Export and Innovation shown as way forward for SMEs

Recently the results of the 2012 Q4 InterTradeIreland Business Monitor were released, which reflects business owners’ views from across the island on performance from October to December 2012.

It was evident from this quarter’s survey that two sectors are outperforming every other industry. The manufacturing and Business Services sectors both demonstrated the strongest sales and both remain most positive going forward. 70 per cent of manufacturing companies reported to be either growing or stable which is in contrast to industries such as construction where 66 per cent of businesses reported to be contracting, surviving at all costs or winding down.

Export At InterTradeIreland, we have always said that innovation and exporting are key to surviving and potentially thriving during the recession. This was emphasised in the results of this survey as the two sectors performing best are the two reported to be most likely to export. However it is clear that the burden of leading economic recovery is falling on too few. Less than 3 in 10 businesses report to be selling abroad. The Business Monitor also highlighted how firms across the island are failing to recognise and exploit the benefits of innovation. We need to get more businesses exporting and indeed innovating.

Innovation Only 2 per cent of businesses surveyed stated that their business strategy focused on being first to market with new innovations and 10 per cent on being innovative in response to customer demand. Around 70 per cent of businesses reported that they had not developed any new products or services in the last few years and 1 in 5 firms believe that they have not had any new customers in the last three years. These statistics are worrying and businesses should look at diversifying into new markets or developing new products or services in order to boost growth.

Our recent survey, ‘Leveraging the Innovation Ecosystem for Business Advantage’, affirmed that innovation is the bedrock for sustained growth and that firms which engage in this practice are three times as successful as those that do not. It is important that firms leverage the resources available to them from outside their business which can act as catalysts for innovation and give businesses a competitive advantage.

These external resources form an open innovation ecosystem which can offer SMEs the potential to source and connect with a wider variety of relevant expertise than is currently available, as well as opening up international opportunities.

Business Support The incidence of SMEs applying for finance last quarter was again very low. However, with the majority of SMEs also reporting they have not heard of Government schemes or are not familiar with the details of initiatives set up across the island to help firms with alternative sources of financial support, more needs to be done to communicate those services and make businesses more receptive to participating.

Innovation and exporting may not be suited to all business types but we would certainly encourage all SMEs to contact InterTradeIreland to better understand the supports we can offer them, particularly in terms of cross border trade and innovation. Their first port of call should be to visit our website at www.intertradeireland.com

InterTradeIreland’s quarterly Business Monitor survey is the largest and most comprehensive business survey on the island covering in both Northern Ireland and Ireland from interviews conducted with more than 1,000 SMEs. It differs from other surveys in the fact that it is seen to be the ‘voice of local businesses’ feeding directly from telephone interviews conducted with a robust sample of businesses across a range of sectors.

A copy of the Executive Summary of the Business Monitor can be viewed at http://www.intertradeireland.com/researchandpublications/publications/name,10778,en.html

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