Aidan Gough, InterTradeIreland Director of Strategy, believes that this new programme offers a unique opportunity for local SMEs to revitalise their business. Speaking at the launch of the 2012 Innovation Challenge Programme, Aidan said;
"The SME sector represents 98% of all enterprises in Ireland and Northern Ireland and increasing their contribution to innovation-led growth and job-creation is essential in creating an innovation-driven economy that maintains a competitive advantage. Research undertaken by InterTradeIreland's business monitor survey however, reveals that whilst 66 per cent of companies across the island of Ireland believe they are now innovating, over 60 per cent of companies do not have a business plan. This, coupled with the identified deficit in management practice in manufacturing companies, points to a lack of strategic planning around how innovation can contribute to business growth."
"The Challenge Programme has been developed with these key issues in mind, to help SMEs identify new innovation opportunities and bring them to fruition efficiently and effectively. It is designed to target those companies that have ambitions for innovation and growth but lack the necessary capabilities to make a long-term commitment to innovation. It is a unique opportunity and we hope that firms from across Ireland will come forward to ‘take up the Challenge,'" he added,
One such company that benefitted from being involved in the pilot programme is Clada Mineral Water Co Ltd, an independent family owned business in the west of Ireland. Founded in 1962, Clada Group sources, bottles and distributes mineral water and carbonated soft drinks. Its flagship product is Galway Water. As a result of its involvement in the programme, Clada Group now plans to branch out into a range of nutritional and functional drinks and has developed three new products which will be brought to market before the end of the year.
Joseph Owens, Managing Director at Clada Group believes that the main value of the programme was the process whereby innovation was embedded into the company at all levels.
"This programme radically altered our approach to innovation. It created a shared sense of innovation within the company and provided a structure to get everyone involved, thus ensuring that new ideas were generated at every level and that there was buy in from the company as a whole to bring these forward and transform our business outlook. It also equipped us with the practical tools to deliver these ideas, making it less daunting to embrace innovation and breaking down some of the ‘fear factor' which can surround this process."
Joseph added: "There is a significant commitment with a process like this, but we really went for it. From an initial company wide brainstorm over 78 ideas emerged. We then established an innovation taskforce which met twice a week, to bring these forward and we are now at the point where we will be launching three completely new product lines into the Irish market over the next year. The taskforce is already in place again for this year, and we will be looking at which of the remaining 75 ideas we can bring potentially develop in the business next year. The potential is there for companies with the appetite to embrace this process and grow their business. It has proved a very successful programme for Clada re-energising our company over the last year and I would recommend it to other companies in the same position."