Part one

Using innovation to tap into untapped Flemish potential

Our economy is one of the most open economies in the world, and Flemish businesses are faced with fierce competition. To continue to guarantee prosperity, we have to focus on the kind of innovation that combines science and technology with a clever business concept, topped with creative input. Call it innovative entrepreneurship or entrepreneurial innovation if you like.

“I’d rather use the term sexy than innovative because otherwise people immediately think of expensive technology inventions”
Flemish Minister of economy Philippe Muyters

“It’s great to achieve the Olympic minimum standards in sport but winning medals for our economy is also crucial. R&D, or innovative technology, are our Olympic minimum standards. To win medals we don’t only need to innovate more but also differently,” says Pascal Cools, Managing Director of Flanders DC. The Flemish organisation for entrepreneurial creativity has been raising awareness on this subject since it was founded, a good ten years ago now. “To achieve Flanders’ ambitions to become the top region it aspires to be we need a broader approach when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship,” says Pascal Cools.

Why innovate differently? Because it’s more profitable!

When it comes to innovation, people traditionally still think of R&D and of a man with a white lab coat. However, this man or woman is not a privilege of the West anymore. Our edge on other countries—for example, the BRIC countries—in terms of technology and science edge on is declining by the year. Incidentally, according to a report for the 2014 World Intellectual Property Organisation, it seems that China for the second time in a row made the most patent applications, more than the United States of America.

A study by Flanders DC shows that the well-being of the region is closely linked to creativity combined with entrepreneurship, because ideas also need to be put into practice. But there is more. Pascal Cools: “The graph below (1) from Deloitte is a real eye-opener: The more you implement different kinds of innovation, the stronger your financial performance and the better you perform in relation to others. This means that you definitely need to go further than just product innovation! It is nothing new that investments in product innovation didn’t bring the biggest added value (graphic 2). With fewer investments in, for example, process innovation or business models, you obtain a bigger added value. It’s about time that we look at innovation in a different way, past just the technology. We firmly believe that the combination of three components: science & technology, smart business concepts and input from the creative industry, offers great opportunities for tomorrow’s economy. Because where are you with technology that isn’t marketable or relevant to society? Or with a technological solution that isn’t user-friendly? We need to offer better support for that innovation in business models and marketing approaches."

Help begins at home

The Flanders DC Knowledge Centre frequently does research and depending on the theme of the study, it is conducted in collaboration with the Vlerick Business School or with the Antwerp Management School. On the basis of this research, some resources and tools have already been developed tailored to our businesses.

We have tools that help businesses reassess their business model, and that also help them to make the switch from being a company that only offers products to a business that offers total solutions. Based on findings by the team led by Professor Marion Debruyne (Vlerick Business School), a ten-point plan has been developed that helps businesses successfully manage the transformation.

“We use a tool that gives SME-business leaders the opportunity to reassess their business model.
Patrick Kindt, Director of Marketing & Communication at KBC.

KBC ordered the 5500 toolkits for a campaign. The bank wanted to offer entrepreneurs a kind of platform where they can test their ideas with their customers. “The big question is: How can I do even better in my business? How can I stay relevant for my clients?” The toolkit fitted in seamlessly with that idea, and it gave SME-business leaders the opportunity to reassess their business model,” says Patrick Kindt, Marketing & Communications director at KBC.

Thinking and doing

One of the central themes in the research of the Flanders DC Knowledge Centre is managing creativity. Good ideas are one thing but putting them into practice is quite another. “In an enterprise, creativity goes a lot further than organising a brainstorm once in a while”, says Pascal Cools.“Creative ideas need to lead to actual innovations. If you have a good idea, you still need to sell it to your colleagues, managers and stakeholders. After that, you also need to put it into practice.”” During the Creativity World Forum in November 2014, keynote speaker Tom Kelley highlighted the fact that the creative potential in a lot of companies and organisations remains untapped.

Based on the study 'The innovative organisation: how to awaken your innovation' set up by Katleen De Stobbeleir’s team (Vlerick Business School), Flanders DC Knowledge Centre developed a serious game titled From Aha to Voilà!' or ‘from idea to implementation’. A 3x3-matrix is a tool that guides the process to go from a good idea to its implementation in a business context. This tool is now widely in use in the Flemish business world.

