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Business Soapbox: Aidan Gough


Aidan Gough, InterTradeIreland's strategy and policy director

Aidan Gough, InterTradeIreland's strategy and policy director

Marie-Therese Hurson/Harrison Photography

Aidan Gough, InterTradeIreland's strategy and policy director

InterTradeIreland's strategy and policy director says that although larger firms utilise open innovation systems, smaller business can adopt similar strategies through networks and partnerships

The innovation activity of firms is a key driver of competitiveness and economic growth. In Northern Ireland and the Republic the industrial landscape is dominated by SMEs. In the current climate, increasing their contribution to innovation-led growth and job creation will be essential.

For the ambitious firm, achieving sustainable, innovation-led growth is a complex and challenging imperative. Internal capabilities are no longer sufficient to gain and sustain competitive advantage.

Firms, to varying degrees, are leveraging their innovation ecosystem from the local to the global perspective to source market knowledge, ideas, skilled personnel, finances, physical infrastructure and support to serve their innovation strategies.

Delivering innovative solutions on a consistent basis requires a holistic, systematic approach that incorporates good leadership, strategic alignment, leveraging internal capabilities, leveraging external relationships and a well-managed innovation process. In the past the process of commercial innovation was considered to take place only within the firm. However, the new understanding of innovation in the knowledge- based economy is that innovation can also emerge when companies interact and cooperate with the external environment. They may draw on third-level institutions for intellectual property, technical support and talent, on the financial resources of venture capitalists and the skills of other companies, consultants, suppliers and customers.

This open system of innovation whereby companies access external knowledge and draw on alternative pathways to bring ideas to market provides greater access to innovation capabilities, cost effectiveness and increases speed to market.

Adopting an open approach to innovation is often seen as the preserve of larger firms with access to corporate venture capital who can source ideas outside the company on a global scale. However, SMEs can also adopt open strategies through involvement in innovation partnerships and networks sourced within their innovation ecosystem.

InterTradeIreland's vision is of an open innovation system working the island that offers SMEs the potential to externally source and connect with a wider variety of relevant expertise and that also serves as a platform for cooperation within the EU and beyond.