photograph Professor James Hayton discussing the culture of innovation

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"When we think entrepreneur we often envision a lone hero (or perhaps a dynamic duo) struggling against the odds. It was therefore especially welcome news when, in October 2011, the Barclays Business Regional Impact Index reported entrepreneurs in the North East as the most positive in the country, despite current economic uncertainties. It showed that, in terms of expected future growth, employment generation and profit, confidence has pushed the North East up three places on previous years, even edging out London in terms of expectations for 2012.

"This is good to see in the context of a wider entrepreneurial renaissance in the North East, a region in which new businesses are not limited to coffee houses and barber shops; a significant number of new ventures are being ‘born global’ and engaging actively in export activities.

"Many great new products and services are born out of start-ups, however, they are just as likely to come from within established businesses. Think Virgin, Apple, or Google, for well known examples. In fact, it is the fast-growing, entrepreneurial mid-sized businesses in Britain that account for a significant slice of all new jobs created in this country.

"Since the North East is home to a disproportionate share of the country’s manufacturing businesses, we should also expect to see a larger share of those high-growth mid-sized ventures that serve as the engine for economic renewal. While historically the North East has been a hot bed for innovative activity, in a warning shot to the region, recent surveys have shown a decline. We need to be careful not to allow this decline to continue - much like exercising one’s mind or body, capacity for innovation in business requires continued investment for optimum health.

"In a recent workshop at Newcastle University Business School, corporate participants had an opportunity to evaluate their own organisational environments for supporting entrepreneurship. The clear challenge faced by local companies is in being able to balance the execution of existing business objectives while simultaneously promoting exploration and risk-taking.

"If the secret to success lies in corporate entrepreneurship, it is important to ask, what are these growing firms doing and how can other firms build these capabilities? Our research reveals that the ‘secret sauce’ in entrepreneurial companies comes down to a few elements: the people they hire, the way those people are organised, and the culture that guides them. While typically organisations work to focus on efficiency and execution, entrepreneurial organisations build a degree of rebelliousness and divergent thinking into their DNA. Employees who would be considered mavericks in other organizations become ‘corporate entrepreneurs’ who are empowered to innovate."

The KITE research centre at the Business School is exploring different ways in which businesses in the North can achieve this delicate balancing act. In 2012 KITE will be launching a benchmarking project that examines the entrepreneurial activities of regional businesses. This program will serve as a platform for regional enterprises to better understand their own entrepreneurial potential. If you would like to join the program, contact Professor James Hayton at j.hayton@ncl.ac.uk.

published on: 13th January 2012