When Ms Leonie Greyling asked women attending an entrepreneurship workshop what came to mind when they heard “innovation”, a few sprang to respond, and their responses ranged from doing something new, through sustainable, novel, doing things differently, to forward thinking and breaking boundaries.
Ms Greyling (above) is a Senior Manager: Enterprise Development at the North-West University, who spoke at the SWEEP Economic Activation workshop on 25 January. SWEEP, an initiative of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Programme, stands for Student Women Economic Empowerment Programme. Launched in October 2021, SWEEP is aimed at equipping student women at South Africa’s public universities for entrepreneurial activity.
Addressing the topic: The Entrepreneurial Woman — Building an Innovative Enterprise, Greyling cautioned the workshop participants to distinguish between invention and innovation. She stated that invention is not necessarily innovation and went on to define invention as the creation of something new, whereas innovation means the creation and implementation of something new in such a way that it creates value.
She pointed out that many inventions do not become innovations because they are not implemented and therefore never generate any value. On the contrary, inventions that are turned into innovations go on to improve people’s lives and often help society to solve a need better than existing solutions. As an example, she cited the first version of light bulbs that were invented in the world, that did not last long and therefore failed to generate value. Years later, Thomas Edison came up with a much better light bulb that proved to be a lot more useful to society. Edison’s product therefore represented innovation. See below.
Ms Greyling further illustrated her point by giving examples of companies that had proven themselves innovative. These included Uber, which transformed the taxi business; AirBnB, which reshaped the accommodation industry; Amazon that fundamentally altered retail; and Facebook, that established the social network market while Netflix totally changed the movie rental industry with their streaming service.
Identifying opportunities for innovation
The Senior Manager: Enterprise Development then pointed out situations in life, that present innovation opportunities. She said for every successful product or service offering, there are countless ways to make it better. “Think of companies that you admire and imagine how you could improve their products while considering four key factors.” Examples:
What can I improve about this?
- Is there a more convenient way of delivering an existing service? UBER, Greyling pointed out, offers a convenient, reliable and safe way to hail a taxi.
- Is there a location gap that I can fill? Didi invented a platform like Uber’s to provide a similar service in China.
- Could I make a high-quality equivalent to a leading product and offer it for a fraction of the price? She admitted that while it takes testing to ensure that product quality is not sacrificed for a lower price, finding a way to reduce the cost of an in-demand item could jump-start one’s entrepreneurial journey.
- Could I take an existing offering and improve the customer experience for all or part of the market?
Is it time to pivot?
Ms Greyling also stated the importance of an entrepreneur knowing when to pivot from his/her original idea to meet emerging needs in the market. She made an example of the technical revolution that inspired many entrepreneurs to pivot from their initial businesses, to optimise the opportunities presented by the digital revolution combined with the CoVID-19 pandemic (see below).
During discussion time, two participants posed the following questions to Ms Greyling.
Question: What makes innovation so difficult?
Response: Our mindsets. We need to learn to think out of the box. Our education boxes us into a certain traditional way of thinking. We need to become a lot more curious. It is not just about creating something totally new but transforming what already exists into something more useful and that solves problems.
Question: How do we get our businesses to take a different direction?
Response: You need to ask yourself: Do I take market trends into account when planning my business, and do I apply those to my business idea? It is about making your business remain afloat despite the changes in the market. Look at companies that offered fitness classes online. When lockdown restrictions forbade their patrons from physically visiting gyms, they started offering fitness classes online, to great success.
The Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Programme is an initiative of the Department of Higher Education and Training being implemented in partnership with Universities South Africa (USAf).
‘Mateboho Green is the Manager: Corporate Communication at Universities South Africa.