Sussex Innovation

Last year, we made our bid to the UK Community Renewal Fund to support the East Sussex business community in its recovery from the turbulence of the past few years. Rather than simply repackaging the work that we already do with innovative start-ups, we wanted to make sure that we designed a programme for the whole business community. It’s exciting working with new technology and radical ideas, but we also know that there are hundreds of great small businesses across the county who have very different needs.

We hear a similar story every day, whether it’s from small manufacturers, law firms, retailers or hospitality businesses. SMEs recognise that they need to try new ideas, develop new processes and launch new products in order to stay ahead of the competition. In most cases, however, there are two major barriers – they’re not confident with how to go about it, and they don’t have the time to get started.

With this in mind, we got to work making our Sussex Pioneers series. We wanted to create something that would demystify innovation, offer a training toolkit that would cover all the fundamentals, and be available to anyone, whenever they want to access it.

I’m proud to say that it has now launched; eight films packed with inspiring stories of local innovators, insightful conversations with experts, and impactful ideas to bring into your business. The series is supported with a forum to connect and collaborate with other companies, bitesize innovation canvases to keep track of your plans and weekly live Q&A panels. And it’s completely free – visit to get started!

Every innovation strategy begins with a search for opportunity. Before we can decide what, how and why we are going to innovate, we need to have a full picture of the options open to us. But before we get there, it might be helpful to start with a definition. What exactly is innovation?

Many businesses think they’re not capable of innovating, because they think of it as inventing something entirely new. That’s not the whole truth. In fact, innovation is about successfully creating and capturing value from a new idea. It doesn’t have to be a product – it could be a service, a process or the way a business is positioned.

It doesn’t have to be new to the world – it could be new to a place, or simply new to your organisation. And it doesn’t have to be a radical change – innovation is very often an incremental process.

You might think that most innovation happens on university campuses or in laboratories. But in fact, the most common sources of innovative ideas are your own employees, suppliers and customers.

After that are other perspectives from your industry, such as competitors, consultants, professional bodies and conferences. While radical innovation can often be taken from a different context, incremental innovation usually starts closer to home.

One final thought: it’s only a real opportunity if you can capture the value you create. Think about the assets your business has that your competitors don’t. Is it your brand and reputation, or knowledge that only you have access to? Intellectual property like patents or trademarks? Technical complexity that can’t be easily copied? Or competitive advantages in marketing, production and operations?

Innovation isn’t a single flash of inspiration. It’s a process that involves some guesswork, experimentation and then careful implementation. That’s why you need to build systems involving your whole team to manage it. Innovation can start from anywhere, and to find and harness the right opportunity, you must always be open and receptive to new ideas.

If you’re a registered business with an address in East Sussex, you can register to watch all episodes of Sussex Pioneers completely free of charge at

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

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