Round table: ‘Sometimes companies forget who innovation is for’

(Clockwise, from left) Katrina Starkie, Sam Lewis, Mark Pashley, Guy Jones, David Lane, Richard Sutton, Will Bicknell

East Midlands companies will have to “innovate or die” – that was the message from our latest round table event, sponsored by Freeths.

Business owners and advisers came together in Nottingham to talk about innovation in a post-Brexit world.

David Lane, partner at Freeths said that while businesses have become frustrated with the Brexit impasse, there remained opportunities for companies in the region.

“Any market shock creates opportunities,” he said. “When businesses simply don’t want to change, that’s when they’ll fall down.

“Brexit will hit some sectors harder than others – for example those that rely on overseas staff.

“What is most interesting is that business owners are now actively turning away from taking advice from government and politicians. There is definite Brexit fatigue out there. However, money it still flowing in the form of funding and the cup has to overflow at some stage.”

What our panel said:

– On the main drivers of innovation in the workplace

Richard Sutton, NG Chartered Surveyors: “We can innovate all we like as we’re a relatively small company. We’re a speedboat that turnaround overnight – it’s not see easy for the bigger beasts.”

Will Bicknell, Oakbrook Finance: “I’d be interested to know whether we’re seeing innovations in investment. Is there a change in demand?”

Sutton: “The UK is seeing a lot of investment from the Middle East – they see it as a safe place to do business. That will continue whatever happens with Brexit.”

Guy Jones, Growth Street: “Good businesses have plans and are making preparations to adapt to Brexit. As a funder, we have to be innovative as we’re a tech-driven business and we have to keep pace with how tech is changing businesses.”

Sam Lewis, ThinCats: “I think we’ll be fine, but there’s no denying that Brexit is leading to uncertainty. However, those businesses with the right attitude to innovation and change will thrive.

David Lane, Richard Sutton, Will Bicknell

– On whether there is a generational gap between those in the workforce who can adapt to innovation and those who can’t

Katrina Starkie, Purpose Media: “Our workforce is used to adapting, but what we’re finding is that our clients are interested in marketing themselves at the moment – they’re more focused on recruitment.”

Mark Pashley, Grant Thornton: “The main gap we’re seeing in our clients is a skills gap. Businesses are having to pay a premium for the right staff as there is such a shortage of skills at the moment.

– On the future of innovation in the workplace

Jones: “We’re not seeing any change in cash investors pulling out; indeed the forecast is that we’ll increase our deal flow. The good deals are still out there and are already being prepared and that means a positive impact in terms of our portfolio.

Sam Lewis, ThinCats: “I agree. Traditional dealmakers have taken a more risk averse approach, which has opened up space for us.”

Sutton: “I think it’s interesting that residential developers are now looking towards alternative finance – that’s innovation. I think it will take commercial developers ten years to catch up, but it’ll happen. At the moment, however, banks haven’t turned the tap off on commercial property.”

Starkie: “We’re also finding that clients don’t want innovation in its rawest form; they’re taking parts of existing platforms to make something new. It’s not about bleeding-edge innovation at the moment.”

Katrina Starkie, Sam Lewis, Mark Pashley, Guy Jones

– On which is harder: innovation of products and services, or innovation of culture

Will Bicknell, Oakbrook Finance: “New products are ten-a-penny. Getting the culture of a company right is a long-term project. We have to ask: ‘Who is innovation for?’ Sometimes, companies forget who they’re innovating for.

Lane: “The first 12 months of any company is always incredibly entrepreneurial, but getting to the second year it’s crucial to keep people on board and finding the right cultural balance.”

David Lane, Freeths
Katrina Starkie, Purpose Media
Mark Pashley, Grant Thornton
Guy Jones, Growth Street
Will Bicknell, Oakbrook Finance
Sam Lewis, ThinCats
Richard Sutton, NG Chartered Surveyors

Photos courtesy of Richard Baker, Baker Baird