Two great presentations from two very different companies addressed this theme and excellently demonstrated demand-led innovation in practice, at the latest of the Innovation Alliance WM’s series of Innovation and Policy and Practice events on 3 May.

First up was Philip Salt, Chief Executive of Salts Healthcare, who charted the company’s history from 1701 as a bespoke blacksmith and leather goods manufacturer, through cutlery, weaponry and artificial limb maker to being one of the world’s top stoma bag firms.  Philip is the tenth generation of his family to have worked within the firm, and he described how care of the individual has always been important to the company.

Salts

Having grown dramatically over the past 10 years, the company now employs nearly 800 people, and has recently opened a new 100,000 sq ft building with a fully robotic production line.  Philip described how the company works very closely with users of their products to understand how they manage their stomas throughout their day, particularly as people tend not to be aware of what they actually do, and don’t always behave in ways we might expect. Their resulting new ‘Confidence BE’ product range has 17 patents, comes in three colours, and is selling seven times as much as forecast.

A&M

Melvin Wingfield of A&M Pure Precision described a very different company, which started in 2002 and now employs 67 people offering comprehensive precision engineering solutions for the aerospace, automotive and other sectors. From renting two machines, to investing in their own machinery, buying their rented premises, and then buying another building to alleviate space constraints and allow more investment in new machinery, Melvin described how the company has adapted to client demands and sought to turn (sometimes calamitous) unexpected events into opportunities.  Firms from all over the UK and Europe now come to A&M to solve their problems, and the company is rightly proud of its reputation.

3 May picture
Melvin Wingfield (A&M), Andrew Sleigh (Innovation Alliance WM), Philip Salts (Salts Healthcare)

To the audience, what was striking about two very different companies was the similarities in their approach to demand-led innovation.  Both companies

  • Foster a ‘bottom up’ innovation culture, where people across the business are encouraged and involved in generating ideas
  • Focus on understanding customer problems, and are agile in addressing them, and anticipating customers’ needs, even if they are not aware of them
  • Recognise that investment is needed to realise innovation (investment was the subject of our recent finance for small business blog), including continually investing in training people. R&D tax credits were also name checked as a useful source of financial support.
  • Define innovation as the strategic implementation of good ideas to add value.

It was fascinating to learn from two compelling speakers about fostering a culture that supports innovation, recognising that territorialism can constrain it, but sharing across a business can stimulate it, and that innovation can be instinctive or opportunistic rather than always strategic.

Thanks must also go to Charlotte Horobin and her team at the EEF Technology Hub for hosting the event, including an excellent breakfast, in their impressive technology training centre.

(Author: Jane Holmes, with thanks to Philip Salt and Melvin Wingfield)

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