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Spotlight on... Brian Gregory

06 September 2017

Brian Gregory, Managing Director of Safety Management (UK) and an Entrepreneur in Residence at Lancaster University Management School will be delivering content on the topic of Open Innovation as part of the new Innovation Development Programme

What does your company do?

Primarily we undertake fire risk assessments, with the majority of our work in retail and housing. We are the largest independent provider in the UK - we’re doing 5,000 fire risk assessments this year. Our main competitors tend to be multinational companies.

Can a business be naturally innovative?

Innovations often come through problems, so it’s about creating something like a no-blame culture, where people can voice opinions. I’ve always been a fan of getting people to contribute silly ideas - because once you’ve pulled it apart and put it back together, it’s not silly any more.

Has your business benefited from that kind of thinking?

We used to give clients printed fire risk assessments or PDFs, but they were unable to interact with them. So we developed software that allows us to complete the assessments online. A client can now interrogate these - perhaps isolating all the fire door problems across 500 properties. And this came from one of our graduates showing us something they were doing for another project.

How long have you been involved with the Management School?

Since 2006. Having been in business for four years, I realised it was going nowhere fast and I needed some development. The leaflet for LEAD dropped through the door and I went on this ten-month programme. I’ve now been involved in a number of programmes. I’ve had student projects and I’ve also delivered teaching and mentoring for postgraduate and undergraduate students.

How did you become involved in the new Innovation Development Programme?

I attended something called the Berkeley Innovation Forum across in Silicon Valley. I’ve been twice now, gaining teaching/learning experience of Open Innovation, which is a concept that originated out there. I was able to use this to inform the programme, from the perspective of what SMEs want.

So what exactly is Open Innovation?

It’s an understanding that not one of us has all the answers - that the people around us, our supply chain, our customers, also have solutions. It’s about ring-fencing these people to support what you’re trying to deliver and creating a safe environment in which you can all innovate together. Because if organisations don’t work together in an open fashion, all they’ll continue to do is what they’ve always done and all they’ll get out is what they’ve always got out.

What sparked your interest in Open Innovation?

I suppose it came from how we work with our competitors. Many have also become customers. If they get complex work, or too much work, they’ll use us as a supplier. So then it’s about managing the relationship – about not being afraid to say to somebody ‘I need some help with this, can you help?’ because very often they can and they want to.

What topics will you be covering on the new Innovation Development Programme?

I’m going to be exploring how Open Innovation techniques can help SMEs to look outside of their business to develop new ways of working. We’re going to use the KRILL model: Key Objectives (what do you want from this and what do the other participants in the game want from it?); Relationships (because creating trust and mutual respect is critical); Information; then Liaison, which is how the practical element of communicating the information is undertaken; and finally Leverage – the ‘what’s in it for me?’.

And what’s in it for the SMEs attending this programme?  

It’s a chance to take time out of the business to develop new ideas and explore new opportunities. The Open Innovation content, which I will be delivering, will help SMEs to create better relationships with customers, suppliers, potentially with other delegates on the programme. But it’s about creating meaningful relationships that will generate an outcome they want – be that technical or financial.

The programme is part of the Cumbria Innovations Platform – do you see it contributing to the wider goal of supporting the commercialisation of new ideas?

Absolutely. The concept of Open Innovation supporting Cumbrian businesses is a fantastic opportunity – seeing and understanding how innovation is run in Silicon Valley and how that can be brought to Cumbria.

How important to SMEs is innovation?

It’s vital, because SMEs are the ones with the ability to be innovative. They’re not afraid to make changes. The mindset in large companies is to protect themselves, so they don’t like moving quickly, but smaller firms have the ability to do that. It’s imperative, if they’re going to survive, that they have one eye on ‘how can I do things differently?’.

And how important to SMEs is this kind of support?

It makes a significant difference, because it’s a chance for SMEs to interact with academic research that’s being brought into a commercial forum – and in doing that they’ll almost certainly find that they will generate better financial results for themselves in the future.

 

The Innovation Development Programme starts 19 October, and has been specifically designed for senior decision makers of Cumbrian SMEs. Applications are now open. This programme is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and available to ERDF eligible companies. 

For more information, or to apply contact Pete Cornwall at p.cornwall@lancaster.ac.uk or 01524 510728.