Innovation 50 was a three-year research project focusing on innovation in high-growth Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Essex (UK). Launched in 2015, and funded by Essex County Council, its aims were to establish the key determinants of high growth for local SMEs, assess their innovation performance and identify their innovation support requirements.
The project’s findings have informed innovation policy in Essex and additional innovation support measures for local SMEs have been implemented as a result. Combined with a comprehensive literature review and a qualitative appraisal of the most impactful public innovation support measures participating SMEs had received, the project also provided a framework for the design of future innovation support programmes and related initiatives in Essex.
Innovation 50 involved a focus group with ten representatives from government, academia and the SME community, a survey of 200 high-growth SMEs in Essex and face-to-face interviews with 50 company owners. The survey of high-growth firms allowed us to identify 50 of the most innovative enterprises that had exhibited consistent growth over a three-year period. We then looked at the factors that promote success and where additional support from an outside source could help businesses grow more or faster.
Following a detailed analysis of the collected data, we grouped themes in relation to the characteristics of innovative and fast-growing SMEs as well as their support needs. We found the most innovative and successful SMEs in our sample exhibit significant overlaps in the areas of strategic leadership and management as well as responsiveness to change and approaches to customer relationship management.
The main areas for targeted innovation support were identified as entering new markets, digital marketing and conversion, and strategic intellectual property management. The resulting implications for innovation policy were put into perspective of strategic considerations for the Essex economy and centred mainly around the areas of talent management, leadership development, capacity building and infrastructure. Dedicated events, workshops and support measures were set up and implemented by Essex County Council, with the assistance of ARU, in the support areas identified.
Innovation 50 also aimed to celebrate and promote local business growth, and the list of the 50 SMEs read as a “who’s who” of Essex’s brightest, most up-and-coming companies. Those businesses are now able to proudly display the Innovation 50 symbol on their website, stationery and marketing materials. The list includes businesses as diverse as video game developers, a lampshade manufacturer, and even a company which delivers afternoon tea to your home.
The following SMEs have been selected as highly innovative companies in Essex. They participated in all stages of the Innovation 50 research project. Their examples of good practice have been used to inspire others and shape future business strategy and innovation policy in Essex.