Ingredients for innovation in SMEs

In the first of a three-part series, an SME and an industry expert share their views on innovation.

Dr Bhattacharya says a key ingredient for innovation is a mindset that encourages continuous invention.
Dr Bhattacharya says a key ingredient for innovation is a mindset that encourages continuous invention.PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

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The adage “necessity is the mother of invention” still stands today for many companies. Businesses need to innovate so they do not stagnate or lose out to their competitors.

But while small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) know that innovation is important, some feel that they lack the resources for it, observes Dr Shantanu Bhattacharya, associate professor of operations management and academic director of the Doctor of Innovation and Doctor of Business Administration programmes at the Singapore Management University.

He says: “My first response is that innovation does not necessarily need either a big set of resources in terms of skills or money.

“As the ancient Chinese scholar Lao Tzu put it, ‘the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.’”

He adds that the main ingredient for innovation is a mindset that encourages continuous invention.


Another important ingredient is a source of ideas; for instance, managers who work on daily operations need to look at their processes with a fresh pair of eyes, and apply business models in other industry sectors or countries to their own needs.

According to Dr Bhattacharya, business innovation can come in three different forms, with the most commonly understood form being improving on existing products and services to gain advantage over competitors or creating novel offerings to break into new markets.

Another form would be to innovate in the design of the supply chain to lower a business’s base cost. This runs the gamut from leveraging the innovative capabilities of suppliers to delivering products and services sooner and at a lower cost.

Also, innovations at the interface of the company with its suppliers and consumers improve the supply-and-demand match, which in turn enables the company to provide more value to customers and capture more value for themselves.

“Innovation is a journey — it begins with understanding the customer, followed by a better internal process and interface design that often has to be revamped.

There is no end to this rewarding journey,” says Dr Bhattacharya.

In cases where innovation requires financial investments and a set of specialised skills, Spring Singapore offers the ideal platform for local enterprises to find out and tap the right resources.

Its Capability Development Grant (CDG) helps businesses defray up to 70 per cent of qualifying project costs such as consultancy, training, certification and equipment costs. SMEs can build capabilities across 10 business areas such as raising service standards, adopting technology to staff training and overseas expansion.

Through the events under the SME Capabilities Series, participants can learn how investing in various business capabilities — such as branding, human capital development, technology innovation and financial management — can help them achieve sustainable business growth.

To find out more about the events under the SME Capabilities Series, e-mail smecapseries@spring.gov.sg