We're in a new Dragon's Den economy

Employers need to realise this.

As the new series of Dragons’ Den starts, creative ideas and business innovations are once again entering our living rooms every Sunday night. From the genius to the outright insane, budding entrepreneurs pitch for their business and battle in the den to get that all important investment. But this process is not just confined to our TV sets, it is happening all over the UK. With the government investing more money into its Start-Up Loans scheme, the prospect of starting your own business and becoming an entrepreneur is increasingly stronger.

At this year’s World Economic Forum, entrepreneurship was regarded as a major factor that will improve economic prosperity and employment figures. Economic studies from around the globe frequently link entrepreneurialism with rapid job creation, GDP growth, and long-term productivity increases. However, it is not just start-ups, new business ideas and government funding that should lead and support such initiatives; existing organisations, particularly larger global enterprises must also encourage entrepreneurial spirit within in order to succeed in today’s challenging economic and trade environment.

Currently, businesses face two dilemmas: they need to make their operations as efficient and cost-effective as possible to run better, while embracing and investing in innovative technologies and processes to drive growth and run differently. These are intrinsically linked, as savings from operational improvements are essential to fund investments in new areas. And, as leading business heads and political figures agree, it is people who will help overcome these problems and boost the economy.

But where does a business begin to tackle these challenges? Firstly, they need to carefully assess the wealth of creative talent throughout their organisation across all geographies. They can do this by having a strong performance management process in place that monitors and records employee progress, key successes and areas for improvement. Organisations can use such information to map specific skills to certain projects, while identifying top performers.

Secondly, it is about being more proactive. Promoting innovation and an entrepreneurial culture internally is imperative; from suggesting new product lines and innovative business ideas to identifying new niche markets to target or ways to foster greater teamwork, employees should be able to share and voice their opinions and work with the right people to develop them.

One way of enhancing this entrepreneurial spirit is to try and maintain a start-up culture – decentralised and proactively pushing opportunities and accountabilities further down the organisation (otherwise known as a bottom-up approach). This will help encourage new and existing talent to stay within the company long-term. If they can spot opportunities to really make a difference and be adequately rewarded then they are likely to flourish, much like the winners in the Den.

Adopting and promoting this type of culture is really the way forward. You can not manage talent centrally; you have to give employees the reins to run with specific projects and ideas. For example, businesses could create their own Dragons’ Den by running competitions and projects for individuals or teams to brainstorm new ideas and then present them to the Board. Good ideas can come from anyone within the organisation - it shouldn’t be confined to senior management. However, it is important to remember and make clear that entrepreneurship and innovation does not necessarily need to be the next big idea that will completely change the business. It can be a small incremental change, which is revolutionary and undoubtedly creative in its own right.

Ambitious individuals can also be given the chance to develop their own businesses within the larger enterprise – a model that has worked incredibly well at Cognizant. We restructured our business along three new horizons – traditional service lines, more recent service lines and entirely new areas we wanted to invest in. In forming the latter, we encouraged employees to develop business plans for new products and services, many of which we are now funding. While Cognizant’s process does not make for as good viewing as Dragons’ Den and there are not large piles of cash in the meeting room, it provides the entrepreneurs the opportunity to present ideas and secure investment. This strategy gives them the opportunity to adopt an entrepreneurial role and the freedom to launch and grow a part of the business by themselves. For employees, having this type of empowerment while benefiting from the existing support, client base and infrastructure of the wider business is hugely appealing. They can gain the satisfaction that their ideas and management processes have impacted the business in a positive way, and they have an opportunity to develop and grow their ideas themselves but do not need to put their livelihood on the line by starting an entirely new venture.

Business leaders need to create a work environment that prides itself on its people and skills and uses them to best effect to innovate, increase growth and compete in challenging economic times. If employers limit the opportunities for entrepreneurial talent, employees are likely to take their ideas elsewhere or even start their own businesses. Undoubtedly, more start-ups will boost the economy, but I believe existing companies can really contribute further by encouraging innovation within their organisations. They just need to make sure the entrepreneurial culture is shared and understood by everyone. It is a case of encouraging employees to declare "I’m in", rather than "I’m out".

James Caan. Photogaph: Getty Images

Sanjiv Gossain is the SVP & Managing Director at Cognizant

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An unmatched font of knowledge

Edinburgh’s global reputation as a knowledge economy is rooted in the performance and international outlook of its four universities.

As sociologist-turned US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recognised when asked how to create a world-class city, a strong academic offering is pivotal to any forward-looking, ambitious city. “Build a university,” he said, “and wait 200 years.” He recognised the long-term return such an investment can deliver; how a renowned academic institution can help attract the world. However, in today’s increasingly globalised higher education sector, world-class universities no longer rely on the world coming to come to them – their outlook is increasingly international.

Boasting four world-class universities, Edinburgh not only attracts and retains students from around the world, but also increasingly exports its own distinctively Scottish brand of academic excellence. In fact, 53.9% of the city’s working age population is educated to degree level.