More is more

From the CIS (Community Innovation Survey) figures mentioned in the Flemish indicator book 2013, it seems that almost half of enterprises with a minimum of ten employees are not innovative when it comes to their product or the process behind their product.

If you include marketing and organisational innovation, the percentage drops to 38 percent. "These numbers aren’t particularly dramatic. When you compare this at a European level, they’re OK”, specifies Pascal Cools “but efforts need to be ramped up when almost half of the enterprises with a very significant impact on employment do not innovate. For comparison: an innovation leader such as Germany has 21 percent non-innovators.”

Mum, why aren’t we innovating?

If you look at the arguments against innovation, it feels as though 57 percent of non-innovators simply don’t innovate because they don’t feel like it. This is not a very reassuring answer. One-third blames it on a lack of knowledge; they don’t have the right know-how. Pascal Cools says: “There is huge, as-yet-untapped potential. Communication and raising awareness is one step. This should happen with the coordination of the relevant players in the field. We need to communicate with one another instead of working against each other. It is also important to increase the knowledge or the innovation capacity of these enterprises”.

I do innovate

“Competition with the low-wage countries was getting increasingly tough. This is why we decided to move in another direction,” says Peter Oosterlinck of Achielle in “This is how you innovate”, the approachable guide to innovation for SMEs.

The family business Dija-Oostcolor was one of the few real bicycle frame manufactures in Europe. When the competition got tough, the grandsons of the founder Achiel Oosterlinck decided to build a complete bike instead of just a frame. Handmade, Belgian and custom-built. Not an obvious choice, but a good one. You can find a lot more inspiring Flemish examples like this one in this handbook, which is part of the campaign Ikinnoveer, to increase the innovation capability of SMEs.

‘Ikinnoveer’, an innovation toolkit with associated workshops and innovation academies, has already been delivered to 11,000 SMEs. “All the know-how that we gathered on this theme was collated in the innovation toolkit,” says Peter Bertels, Project Manager at Flanders DC. “Even more importantly, four partners are collaborating on this: ourselves, the Flemish centre of Innovation, UNIZO and Voka, but also other organisations and knowledge institutions are getting involved in certain toolkits. When we started this campaign, this was the first and biggest step to counteract fragmentation in innovation efforts”.

Shout it from the rooftops

Innovating more and differently and putting your faith on the creative industries are the ingredients for an economy that will secure the future of our region. But just as Sir Ken Robinson said in the Creativity World Forum in 2006: “There is no point in being creative if no one notices it”. According to Robinson, if you are innovative and creative, you have to shout it from the rooftops

“You have to show the Flemish that we are a creative region”, says Pascal Cools “and also convey the message outside our borders. Saying you are creative and innovative has a positive influence on the innovation in a region. Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy if you like, or leading by example but it is clear that it is easier to attract international investors with this kind of reputation.”

Even Flanders DC is doing a lot to promote Flanders nationally and internationally. One of the initiatives is the Districts of Creativity Network, a worldwide network of innovative regions. “We established this network in 2004 to be able to exchange the best ideas with each other. This collaboration also puts our region on the map for other regions in the network. Together we managed to make the Creativity World Forum one of the most important innovation conferences in the world”.

“This is one initiative from the Flemish government I hope will continue. You are challenged to involve both your clients and employees more in what you do”.
Luc Heylands from Europower Generators on the CWF

The Creativity World Forum (CWF) was organised for the first time in 2004 in Leuven. Every three years, the forum comes to Flanders. In the other years the CWF takes place in one of the regions of the District of Creativity Network (CWF has already been organised in Baltimore, Stuttgart, Oklahoma, Qingdao, Rio de Janeiro and Tampere). The last Creativity World Forum in Kortrijk not only brought inspiration to the entrepreneurs in Flanders, it also put Flanders in the sights of the international guests.

Laat hier je e-mail adres achter en we laten je weten wanneer het volgende deel van de Flanders DC visie online komt.