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Real world innovation for real world companies

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There’s lots of talk about the need to make Canadian businesses more innovative. But how do you find the best ideas when you’re a time-pressed entrepreneur?

Jeremy Gutsche has a solution. Gutsche’s Toronto-based company, Trendhunter.com, has become the go-to site for innovative ideas in business, technology, pop culture and fashion.

The company also collects detailed data that are packaged into reports used by large corporations such as Pepsi, Microsoft and Google to kick-start innovation.

Find creative solutions

Gutsche, who launched his start-up in 2008, had plenty of ambition at the time, but he couldn’t afford high-priced journalists to write articles and manage a global network of contributors.

The solution Gutsche came up with was the Trend Hunter Academy. Student interns exchange their labour for the opportunity to learn about marketing, journalism and social media at what has become the world’s No. 1 trend-spotting website.

After four months, they receive a $1,500 stipend and a certificate in digital journalism and social media to add to their new skills. Some even get full-time jobs at the company.

“That’s an example of a creative solution,” says Gutsche, an innovation guru. “Our student interns publish nearly 1,000 articles, get a couple of million views for their portfolio and learn cool social media techniques. It keeps our editorial costs down and helps our organization stay young, vibrant and innovative.”

Think about innovation on a daily basis

No matter what business you’re in, or how small your company, innovation needs to be a key part of your business strategy and something you think about on a daily basis.

What innovation is happening within my sector? Is there a new market I can tap? Can I improve the quality of my management information? What are my competitors doing that is new and different?

Innovation doesn’t have to mean inventing new high-tech products. Most innovations are incremental: Improved products, streamlined business processes, a more advanced piece of equipment or a new marketing approach.

Where to start? The 3D approach

All business owners will acknowledge they could always do something better in their business. But where to start? One recommendation is the “3D” approach:

  • Decide to make innovation your competitive edge
  • Discover what your customers need
  • Do it

Also remember that while innovation might take human resources and capital, the risk of doing nothing is much higher, because you can be sure your competition isn’t standing still.

Innovation requires customer focus

Prof. Becky Reuber, an expert on entrepreneurs and innovation at the Rotman School of Management, says innovation requires a customer focus from everyone—no matter what their job.

“Discovering your clients’ needs requires systems, whether formal or informal,” she says. “Your employees interact with customers daily. How are you bringing that knowledge back into the company so that everyone can benefit from it?”

Create a culture of innovation

Innovation also requires leadership, Reuber adds. Business owners need to be champions for doing things better in their company.

An advisory board can help entrepreneurs provide that leadership by challenging them to think of new initiatives and how best to execute them.

“At the end of the day,” Gutsche says, “a culture of innovation can become your company’s most powerful competitive asset.”


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