Date: Thursday 28th July 2016
Venue: CARIRI’s Centre for Enterprise Development (CED), Innovation Avenue, Freeport
The Caribbean Industrial Research Institute’s (CARIRI’s) Idea Advisory Service (IAS) in collaboration with the Danish Technological Institute recently hosted an information session entitled, “Developing a Culture of Innovation in SMEs” at CARIRI’s Centre for Enterprise Development, Innovation Avenue, Freeport. This is part of the Institutes thrust to build capacity for Innovation on a national scale, and thereby contribute more substantively to the achievement of Government’s stated developmental goal of economic diversification. The session was well attended by over 100 persons from diverse SMEs, various Chambers throughout the country as well as key stakeholders and movers and shakers in the manufacturing and services sectors.
CARIRI’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Liaquat Ali Shah in his opening remarks welcomed everyone to CARIRI’s Centre for Enterprise Development which he described as a national innovation hub and a regional technology transfer centre which is the only one of its kind in the Caribbean. He went on to say, “There is a widespread acceptance that we need to look towards diversification in our economy, based upon our non-energy sector and downstream energy based industries. But how much diversification is actually going on and what is the role of individual companies?”
Mr. Shah continued on saying, “One facet of diversification deals with innovation, which in today’s globalised and competitive environment has been termed as the most crucial element. The cry ‘differentiate or die’ echoes throughout the competitive world. It is against this background that we have been concentrating our efforts on Innovation Facilitation. Some of our programmes are the Idea Advisory Service, Business Hatchery, ICT Interventions and startup incubation. Our vision is that the Innovation Hub is at the core of a spider’s web and we network nationally, regionally and internationally to bring relevant resources as required which explains our partnership with the Danish Technological Institute (DTI).
He closed off stating, “Companies are not prioritizing innovation! It may be because they are making enough profits or because they do not understand or know how to make changes happen. Some may also feel it is too time consuming or too complicated. There are no shortages of brilliant ideas however there seems to be an issue with implementation or as in some cases they are risk averse”
Mrs. Melissa Birbal, Business Development Officer, CARIRI presented on CARIRI’s Idea Advisory Service which focuses on bringing innovative solutions to the market. Melissa impressed upon the audience, “Everyone has the ability to create innovative ideas regardless of your skill set or job level. Everyone encounters problems in their everyday lives either at work, school or home. Many persons have ideas but do not know how to move their ideas forward.” She went on to describe CARIRI’s IAS as, “a free initiative which encourages innovation and assists persons in taking their ideas to market.” CARIRI’s staff has trained with the DTI who have been providing the service in Denmark for over 40 years and have tailored a model to meet the creative needs of the Caribbean.
Mrs. Birbal stressed that the IAS program allows inventors to have their ideas or inventions confidentially, independently and objectively assessed, anytime, all the time. The IAS team works closely with the Intellectual Property (IP) Office in assessing the novelty of the idea and advising which Intellectual Property tool will be most relevant in securing the idea. The IAS team works with the inventor to:
- Identify and strengthen the benefits of your idea to the target market to determine exactly what makes your idea different to what already exists
- Evaluate market demand and establish proof of business of the idea
- Assist in the development of market research surveys to assess the market
- Provide assistance in the development of a demonstration model or pretotypes through drawings or 3D printing
Once proof of business for the idea has been established there are two pathways to commercialization. The first is licensing where they can identify and network with potential licensees of your idea on your behalf and negotiate licensing agreements. Licensing enables inventors to exploit the expertise of an existing company in terms of market experience, distribution channels and manufacturing to commercialize your ideas. The second pathway is a business start up which is offered by CARIRI’s Business Hatchery.
Mrs. Sherese Chee Mook, Business Hatchery Coordinator, CARIRI expanded on the Business Hatchery in her presentation where she described the service as, “Building Better Businesses.” Based on 3 month programme duration, thus far the CARIRI Business Hatchery has completed 7 cohorts over an 18 month period which provided support to over 50 businesses. The CARIRI Business Hatchery constitutes a unique environment in which hi-tech entrepreneurs, world-class business people, academics, researchers, venture capitalists and people with ideas can meet, network and grow. It caters for all persons with a passion to succeed with their start ups and who want to pursue entrepreneurship.
