Innovation is for all employees was the unanimous view as business leaders share innovation

4 August 2017

Innovation is for all employees was the unanimous view as business leaders share innovation

‘Innovation is for all employees to embrace and practice’ was the unanimous view as business leaders share insights and stories of their innovation

Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship hosted the SME Leaders Speakers’ Panel series, titled ‘Putting Innovation at the Heart of Your Business Strategy’, at Henley Business School on 22 May 2017. Sponsored by James Cowper Kreston and supported by Thames Valley Business Growth Hub, the Speakers’ Panel addressed the topic of innovation, which features prominently in the minds of business leaders and was highlighted as central to economic prosperity in the UK Government Industrial Strategy Green Paper.

The panel featured three business leaders, who shared some of their experiences with innovation. First was Mihai Ciobanu, Fresh4cast’s CEO. Fresh4cast are a full-service business intelligence provider, offering management information solutions to exporters and importers of fresh fruits. Next was Mark Cuddigan, MD of Ella’s Kitchen – the company is a manufacturer of organic baby and toddler foods that are stocked by all the leading supermarkets across the country and over 40 countries abroad. The final speaker was Chris Sykes, Chief Executive of artificial intelligence agency and The Business Magazine Innovation Award 2016 winner Volume Global.

Opening the presentations was Jurek Sikorski, Executive Director of the Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship. Jurek spoke about the five things businesses need to do to succeed at innovation and grow their businesses:

- Master the discovery skills

Whilst people are different in terms of being innovative it is possible to learn to think and act differently in a way that makes you innovative. Referring to the research led by Clayton Christensen, architect of disruptive innovation who currently serves as Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, Jurek pointed to the five essential discovery skills that underpin innovative thinking and acting.

These key discovery skills are the following: associating, observing, questioning, networking and experimenting. Jurek stressed that everyone in the organisation should be trained in these five discovery skills and master these for they will deliver the innovation that will make the company successful.

- Establish a climate where innovation can flourish

Climate is about the attitudes we adopt, how we behave and the feelings we express in carrying out our work. It is about trust and openness, honesty, productive debate, support and time for innovation, calculated risk taking and giving freedom to employees so they can explore new ideas and experiment.

- Create a culture of innovation

Jurek explained that culture remains a key factor in innovation represented by beliefs, norms and values of the organisation and that all companies need to focus on creating a culture that is conducive to innovation. He highlighted a number of practical things that companies can do in developing a culture of innovation, including developing an innovation pipeline of big impact projects and a broad base of projects aimed at delivering incremental contributions. Jurek also highlighted how companies can implement innovation initiatives for the whole company and have responsibility and time for innovation written into the job description of everyone in the organisation.

- Engage your customers

This is crucial because customers are the source of opportunities at the heart of which are the basic needs that companies seek to serve and satisfy. A big part of innovation is driven by the need for customer development.

- Build a sustainable competitive advantage

Jurek described sustainable competitive advantage comes about by building the three things that keeps the business ahead of competition: strong intellectual property, an economically viable business model that delivers a favourable cash flow cycle and superior capabilities, processes and resources.

Mihai Ciobanu, leader of Fresh4cast opened the company presentations.

Mihai spoke passionately about five vital characteristics of successful innovation. First was purpose, which Mihai explained was about having a goal that mattered to you personally to drive meaningful innovation.

The second characteristic was the right fit – Mihai elaborated that innovation is dependent on keeping an open mind about what your strengths are and finding a domain where your capabilities can make a difference.

Third was finding the right opportunities, which follows on from the previous two characteristics. Once you are clear about your purpose and have a way to evaluate what fits you and what doesn’t, keep an open heart for opportunities.

Mihai’s next point was bearing in mind the ‘forks in the road’, which he explained was about how, when confronted with different possible choices, you should find a way to try them out without betting the farm on each. When something doesn’t work, you should be able to go back and try another route.

The final key characteristic Mihai brought up was the idea of compounding. Innovation can be exponential, so when several innovative solutions build on each other their collective value is much higher than the sum of the parts.

