Samuel Bafunso talks all things innovation, and how his role as an Innovation Advisor helps SMEs to bring their ideas to life. Samuel talks all about the trends he’s witnessed in Greater Manchester and how value-adding solutions are key for businesses to grow.
Talk us through your journey to the hub. What were you doing before you arrived here? And what attracted you to the hub?
I’ve got such a varied background. I’ve worked as a project consultant in software development, the wholesale and distribution industries, the healthcare and life sciences sector, and as a business consultant, I have also helped multinational companies grow in both established and developing markets, including China. What attracted me to the Hub was the plethora of support services it offers and how it is central to providing business support to SMEs at all stages of the growth journey.
How would you personally define innovation? What does your role as an innovation adviser entail?
There are many different meanings to the word innovation. For me, innovation is turning an idea into a solution that adds value from a customer’s perspective. It has to add value to the customer and organisation. Business leaders can confuse creativity with innovation, but creativity should be seen as thinking of something new, while innovation is the practical implementation of that idea. In my role, I help to unlock the potential in the businesses I work with by establishing whether their ideas align with the market and customer needs. I also help businesses understand the value of their intellectual property assets and how to protect them. I help my clients evaluate potential business models, manage risks and also develop a commercialisation strategy. In order to innovate, SMEs might not have all the resources they need in-house, so it’s my job to help them find external partners to collaborate with.
What is the state of innovation in Greater Manchester (GM)? What are the trends and changes you have noticed and find most important?
Innovation is really fantastic and exciting in Greater Manchester. There are excellent universities across the region and we help foster collaboration between them and businesses. A lot of SMEs understand how important innovation is to business growth, but sometimes they need guidance through the process of bringing an idea into life.
Businesses are constantly creating new services, with huge amounts of investment in R&D coming in. The Hub is front and centre in this new wave of investment, supporting businesses through our Innovation Vouchers scheme and the wider support services offered by the Growth Company. AI, machine learning, robotics and drones are all growing in Manchester, and there’s a huge consensus that these emerging technologies will be vital in upgrading the transport infrastructure across the region. Manchester is also at the forefront of carbon neutrality solutions, and this is something that we are passionate about supporting through innovation at the Hub.
Obviously, the global pandemic has caused companies to dramatically change their operations. What role does innovation now play in small businesses?
Under COVID-19, innovation has been key in helping business to survive, thrive and recover. During the pandemic, I have mainly been advising clients on how to pivot their business models and develop new offerings which goes back to adding value – which is the most important thing. In particular, I was helping them create new business models and helping them to get into new markets. The last two years has shown how important wider business support packages are, and how important it is to ensure that businesses are aware of them.
How would you describe the state of local interaction, relationships, and interactions across the Greater Manchester region? How do you think innovation works on a geographic level?
A new programme called Innovation GM has just been developed by the GM LEP, which is the most integrated place-based ecosystem to drive economic and social renewal nationally and locally in the North. It serves to drive rapid innovation, and there are a range of programmes that stem from it to help all the local authorities and sub-sector industries to work together. These include AMPR, which is a new research centre located in between Rochdale and Bury and a great example of the collaborative effort to make Greater Manchester a central innovation hub.
Even now, I think one of the positives of the pandemic is that Greater Manchester’s collaboration culture has been strengthened, especially when it comes to raising awareness of the availability of access to finance offers across the region.
Which sectors present the biggest opportunities for GM going forward? How is the Growth Hub preparing for these new opportunities?
I think one of the biggest opportunities available to businesses in Greater Manchester is the opportunity to collaborate with universities. Universities have so much expertise but don’t always know how to commercialise it, while many businesses have great ideas but lack the resources to realise those ideas’ market potential.
There are also four main sectors for growth going forward, which the Hub is ready to drive forward. The first is healthcare innovation, focusing on productivity and new models of care. The other is digital processes, with Manchester having the ambition to be the next hub for innovation in that sector. The green sector is also booming, with huge targets of carbon neutrality by 2038. The final sector is advanced manufacturing materials. Covid has showed us the importance of innovation in manufacturing and distribution and supply chain resilience, and we are always looking to support businesses in this area.