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Sponsored post: Creative ingenuity, the building block for entrepreneurial success

Salford Business School: Celebrating the creative ingenuity of our SMEs.

History shows us that the Schumpeterian winds of creative destruction lay waste to the old and present opportunities for the new. It is creativity that sees opportunity, enterprise that exploits opportunity, and business ingenuity that delivers innovation to customers. Creativity is therefore an essential but often overlooked key ingredient in the recipe of improving economic advantage.

In the UK, the tough economic conditions have illustrated an increasing propensity for us, as a nation, to be more enterprising. Business formations are up, with currently 4.9 million private sector businesses, an increase of around 1.5 million since 2000. 4.7 million of these businesses are micro; started by both innovation-focussed entrepreneurs – developing new products and services, and necessity entrepreneurs – those which attempt to create wealth through unfavourable personal economic conditions. Also, an encouraging trend is the growing number of enterprises ran by female entrepreneurs, with around 40% of SMEs led or jointly led by women. Systemically, we are not quite as enterprising as our US counterparts, but it illustrates an increasing capacity for entrepreneurship through economic adversity, certainly beyond many European countries. In fact, in the UK’s North West we have seen an increasing appetite for business formation, as the only region to have double-digit growth in the number of businesses formed between 2012-13.

Supporting and sustaining a more enterprising culture is essential to our long-term economic prosperity, and universities have a key role in this arena. Mirroring a growing enterprise culture in the UK, over the last two years Salford Business School has seen around a 45% growth in enquiries, support, and knowledge exchange projects that focus on SMEs, including charities and social enterprises – numbering some 3,500 p.a. This is coupled with graduates increasingly seeing start-ups or local SMEs as attractive employers – offering a diverse range of projects and responsibilities. More than 40% of our students go on to work for SMEs, which also illustrates a growing receptiveness for SMEs to shape the skills and attributes of graduates, when historically this used to be the preserve of larger businesses. This requires universities to adapt their educational content to deliver the right technical, and often specialist knowledge, but also develop distinctive competencies in students that are valued by employers – enabling graduates to make a more immediate contribution to an SME’s success.

At Salford Business School we have taken several steps to support this. One, which is proving particularly attractive to businesses, are our student projects, in which a student (or group of students) work on a pressing issue where a company wants a fresh perspective, with the aim of yielding interesting insights. With the support of an academic in an appropriate field, the student explores creative solutions – something they are naturally good at. Students are also strong in basic research, having the time and techniques to mine data, with the aim of seeking patterns or making connections beyond what may be immediately obvious. However, the bootstrapped nature of SMEs requires some ingenuity – finding a solution that can be implemented with very limited funding or investment. The Business School has many examples of projects which have brought a wholly different solution to a company’s issues. Examples include a media campaign for Morson Group Ltd, which achieved over 100,000 views on their YouTube channel for 22 video clips produced. ENER-G PLC, ran an internal awareness campaign, culminating in a training video featuring a Johnny Depp lookalike.

Salford Business School works with companies both in the UK and overseas for student projects. If you are an SME, or indeed a large company, and would like a fresh perspective to your businesses challenges, then please see

Dr Kurt Allman,  Associate Dean Enterprise & Engagement

A year on from the Spending Review, the coalition's soothsayer has emerged to offer another gloomy economic prognosis. Asked by ITV News whether he could promise that there wouldn't be a double-dip recession, Vince Cable replied: "I can't do that.

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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.