Times Supplement: The importance of staying innovative

Marcelino Castrillo, Managing Director of SME Banking at Santander UK, explains how growing start-ups can maintain their innovative edge

If we think about innovation, the businesses that spring to mind are the likes of Apple and Facebook — companies that have “created an industry”. While these are impressive stories, the more common innovative businesses are those which identify an untapped demand in an existing market.

One example is a publisher focused on children’s books, Igloo. Igloo Books links digital ebooks with the physical experience of children’s books, where material is used to demonstrate the textures of animals. Being innovative isn’t always about inventing something completely new, it can also be about improving how things are done.

Businesses can innovate in two ways: either acquiring the innovation from another business; or through the business taking time to invest in its strategy, processes, products and services. The expenditure of time, people and money can be costly. Therefore it is important to look at where your industry is heading and ensure that your business has a unique and relevant strategy to stay ahead of your competitors.

Most creative and innovative people thrive in an environment where they have freedom and trust. Encourage your employees to explore new projects that are different to what your business normally does.

Not all projects will be successful, the key to being an innovative business is to identify when projects aren’t working out and learn from them. Google, for example, ploughs billions of dollars into product development every year to ensure that it is ahead of the game in its fast-moving market. Interestingly, it can’t be sure which innovations will hit and which will miss, so it places educated bets to ensure successful new products evolve. Just one success can far outweigh the costs of those that fail.

This approach is often also taken by start-ups, their size and relatively low running costs allowing the nimbleness to change direction when something isn’t working or quickly drive it forward when it does. For start-ups, innovation often requires support and guidance. Incubators such as CodeBase, founded by Jamie Coleman, are places where new businesses can develop ideas with the aid of experienced mentors. These environments nurture innovation, helping to push the boundaries of business. Successful incubates include Plan for Cloud, a comparison site recently acquired by RightScale in Silicon Valley.

At Santander we are also keen to promote the environment required to foster and sustain business innovation. We recently launched our own fast-growth business hub in our Liverpool offices, providing early-stage SMEs with access to a programme of support focused on leveraging access to networks, knowledge and mentors, emphasising the digital skills arena.

As a bank, we constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways of supporting British business, shaking up traditional views of lending to help the start-ups of today become the world-class trendsetters of tomorrow.

Today we launch our new marketing campaign, through a series of high-profile events and advertising. Santander Commercial & Corporate Bank is making clear its intent to offer something new to businesses in the UK, to support them in achieving their next breakthrough and ultimately their ambitions and goals.


The Times Supplement - November 2014, "Innovation Beyond Start-up"

Successful start-ups are innovation personified. But how do these companies keep the creative sparks flying as their business gains weight and complexity? This month's SME profiles entrepreneurs who have successfully overcome just that problem, from successful comic book creators to the developer of an 'educational satnav'. As these case studies prove, innovation isn't something that should die as companies get older, in fact it's a vital factor in staying ahead of the market. Learn how to maintain your cutting edge and keep it sharp as your business develops.


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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK