Sussex Innovation is on a mission to inspire entrepreneurs, sole traders, micro-businesses and team leads across the region. Filming has begun on a new ‘Lean Innovation’ TV series, which will spotlight insights, thought leadership and innovation case studies from some of the most successful business leaders in East Sussex.

Back in the Lean Innovation studio, host Doug Faulkner speaks to these entrepreneurs alongside Sussex Innovation’s coaching and consultancy team, with experts from the University of Sussex Business School sharing cutting-edge business management theory.

Later this month, the full series of eight episodes will be made available free of charge to 600 businesspeople from across the county, supplemented by an online peer-to-peer networking and collaboration platform, and coaching sessions with the Sussex Innovation team. The programme is being financed by the UK Community Renewal Fund, as part of the UK Government’s response for small businesses impacted by the pandemic.

The ultimate aim is to provide a springboard for Covid recovery by building a stronger community of SMEs, a support network and the tools, resources and impetus to keep testing new ideas in the face of a difficult climate for businesses.

“There’s a lot of mystique around the word ‘innovation’, which we want to dispel,” says Head of Innovation and Consultancy, Tanya Popeau. “We see the purpose of this Lean Innovation Series as demonstrating that any business – from any sector, at any size or stage of their journey – can and should learn to think innovatively.

“It’s not always about inventing a new product from whole cloth, or revolutionising an industry. For the series we spoke to innovators from all walks of life to show how they considered and developed their offering over time, and how any business owner could do the same by familiarising themselves with a few fundamental principles.”

The programme is designed to offer a grounding in innovation theory and practice that could be applied in any business – from a sole trader or contractor building their enterprise, to management teams in larger companies looking to refresh their skillset.

Some of the businesses that have shared their journeys to success for the series include highway construction company Roadways, women’s sexual wellness company Knude Society and online art retailer King & McGaw.

James Bailey and Victoria Vasilauskaite explain how they went about bringing fresh talent, cutting-edge R&D and sustainable practices into a 50-year-old business since acquiring Roadways five years ago.

“When we got into the construction industry, a lot of what we found was against our personal values,” says Victoria. “The way people are treated, the way the environment is treated, the lack of innovation…a lot of the change started with us finding a way to enjoy what we do.”

“The change we’re looking for is for clients to recognise that the cheapest price doesn’t always give them the most value,” continues James. “With the cheapest price you can’t afford to hire a graduate chemist and cut CO2. You can’t even afford to have a strategic conversation and say ‘actually, have you thought about doing it this way, because you might save 20%?’”

Meanwhile, a conversation between the founders of independent sex store Lust! and online sexual wellness company Knude Society highlights the value of understanding and responding to changing trends in your sector. Sex-positive attitudes and discussion of female pleasure have become more normalised – first, gradually over more than 15 years, and then again, rapidly, during the pandemic.

“When we opened Lust!, the way sex is portrayed in here didn’t exist out there,” says co-founder, Calandra Balfour. “It was either a closed sex shop that was aimed and targeted towards men, or a ‘frills and frou-frou’ boutique. I just wanted somewhere that was fresh and fun, because that’s how I see sex… It’s that constant entrepreneurial thing of looking at the market to see what’s missing – am I being spoken to, am I getting what I want?”

“Most companies saw a 60% rise in revenue over the first couple of lockdowns,” continues Emma Brown of Knude Society. “People have opened the door to this conversation, they’ve been willing to test the waters on social media and speak on sexual wellness. There’s no other thing that’s been like it in the last 50, 60 years in terms of sex innovation.”

If you’re a registered business with an address in East Sussex, you can register for the Lean Innovation Series completely free of charge here.

This project is funded by the UK Government through the UK Community Renewal Fund.

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