Invention vs Innovation
Blog by Kriss Baird, Project Account Manager for Ufi VocTech Trust
- Is this shiny, whizz-bang offer genuinely innovative or is it just simply a new way of presenting an old idea?
- Does the idea have something behind it that could be a real step-change to the status quo?
These are some of the most important questions I think tech investors and other entrepreneur support providers consider very seriously when making decisions about which companies to get behind.
To tackle the first question, it’s important that the scene is set. The difference between invention and innovation in the end comes down to the entrepreneur’s or team’s vision for their venture. Invention is the nuts and bolts of creating a new product, service, or process. Innovation means taking that invention and successfully exploiting it for either social and/or commercial gain. Moving the early project beyond the worktops and prototypes made in the research & devlopment labs, whether that is a garage or workshop, a College or University incubator, or other place where experimentation transitions into a model where revenues are being generated, customers are happy, and hopefully the big idea is showing signs of adoption and is beginning to generate an impact.
If getting the project to break out beyond the walls of where it was created is too taxing, perhaps because the vision isn’t ambitious enough to test outside in the real world, or the team do not have the right mix of skills and resources to garner interest and attention, then innovation is unlikely to occur. This is sadly the case for far too many early-stage tech projects, and it feels to me that while in parts of the country outside of London, new tech businesses make up more than 25% of all new business started in 2019, not enough is known by early stage entrepreneurs about the value of stepping into the customer's shoes early enough to demonstrate that the big idea is more than just novel invention.
For VocTech projects funded by Ufi, we take the time to ensure that founding teams are prepared to test their ideas out in the real world. We encourage projects to seek out suitable partners in their value chain and find people willing to believe in the vision and test new, enabling ways of learning or others who can perhaps help extend the reach of their inventions to people who need them most. Our VocTech Seed grants offer a lot of room for experimentation, to empathise with the user in order to validate the uncertainties and perhaps smooth out the rough edges of the first ideas. This is often where the invention and true service design happens. Where we aim for innovation to take place is by supporting projects with our VocTech Impact grants - projects that are perhaps more developed and at a point where teams have the know-how and demonstrable evidence that their approach can work in practice to reach, hopefully, large numbers of people at scale. Supporting creativity and change with confidence that the novelty of new digitally enabled ways of learning skills for work are more likely to make a lasting, sustainable impact in the future.
Ufi have just this year released a new 5-year strategy 'Learning Without Walls: Beyond 2020' which can be found here.
Kriss Baird is an advisor and mentor to VocTech and EdTech businesses and founders. His work delivering digital economy initiatives with UK Government, third sector, and private sector leaders has helped promote digital innovation across sectors and break down barriers for the next generation of entrepreneurs making a difference in education.