Hug an entrepreneur

By Andrew Penny

A lot has been said about creating an Innovative Culture. Research labs, government departments and agencies are all trying to figure out just how to make us innovate. The thought being that innovation equals wealth creation. However, to create this wealth someone has to do something with the innovation, someone who is prepared to take the risk that things may not work out quite as planned.

That someone is typically referred to as an entrepreneur (or the clever B-school term ‘Intrapreneur’ for those inside a company). If you put three or four intelligent people together for an hour or so, they are very likely to come up with some innovative, and potentially lucrative, ideas. However, the chances of anyone doing anything with the ideas are pretty slim. Even in corporations that pride themselves on innovation, the innovations that are not congruent with the corporate strategy get set aside. Innovation without entrepreneurship is usually just an intellectual exercise.

When a large corporation innovates, they generally improve or diversify an existing offering and would almost never start a new product from scratch. This means their innovation has to be in line with an existing product and existing customer base. If it’s not, one of two things would happen: the innovation would be archived or someone would leave the company to do it as a startup. And there are many startups today from the downfall of large corporations like Nortel. Without these entrepreneurs, their innovations would certainly not have made it to market.

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Perhaps what we need to do in Canada is to create an Entrepreneurial Culture. Rather than just focusing on innovation, let’s also support the folks who make it happen – the entrepreneurs. Folks like Adrian, who is revolutionizing atmospheric remote sensing, or Mark, who is dramatically changing the coated fabrics industry with ‘green’ solutions; Greg and Nic who have become leaders in streamlining yard management and Linda who is lighting up the globe.

Let’s teach our youth how to be entrepreneurs. Let’s give entrepreneurs the Order of Canada. Let’s have an entrepreneurial Walk of Fame. Let’s fund entrepreneurs to the same extent as the innovators. These are the people who turn innovation into wealth. A string of patents does not create wealth – it’s building the businesses that exploits them that will.

Some organizations get it. For example the National Research Council’s IRAP program has a great little offer called Management Advisory Services, which pays for management consulting services to help entrepreneurs fix holes in their business plans aimed at bringing innovation to market. Perhaps other agencies should develop similar programs to help entrepreneurs turn more Canadian innovations into wealth.

So hug an entrepreneur. They are our real engines of growth.

(Editor’s Note: For related reading, please see our past post, How do you find, define and, most importantly, exploit ‘exploitable’ technology?)

Andrew Penny is an Ottawa-based business development and market strategist for B2B companies, and president of Kingsford Consulting Ltd.Andrew’s post is part of our continuing series about the ecosystem necessary to bring technology to market. We welcome your comments.

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