Innovation is a key asset for any business. Both small and large enterprises can thrive by introducing inventive products to their sectors, benefiting customers, clients, and ultimately the economy at large.

When it comes to innovation, big businesses usually take most of the praise for their ingenuity and strategy; after all, they can afford large research and development departments. But small businesses are just as innovative--sometimes more--than large-scale corporations.

Over the past several years, startups have led the way in global innovations by providing services and technology to markets ranging from consumers to larger corporations. There are many ways that small companies can leverage their size and business culture to quickly develop innovative prowess. Focusing on four essential steps can help small business entrepreneurs nurture innovative models for their own operational strategies:

1. Fast access to resources

Smaller companies often have fast access to resources. Multiple departments and personnel can more quickly access the time to become involved in development strategies, while easily identifying the tools it will take to market their ideas. This can greatly shorten development timelines. Smaller companies can have an advantage because they can reallocate temporary resources for innovative ideas. Large companies have to focus on numerous product lines and distribute resources accordingly.

How to leverage: Organizational structure and resources are the best ways to easily access and stock tools for the execution of your innovative ideas. In startups, the hierarchical structures characteristic of big companies are not as prominent. Managers and other workers have easier access to higher-ups for brainstorming, which makes the execution strategy easier.

In addition, established salary rates and service providers for large-scale operations can make costs hard to control at the early stages of innovation for big companies. Startups may constantly be fundraising or securing investors for money, but large companies have to deal with established standards, numerous costs and complex processes to get innovations off of the ground.

2. Strong teamwork

If one domino falls, so do the rest. Close-knit teams help small businesses build great communication skills and rely on each other for work efficiency under strict deadlines. Startups or small businesses require innovative thinkers. Large enterprises hire employees when supply and workloads demands it, but may not do so when they need innovative teams. The people and culture of startups have more opportunities to understand each other's’ strengths and weaknesses. The Harvard Business Review published research showing that supportive and engaging workplaces make for more productive workplaces.

How to leverage: Schedule frequent meetings and ask for your workers’ feedback or input to communicate ideas, but also to foster a sense of inclusion and community. Building mutual respect and support for your workers’ skill sets is crucial, as is frequent and transparent communication. In addition, small business leaders can offer transparency by letting their team know how business plans are developing and to budget. Offering a clear direction on business goals can help the team form a focused vision for innovative tasks.

3. Hire for Creative Self-Starters

People often work for small businesses because there is room for growth and opportunity to be innovative. Startups require innovative thinkers to push them into small growth-stage businesses; it’s part of their job description. Usually, these individuals are self-motivated and engaged. Research from the University of Twente shows that in the success phase, startups showed high levels of employee participation, autonomy, support, and team influence that were favorable to creativity and, thus, innovation. The analysis showed that in general larger, rigid organizations do not encourage their employees to come up with or try new ideas, whereas startups and small businesses are more flexible and allow room for creativity.

Employees in big companies often work for stable paychecks, typical work day schedules, and projects that are lined up. It can cost significant buy-in and resources from managerial staff to allow workers to suddenly switch gears to be more creative and innovative. Managers in many big businesses are evaluated by their efficiency and profitability, rather than future growth.

How to leverage: Simply hire those who exhibit the willpower, creativity, soft skills, and mindset that is compatible to your business goals. It can also be good to hire employees who exhibit potential even if they don’t have a specific skillset, and are willing to learn while adding expertise that other workers may not possess.

4. Speedy Delivery 

Within small businesses, roles and departments often have better access to each other, so decisions are made quickly. This can allow them to be the first ones to market their product. Often, large companies spend several months or years to generate, study, and evaluate new ideas before passing them through several departments.

How to leverage: Small business owners and workers should highlight flexibility. Be flexible to not only support each other, but be willing to change direction as you test out your innovations. As valuable innovations are generated, they can be developed quickly and launched to customers. Fast-paced action can offer visibility and distinguish businesses, causing competitors to follow your lead and rush to create their own worthwhile product.

As the world becomes increasingly digitized, small businesses can leverage these skills to cater to hyperlocal communities. Small business entrepreneurs can leverage their enterprise as the reliable, go-to source for their markets’ needs.

About the Author(s)

 Ed  Sappin

Ed Sappin is the CEO of Sappin Global Strategies, which seeks to build the next generation of global innovators in emerging areas including bitcoin and the blockchain, space technology, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence. Previously, Ed Sappin was Director, Project Development for the alternative energy division of BP.

Sappin Global Strategies
How to Be Innovative When Starting Small