In Small Business It's Innovate or Die

Words and spin department: small business innovation. It's happening all the time, but we use different words to describe it:

But rather than calling it innovation, they simply describe what they do and the results they're looking for. Words such as "tweak," "adjust," "improve" and "change" roll off their tongue.

That's from Defining Small Business Innovation, a research brief released today by Intuit, developed jointly with Emergent Research, the first in a series on the future of small business. That's a nice juxtaposition with the Obama administration announcing plans to help small business through the economic crisis by freeing up resources for small business loans.

How important is small business? According to the report:

Small businesses are an important and growing driver of U.S. economic growth. They employ about half of the nation's 144 million private sector workers. They create 60 to 80 percent of new private sector jobs. They generate more than $6 trillion in annual revenue and create more than half of the country's non-farm gross domestic product.

Although we tend to think the larger companies, educational institutions, and government agencies develop new technology through research and develop, the smaller businesses are in the front lines. The study lists six enablers that make for innovation in small business:

  • Personal passion: Personally invested, most small business owners are willing to try new approaches to make their business more successful.
  • Customer connection: A deep and direct relationship with the market and customers helps small businesses understand customer needs, identify new opportunities, and fix problems quickly and efficiently.
  • Agility and adaptation: Unlike large corporations, small businesses can quickly adapt to changing market conditions and implement new business practices.
  • Experimentation and improvisation: When pursuing new opportunities, many small business owners and managers aren't afraid to experiment and improvise, accepting failure as part of the path to success.
  • Resource limitations: Small businesses are adept at doing more with less. And these resource constraints lend to their innovative mindset. 
  • Information sharing and collaboration: Small businesses traditionally rely on strong social networks to share information and inspire innovative thinking.

The research concludes that "innovation will be mandatory for small businesses over the next decade." We (small business owners; I'm one of us) don't have a choice.