By Alex Evans, Editorial Director, National Business Awards

Entrepreneur of the Year judge Sir Eric Peacock shares some thoughts on innovation, international expansion and what distinguishes a great entrepreneur.

Chairman of currency trading business Baydonhill plc, a Non-Executive Director of UKTI and chairman of the Academy of Chief Executives, Sir Eric ‘helps leaders find their own greatness and make their businesses world class’ - giving them competitive advantage nationally and internationally.

With the finalists announced for the National Business Awards, I talked to this champion of UK enterprise about what is inspiring him in UK plc, and what it means to be an entrepreneur.

AE: You have inspired a generation of entrepreneurs, but what was the last thing that inspired you about British business?

EP: It has to be the Burberry story. Angela Ahrendts has done a fantastic job of turnaround growth and expansion. It’s a world-class collaboration between a CEO and creative director; a global icon and an iconic leader.

AE: You’re a Non-Exec on the board of UK Trade & Investment. How important is an international expansion strategy to SMEs - and the UK economic recovery?

EP: It’s vitally important. International business elevates you to playing in the premier division because, through international competition, you build competitive advantage in the domestic market. The largest organisations have the infrastructure and resources but SMEs have exciting opportunities. In Tech City, for example, businesses have gone international much faster because of the opportunity created by the web – no-one knows how big you are if you’re site is strong.

SMEs shouldn’t be daunted by the complexity of China, India, Turkey, or Korea because there is a lot of support out there. UKTI, for example, allows you to share ideas with an international community of traders. Focus on creating an external dream team that includes a banker, lawyer and accountant that can leverage relationships and local networks. Make sure your bank has an international footprint, with local knowledge and connectivity.

AE: How important is innovation to the UK recovery and how should it be nurtured?

EP: Innovation is an integral part of the British proposition and embraces people, product, and service. Innovation and creativity is a unique asset for the UK and distinguishes us from foreign competitors. The 3M and Apple stories are inspiring, as is the Proctor and Gamble opensource model, but I’m more fascinated by small and medium enterprise (SME) agility which is not encumbered by bureaucracy.

But this freedom means you need simple but effective processes to support innovation. You need greenhousing to grow ideas before putting them in the process e.g financial scrutiny. You also need to manage the obstacles to innovation – the people that look for reasons not to do it. When I was building Babygro I had a greenhouse right in the centre of the business and a sign outside the door saying ‘No Baby killers’. Inside the greenhouse it was only about growing ideas before pruning them later.

AE: Why are we seeing more social entrepreneurs, and why is this trend likely to continue?

EP: Social corporate philanthropy is growing out of individuals across all age groups wanting to put something back because they feel unfulfilled after achieving their personal business goals. In the social enterprise space there are exciting leaders and business models and the conventional business world can learn a huge amount from them. There is lots of passion and innovation in social enterprise and there are great opportunities for collaboration where two plus two equals five. The business gets the talent and the social enterprise gets the resources at zero cost to accelerate development and increase the community impact.

AE: How do you define entrepreneurship, and what are the common misconceptions about what makes entrepreneurs successful?

EP: Making it happen; and that they are big risk takers. Real entrepreneurs take controlled risks.

AE: Why is it important to have an entrepreneur on the board of a listed company?

EP: The maverick element. They think differently, they’re non-compliant, think out of the box, are more interested in the ‘can do’ as opposed to the ‘why we can’t’, have a natural dislike of bureaucracy and challenge sacred cows. At different times companies need different leaders and different skill sets. There is also a lost reservoir of talent out there – so many talented women who are under-represented because organisations aren’t flexible enough.

AE: You will be on the judging panel for Entrepreneur of the Year 2011. What will you look for from this year's finalists?

EP: Someone who’s been sustainable over a period of time, who’s involved with the business and passionate about its people, who’s obsessive about its product or service and awesome in the customer experience, and someone which is contributing to the community in which the business operates.

Sir Eric Peacock will join Julie Meyer, CEO of Ariadne Capital; Richard North, MD of Wow! Stuff (winner of the 2010 Orange Innovation Award); and Duncan Cheatle, Founder of The Supper Club, on the judging panel for the Entrepreneur of the Year Award. All winners will be announced at the Gala Dinner on 8th November at the Grosvenor House Hotel. To book your place or reserve a table to call 0207 234 8755, email Anthony.akoto@ubm.com or visit www.nationalbusinessawards.co.uk for details.