Overcoming innovation obstacles: Tips for SMEs

In a world where innovation has become the driver of growth and competitiveness, small businesses often face unique challenges that can hinder their ability to innovate and evolve. However, with the right strategies and a proactive approach, these obstacles can be overcome. In this article, we will explore three common obstacles to innovation that small businesses encounter and provide practical tips for successfully overcoming them. 

Limited resources

Limited resources

Small businesses often have limited budgets and resources, which can make it difficult to invest in innovation projects. However, it is possible to maximize the use of available resources by adopting a strategic approach. 

Tips for overcoming this obstacle: 

  • Prioritize innovation projects: Identify areas where innovation can have the greatest impact on your business and focus your resources on these priority initiatives. Then, clearly define the project timeline; should it be approached as a sprint or a marathon? Also, consider clarifying the objectives of your innovation projects: Are you expecting to directly apply concrete solutions for a specific innovation component within the company, or are you aiming to conduct long-term technological surveillance to envision a disruptive innovation on a much larger scale over a longer period ? 

  • Seek expert partners and develop collaborations: Foster strategic partnerships with other businesses such as peers or service providers who have the time, resources, and expertise needed (like JANUS Engineering for design and manufacturing). You can also expand your relationships with universities or research organizations to share costs and resources related to innovation. 

  • Harness internal resources: Encourage your employees to contribute to innovation by leveraging their knowledge and skills. Foster a culture where ideas are encouraged and valued, regardless of hierarchical level. Integrating all stakeholders into an innovation project has a considerable impact on your innovation capabilities: besides not benefiting from their expertise, a collaborator integrated too late or not integrated at all will be disengaged when they need to follow the pace and may become a hindrance to change. 

Resistance to change

Change can be difficult for some businesses to accept, especially when it comes to adopting new technologies or changing established processes. Resistance to change can significantly hinder innovation and slow down company growth. 

Resistance to change

Tips for overcoming this obstacle: 

  • Communicate effectively: Involve your team early enough in the innovation process by clearly communicating the objectives, benefits, and implications of change. Communicate the importance of each person for the success of innovation projects and the sustainability of the company; everyone must realize the impact of their actions on future developments. 

  • Create a safe environment for experimentation: Encourage calculated risk-taking by allowing your employees to experiment with innovative ideas and approaches without fear of negative consequences in case of failure. You should also carve out time for your teams to experiment without fear of falling behind on their daily projects and tasks. 

  • Lead by example: Leaders must be the first to embrace change and serve as role models to encourage a culture of innovation and adaptability within the company. Develop your leadership by emphasizing the value of innovation, indirectly encourage your collaborators by stimulating ideation ! 

Lack of formal processes

Lack of formal processes

Small businesses often lack formal processes to support innovation, making it difficult to translate ideas into concrete actions. 

Tips for overcoming this obstacle: 

  • Establish clear innovation processes: Create processes and systems to capture, evaluate, and implement innovation ideas effectively and efficiently. For example, a first step could be to establish a knowledge management process through a common database to classify research and its results. Thus, insights, discoveries, and knowledge from an employee or a department of the company will be exploitable for the benefit of the entire company. 

  • Invest in technology: Use suitable, flexible, and scalable technological tools. For example, if your company manufactures products, you could question your practices related to your CAM/CAD system; ask yourself the following questions: Are my processes improvable? Is the software sufficiently powerful to support future developments? Have our teams fully mastered all the capabilities of the system? You could also conduct this reflection consultatively with your teams to involve each employee in the improvement process intended for innovation. This way, you can derive corrective actions tailored to each stakeholder's challenges and address the general innovation issue. 

  • Train and empower your employees: Start by conducting an Audit (alone or with a partner) to analyze the level of adoption and knowledge of the tools used internally. Then adjust according to the findings; offer occasional or regular training on methods and functions related to existing software and hardware to enhance your employees' skills and prepare them to contribute significantly to the company's innovation process. To do this, if you do not have dedicated human resources, you could benefit from a service partner to audit your progress in mastering the functions and opportunities offered by your tools (JANUS Engineering offers this type of action for Siemens NX CAD & CAM software). 

To sum up, there are various ways to boost innovation

By overcoming these obstacles to innovation, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can innovate more, unleashing their creative potential to find new growth opportunities. 

In addition to these practical tips for developing innovation capacity, it is essential to recognize that success in this area is not achieved alone. Small businesses may find themselves in a challenging position due to limited resources, resistance to change, and lack of formal processes to support innovation.

However, as you can see, there are ways to overcome these obstacles :

  • One of the most effective approaches is to seek advice and support from the right people. While this may take various forms, such as consulting mentors, participating in think tanks, or seeking online resources, the key lies in recognizing that we can all benefit from external perspectives and specialized expertise. 
  • Collaborating with external partners makes perfect sense here; it can offer significant benefits. These partners can bring valuable experience, innovative ideas, and additional resources to support your company's innovation initiatives. However, it is crucial to strike the right balance and not underestimate the value of internal resources. 

Ultimately, overcoming obstacles to innovation requires ongoing commitment and a holistic approach. By remaining open to new ideas, fostering a culture that encourages calculated risk-taking, and actively seeking strategic advice and partnerships, small businesses can strengthen their market positioning and exploit new growth opportunities. 

Marketing & Communication Manager
E-Mail: Henri.Vaast@janus-engineering.fr

Author of the article / Auteur de l'article

Subscribe to our blog
Tips and news around digital manufacturing.