In the most recent QS World University Rankings, the University of Edinburgh was named as the 21st best university in the world, reflecting its reputation for research and teaching. It’s a fact reflected in the latest UK Research Exercise Framework (REF), conducted in 2014, which judged 96% of its academic departments to be producing world-leading research.

Innovation engine

Measured across the UK, annual Gross Value Added (GVA) by University of Edinburgh start-ups contributes more than £164m to the UK economy. In fact, of 262 companies to emerge from the university since the 1960s, 81% remain active today, employing more than 2,700 staff globally. That performance places the University of Edinburgh ahead of institutions such as MIT in terms of the number of start-ups it generates; an innovation hothouse that underlines why one in four graduates remain in Edinburgh and why blue chip brands such as Amazon, IBM and Microsoft all have R&D facilities in the city.

One such spin out making its mark is PureLiFi, founded by Professor Harald Haas to commercialise his groundbreaking research on data transmission using the visible light spectrum. With data transfer speeds 10,000 times faster than radio waves, LiFi not only enables bandwidths of 1 Gigabit/sec but is also far more secure.

Edinburgh’s universities play a pivotal role in the local economy. Through its core operations, knowledge transfer activities and world-class research the University generated £4.9bn in GVA and 44,500 jobs globally, when accounting for international alumni.

With £1.4bn earmarked for estate development over the next 10 years, the University of Edinburgh remains the city’s largest property developer. Its extensive programme of investment includes the soon-to-open Higgs Centre for Innovation. A partnership with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, the new centre will open next year and will supply business incubation support for potential big data and space technology applications, enabling start-ups to realise the commercial potential of applied research in subjects such as particle physics.

It’s a story of innovation that is mirrored across Edinburgh’s academic landscape. Each university has carved its own areas of academic excellence and research expertise, such as the University of Edinburgh’s renowned School of Informatics, ranked among the world’s elite institutions for Computer Science. 

The future of energy

Research conducted into the economic impact of Heriot-Watt University demonstrated that it generates £278m in annual GVA for the Scottish economy and directly supports more than 6,000 jobs.

Set in 380-acres of picturesque parkland, Heriot-Watt University incorporates the Edinburgh Research Park, the first science park of its kind in the UK and now home to more than 40 companies.

Consistently ranked in the top 25% of UK universities, Heriot-Watt University enjoys an increasingly international reputation underpinned by a strong track record in research. 82% of the institution’s research is considered world-class (REF) – a fact reflected in a record breaking year for the university, attracting £40.6m in research funding in 2015. With an expanding campus in Dubai and last year’s opening of a £35m campus in Malaysia, Heriot-Watt is now among the UK’s top five universities in terms of international presence and numbers of international students.

"In 2015, Heriot-Watt University was ranked 34th overall in the QS ‘Top 50 under 50’ world rankings." 

Its established strengths in industry-related research will be further boosted with the imminent opening of the £20m Lyell Centre. It will become the Scottish headquarters of the British Geological Survey, and research will focus on global issues such as energy supply, environmental impact and climate change. As well as providing laboratory facilities, the new centre will feature a 50,000 litre climate change research aquarium, the UK Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas, and the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience.

International appeal

An increasingly global outlook, supported by a bold international strategy, is helping to drive Edinburgh Napier University’s growth. The university now has more than 4,500 students studying its overseas programmes, through partnerships with institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Sri Lanka and India.

Edinburgh Napier has been present in Hong Kong for more than 20 years and its impact grows year-on-year. Already the UK’s largest higher education provider in the territory, more than 1,500 students graduated in 2015 alone.

In terms of world-leading research, Edinburgh Napier continues to make its mark, with the REF judging 54% of its research to be either world-class or internationally excellent in 2014. The assessment singled out particular strengths in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, where it was rated the top UK modern university for research impact. Taking into account research, knowledge exchange, as well as student and staff spending, Edinburgh Napier University generates in excess of £201.9m GVA and supports 2,897 jobs in the city economy.

On the south-east side of Edinburgh, Queen Margaret University is Scotland’s first university to have an on-campus Business Gateway, highlighting the emphasis placed on business creation and innovation.

QMU moved up 49 places overall in the 2014 REF, taking it to 80th place in The Times’ rankings for research excellence in the UK. The Framework scored 58% of Queen Margaret’s research as either world-leading or internationally excellent, especially in relation to Speech and Language Sciences, where the University is ranked 2nd in the UK.

In terms of its international appeal, one in five of Queen Margaret’s students now comes from outside the EU, and it is also expanding its overseas programme offer, which already sees courses delivered in Greece, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

With 820 years of collective academic excellence to export to the world, Edinburgh enjoys a truly privileged position in the evolving story of academic globalisation and the commercialisation of world-class research and innovation. If he were still around today, Senator Moynihan would no doubt agree – a world-class city indeed.

For further information www.investinedinburgh.com