Mihai was followed by Mark Cuddigan, who shared the remarkable engagement Ella’s Kitchen has with innovation.

Ella’s has developed a range of innovative organic food for babies and toddler and in the process has moved the market from jars to pouches (with a little help from Patrick and Dylan Lindley).

But innovation at Ella’s is not just about product innovation; it is also about business model innovation. Mark proudly presented Ella’s certification by B Corp Labs as a company that meets the high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency, as well as generating a profit. Mark commented that it is not only about being the “best in the world” but also the “best for the world”.

Mark was emphatic about disliking the idea that innovation ‘should be at the heart of strategy’, instead pointing to the belief that thinking differently, and thus innovatively, should be the heartbeat of the company and that with training everyone can and should think differently. These beliefs and related values, including ‘We’re Childlike’ and ‘We’re Business Minded’, are held by everyone who works at Ella’s Kitchen. Mark’s own daughter has given Mark and Ella’s Kitchen the thumbs up!

The final speaker of the evening was Chris Sykes, whose company VolumeGlobal is changing the face of marketing by bringing a new perspective on innovation and embracing the technological development of the fourth industrial revolution, namely artificial intelligence.

Chris spoke of how Volume is changing marketing from ‘push’ to ‘pull’ and consumers from a ‘search’ to an ‘ask’ generation.

Describing innovation as “change is good”, Chris showed how Volume has transformed itself from a B2B digital agency to a global leader in AI and experiential robots, explaining that in part this shift was influenced by doing business with Silicon Valley.


Chris introduced the audience to Lucy, which is the first person you encounter when you land on Volume’s website, which you can find here. She will ask you your name and invite you to pose your question. Before long you are engaged in conversation and Volume is helping you to get the answers you want rather than being bombarded with ads and special offers.  


Volume is also using Pepper the humanoid robot in a variety of marketing applications, which is transforming marketing and an example of process innovation.


Today Volume is combining the open culture of innovation with the environment of active collaboration and has created an internal ‘Innovation Council’ that drives innovation.


Concluding, Chris spoke about the three I’s of innovation – invest (time and money), ideation (create a platform for sharing ideas) and implement (let people inside and outside see the results of innovation).

Success in business, especially in building a business from scratch, is the holy grail and Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship is focused on bring news and insights from business to the wider community both inside and outside the business school.

The audience provided some positive feedback about the event:

John Downs, Partner at Gateley Plc: “Fantastic and thought provoking.

Ursula Connolly, Founder of People’s Skills Business: “Great event! Informative, interesting and challenging.”

Ken Mawbey, Founder and CEO of AroundThen: “Very Interesting and engaging event.”

Carl Smith, Head of Innovation at International Taste Solutions: “I’ve taken away many positive ideas for further innovation within ITS.

The next Speakers’ Panel will be announced later in the summer. 

The University of Reading is committed to work with the SME community in the Thames Valley Region for mutual benefit.


Contact and Notes:

Jurek Sikorski

Executive Director, Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship

Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship

Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship is part of Henley Business School at the University of Reading which provides a hub for teaching and research in the subject, inspiring students from across the University to embrace, develop and apply their entrepreneurial abilities.


W: /research/research-centres/henley-centre-for-entrepreneurship/

Sponsors and supporters of the Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship Programme of Events include:

James Cowper Kreston (JCK) is a leading firm of accountants and business advisers. James Cowper Kreston sets itself apart from the rest of the UK’s top accountants and business advisers through its unique approach of combining professionalism, flexibility and passion. It is a massive supporter of the SME ecosytem in the Thames Valley.

Vital Six is a business services firm that helps ambitious early stage businesses grow their business. Since its launch in January 2014, it has helped hundreds of businesses in Berkshire to grow in size, access new markets, increase profits and raise finance.

The Thames Valley Berkshire Growth Hub provides a single gateway for ambitious businesses who are seeking the information, guidance, support, expertise, finance, knowledge and experience they need to scale up and grow, boost performance and find new ways of working.