. Having a budget-no matter how small, is a competitive advantage for SMEs. Size (of budget) literally does not matter when it comes to R&D, so long as you equally focus on both technical development and market research. An annual report by PriceWaterehouseCoopers that has been in circulation for the last 13 years found no significant correlation between total R&D spending and improved performance in the top 1000 most innovative companies.