Innovation. Business model disruption. Pivot. Have you heard these terms often enough yet? They represent critical concepts to actually creating and delivering change. However, most of the time we just pay them lip service, while avoiding the gory details that provide insight into what actually goes right and wrong in the pursuit of innovation. Rogers Business Forum sat down with Greg Dubejsky, Director of Corporate Engagement at MaRS Discovery District, to chat about small business innovation.
Tell us about yourself and your role with MaRS Discover District.
I’m an engineering physicist by training, who somehow wound up going into business and brand building with P&G. After some really unique experiences on the Gillette business, including running their global innovation capability from Boston, I brought my family (wife & 2 young kids) back to Toronto in 2016 to build a new innovation capability for TD bank. Shortly after that, MaRS made me an offer to join them, in an effort to create a deeper corporate innovation practice. My current role at MaRS is as the Director of Corporate Engagement – where my focus is to build long term strategic partnerships with corporations that want to build stronger innovation capacity. I work with these companies to help them dock with the MaRS ecosystem and collaborate with our startups, our partners, and our broader network of innovators.
What should be the first steps when building an innovation strategy, and why is building this foundation so important for aspiring and existing business owners?
Innovation can be a big shiny buzzword, but it doesn’t have to be. The core to any innovation strategy is to be deliberate in your purpose. Know what you’re trying to do, and why – start with your ‘strategic intent’, and make sure that it’s grounded in a core understanding of the customer/consumer (i.e. real person) problem you’re trying to solve. I’ve seen a lot of smart people and businesses try to start with the answer (we have this great technology!) and then force fit it to a problem, with mediocre results. When you can get clear on an actual human need or job to be done, you have a much richer pool of insight to draw from to create a solution that address this on all levels (functional, emotional, social); (I’ve written an article that gives some further thoughts on this, here)
Starting with a clear intent of what you want to achieve, and being open to how to get there, is foundation for any business – whether it be in a massive corporation, or for an entrepreneur getting started.
We hear a lot about business models, but in your experience – what makes them so impactful to small business success?
A business model is a very powerful concept, because it provides a shorthand way of encapsulating all the key parameters that impact a given business and how they interrelate. I like to distill it down to 3 or 4 big elements – what’s in it for you? (e.g. how do you make $$); what’s in it for them? (e.g. who are your customers, why would they care about your offering); and what people/processes/relationships are critical to making this happen?
Using a tool like the business model canvas is also powerful, because it forces you to distill down to the key elements that will really cause your business to sink or swim. For a small business this can be critical – you have so many unique issues to manage on a day to day basis that it’s easy to get lost in the small issues while the bigger ones remain elusive.
What is your advice for entrepreneurs who struggle with how to innovate even though there are no new ideas in their business strategy?
Starting a new business is incredibly difficult – but there are a lot of resources available to try and help. Meetup groups, innovation centers, accelerators, incubators…these can offer a lot of advice on the nuts and bolts of getting a business up and running, and also help build a strong network with other entrepreneurs. For those trying to ‘do something new’ to spark new customer interest, etc., keep in mind that ‘new for new’s sake’ isn’t usually of interest to customers. You need to strive to understand what they really want out of your business, and then try to make it as easy as possible for them to make the choice. People buy an end benefit, not a product or feature – so find a way to articulate your end benefit in a way that they can understand with the least amount of attention possible.
Lastly, you’ll be speaking in the upcoming “Promoting Innovation – How and when to drive change in your small business” webinar. What are you most looking forward to discussing with the entrepreneurial community?
I get to meet with entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs each and every day, and I love it. Selfishly, it helps me learn and expand my own understanding of different business models and marketing strategies. For this particular webinar, I’m looking forward to telling the story of my time innovating in a large company, and showing that the principles that support innovation are relevant in companies of any size.
Join the conversation with Greg during our Webinar on Wednesday, August 23, 2017 from 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm EDT. For registration details, click here.