By Professor Kurt Allman, Associate Dean, Enterprise and Engagement, Salford Business School

Innovation is the bedrock of business growth. The Department for Business Innovation and Skills' UK Innovation Survey 2013 (1) reported that although innovation is increasing in larger companies as the economy grows, 50% of them are identified as 'innovation inactive’. This is a real concern as fundamentally innovation is about maximizing the value in, and of, the organization.

In a faster moving digital age, success is no longer reliant on having a great idea and bringing it to market. Businesses that really want to succeed, need to adopt a creative entrepreneurship mindset and embed it across all their business practices.

So what exactly is creative entrepreneurship and how can you foster it within your organisation? It’s all about thinking smartly, making and using connections effectively (worryingly, significant numbers of business are unable to determine the value their many business partnerships bring), accessing expertise and research insights. It's about accessing funding creatively and allowing opportunities to be fully capitalised through new digital, creative and social media to reduce marketing costs. And importantly, forward thinking entrepreneurs can engage more cost efficient talent than their competitors by developing multi-level partnerships with universities and business schools – a hot bed for the digital natives with research evidence and knowledge to share.

Creative entrepreneurship (2) is an approach that is being increasingly embraced by businesses eager to tackle (cost effectively) the many challenges they face in growing their businesses post downturn.

Accessing the brightest talent in a changing environment
The business and trading environment is changing more rapidly than ever before, making the digital and social landscape increasingly important. Keeping abreast of these changes is vital. The pace of change can be an issue for businesses of all sizes. Accessing bright, enthusiastic talent from academic institutions with a strong commitment to developing employability skills can provide the solution. Interns or recent graduates can inject new ideas and perspectives into business and as a result both the business and the student benefit greatly. There's no doubt that ‘digital natives’ (3) can bring the knowledge and experience to support innovation. At Salford, student placements (lasting between 3 and 12 months) are integral to undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and there is high demand for them from businesses in the region, that see what an immediate contribution and impact students can make to their business.

Learning from others
While all businesses consider themselves experts in their chosen industry, input from an objective third party organisation can provide another dimension. Innovative businesses are continually moving forward, learning from others' experiences, identifying and seizing new opportunities and being creative in how they access the knowledge they need. Many SMEs benefit from Knowledge Transfer Partnerships with universities. Funded by government, they provide a sustained collaboration to help them improve competitiveness.

Undoubtedly the capacity of businesses to absorb and apply new knowledge relies on recruiting a well-educated, flexible and creative workforce equipped with the skills needed to turn knowledge into commercial outcomes as well as management and entrepreneurial capability. New research from BIS (4) found that the employment of skills such as product and multimedia design, graphic arts, and software development in particular, are all linked to innovation performance.

Creating networks
Connectivity is crucial to successful creative entrepreneurship. It can provide the spark for new ideas, open up collaboration opportunities and provide cost-effective solutions to challenges. It can come in many guises – through online communities, shared workspaces or by ensuring employees tap into Continuing Professional Development opportunities. There are definitely benefits to be had from encouraging networking in as many different ways as possible – particularly in putting the customer at the centre of that networking philosophy. When it comes to innovation, the evidence is that the greater the number of connections, the improved chances of sustained success.

By approaching innovation with the creative entrepreneurship mind-set that’s being adopted by many successful and growing SMEs, entrepreneurs can also expect to reap the rewards - and the UK economy will undoubtedly benefit.

(1) BIS (2013) UK Innovation Survey
(2) Salford Business School (2014) SMEs thinking differently - creative entrepreneurship in action
(3) a person born or brought up during the age of digital technology and so familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age.
(4) BIS (2014), Innovation and Skills During the Downturn.