The objectives are to prepare clients for active business, produce sustainable businesses and foster a community of entrepreneurs. Mrs. Chee Mook explained that Business Hatchery program is for, “Early stage entrepreneurs who want to set their business on a pathway to success and acquire fundamental tools to provide marketability.” The Business Hatchery is a robust 5 module curriculum that provides the following services:
- Customer validation
- Market research
- Accounting and finance
- Business model
- Pitch development
- One on one business coaching
- Robust curriculum
- Alumni; Peer circles and mentors
A programme such as this Mrs. Chee Mooke estimates can run to over $15,000 however CARIRI offers their 13 week programme at only $3,000. The Business Hatchery start-ups have come from diverse backgrounds such as Food and Beverage, Beauty, Fashion, Environmental, Education, Entertainment and even Accounting Solutions. Some of the past participants have described the Business Hatchery as “the most down to earth learning experience in Trinidad and Tobago and having my head dunked in cold water.”
Mrs. Chee Mooke closed off by saying the Vision of the Business Hatchery is, “To be Trinidad and Tobago’s premier platform for business start-ups, in building a community of entrepreneurs who go on to discover and innovate sustainable solutions that improve lives, connect people and stimulate change.”
Participants also gained insights from Dr. Erik Hallgren, Senior Consultant in Innovation at the Danish Technological Institute (DTI) on “Developing a culture of innovation in SMEs” which encompasses the implementation of innovation check-ups in SMEs and implementation of training activities for innovation agents. Dr. Hallgren has over ten years experience in facilitation and development of innovation processes in SME’s, model building in research projects on service innovation and innovation support.
Dr. Hallgren outlined the Innovation Audit Programme which is intended to address the need to develop a culture of Innovation in private sector enterprises, particularly SMEs, based on the recognition that SMEs are particularly vulnerable to the rapidly changing dynamics of the international economic environment and, to remain competitive, these enterprises must keep their value proposition current, relevant and valuable to customers; which entails institutionalizing Innovation, an art that needs to be learned, practiced and experienced, as a continuous business activity. With depressed energy sector prices projected to continue over the medium term, the country has little choice but to harness and exploit its abundant creative potential.
Dr. Hallgren advised persons to go out there and expand your markets, because if you don’t you can guarantee that the foreign markets will come to you. He warned participants against becoming the 3 blind mice of business which are Kodak, typewriter and Motorola. This scenario can happen to anyone who does not ask the question, “How can I be better? How can I make my business better? Remember, Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” He went on to ask the question the audience, “Who could have predicted the internet? Open innovation and more so disruptive technologies are becoming the norm. The extinction of manual jobs is soon upon us.” Dr. Hallgren closed off his presentation with these parting words, “Let your ideas breathe, a lot of innovation is based on your mindset.”
The session also included a riveting panel discussion which featured Mr. Liaquat Ali Shah, Chief Executive Officer, CARIRI; Mr. Erik Hallgren, Senior Consultant in Innovation at the Danish Technological Institute (DTI) and Ms. Georgina Terry, Managing Director, BPD Associates Limited each giving their own perspective on “Mobilization of Innovation in SMEs.”
Ms. Terry gave important insights into the cultural struggles faced by companies who are trying to implement innovation and may be facing resistance from employees. She describes Trinidad and Tobago as extremely innovative and full of ideas as evidenced by steel pan, doubles etc. She advises that fear stops us from fully realizing our potential i.e. fear someone will steal your idea, fear you will fail. She also says that there are so many companies doing similar things but what sets you apart is your perseverance and your determination to succeed. Her advice to everyone was to have a clear vision in your mind, have a proper plan and take steps each day to move forward.
CARIRI and CED continues to remind the public about its diversity and innovation not only in scientific research but also entrepreneurial development for example the Business Hatchery program and the IAS (Idea Advisory Service) just to name a few. CARIRI is not only about general research rather it is about applied research.