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Op-ed: Dr. Jacqueline Walsh

Understanding business innovation critical to the success of all N.L. companies

Part of a special feature showcasing Memorial’s innovation ecosystem, a pan-university effort focused on supporting the development and success of innovators across Newfoundland and Labrador.  


By Dr. Jacqueline Walsh

The word innovation is used in so many contexts today that it has become ubiquitous.

Its overuse should not detract from its significance to the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador, however.

Business innovation

Business innovation occurs when a business proactively strives to create or change aspects of their business to achieve greater financial strength.

Innovation must become a continuous process that is as routine as paying taxes.

Innovation might include modifying a product or service incrementally, training employees in customer service, updating a website to include e-commerce, trying a new marketing technique using social media or bringing in new technology to replace a less efficient way of completing a task.

“Innovative firms employ more people, achieve greater market performance, demonstrate stronger export potential and have higher success rates.”

Explaining how companies and support agencies should view business innovation is important for two reasons.

First, research on the Newfoundland and Labrador innovation ecosystem tells us that many do not know what innovation means or how to make it happen. This is a significant issue, but one that can be addressed with continuous messaging and education.

Second, understanding business innovation is critical to the success of all companies in our province.

Innovative firms employ more people, achieve greater market performance, demonstrate stronger export potential and have higher success rates.

Sustainability comes from being more competitive and adaptable to the fast pace of change brought about by technology and globalization.

More people working and a greater personal and business tax base in our province ultimately improves our collective standard of living and quality of life.

All N.L. businesses need to innovate

Let me be clear on my position.

I do not believe that Newfoundland and Labrador will achieve economic stability unless and until there is a critical number of innovation-driven small- and medium-size businesses operating throughout our entire province.

We are hearing some wonderful news from our technology sector in St. John’s. I applaud these companies and hope to see them as leaders in our ecosystem. But, my message is more encompassing: All businesses in our province need to innovate.

“Business innovation must include embracing technology and seeking global markets.”

For example, the B&Bs and hotels need to embrace change to compete against the Airbnb business model.

Entrepreneurs must seize the opportunities presented by the growing interest of international tourists searching for “authentic” experiences. There is no better place on Earth to provide such a service!

We live on an island and our population is small. Business innovation must include embracing technology and seeking global markets.

Embracing change, tolerating failure

We know innovation happens when employees have the proper skills and know how. We know innovation happens when entrepreneurs can access supportive social networks and mentors.

We know innovation happens when governments have relevant, place-based policies and programs. And we know innovation happens when communities, families and individuals embrace change, celebrate success and tolerate failure.

For all these reasons and more, I am happy to work at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University, to be the vice-chair of the InnovateNL council, and to be engaged in supporting innovation in our  businesses.

“Newfoundland and Labrador needs the business community and the support network to act as mentors, collaborators, funders and leaders.”

This province needs Memorial University and College of the North Atlantic to be active in educating, training and facilitating business innovation.

Our post-secondary institutions must find effective ways to share research and know-how with our business sector.

This province needs the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to provide guidance and support through relevant policies and programs.

Newfoundland and Labrador needs the business community and the support network to act as mentors, collaborators, funders and leaders.  My hope is to facilitate collaboration among all parties to ensure we are united in our goal.

I strongly believe that all players in the innovation ecosystem are feeling a sense of urgency to foster business innovation as the key driver of economic growth and diversification.

We are all starting to talk the same language and accept that we all have a role to play in making this province the great place it should be.

This gives me great hope for our future. We need all hands on deck. Let’s go!


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