Following the first phase of ‘Idea Generation’ in the Innovation Value Chain, The Innovation Management Series continues with this article addressing the second phase. This phase is called Idea Conversion. It is about taking concepts that have been sourced by an organisation, vetting them for funding and developing them into products or practices. This phase precedes the third phase where those products and practices are diffused, which will be addressed in article four of this series of articles.
Successful innovation processes, be they about new product development, service innovation or business innovation, all have one thing in common: they create something fundamentally new that resonates with consumers and the business. If innovative ideas fail to make connections that resonate with customers and the business, they are unlikely to receive any consideration, let alone funding from the company.
The key input into the selection of ideas which the company will commit resources to is its ideas bank (the output of what the previous article discussed – idea generation phase). A company’s ideas bank would be is a space, either physical or virtual, where people put forward ideas to be advanced by decision makers. Having acknowledged that innovation sources are not always Research and Development (R&D) labs of companies, your company may have decided to follow an open innovation approach, sourcing ideas from its external environment (e.g customers, business partners, start-up companies, and so forth). This innovation idea generation process is not some stand-alone process; it needs to be integrated into a selection and development lifecycle. Thus, two key aspects of the idea conversion phase are selection and development.
Those that have operated in the innovation space would concur that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to idea selection. Your selection method, however, does need to fit with your organisational culture and be transparent for those involved, especially you budding intrapraneurs (entrepreneurs within your company).
From what I have seen in my experience with corporates, a successful transformation of innovation inputs (ideas) to outputs (products & services that will deliver sustainable and, to a great extent, profitable business growth) requires a number of things. I’ll just touch on three aspects: Criteria to help you score business ideas based on their suitability; Screening process; and multi-functional selection team.
A typical first step in the screening process is to develop the selection criteria for evaluating the ideas. Formulating the criteria is to be done prior to the generation of ideas and must consider things like the objectives and limitations of the screening (time, cost, capability, available information, etc.), flow of ideas, product development process, and success factors.
The need to be some sort of a weighting approach where, for example, the criteria is weighted according to importance. There is usually some sort of an initial screening stage and more advanced stage(s). In the initial stage the selection criteria can be divided according to “must” and “want” (considering strategic alignment, feasibility, project size and other company specific criteria) criteria. Ideas that make it to the second screening can then be extensively evaluated based on, for instance, “should” criteria. Such crieteria may include factors like expected project success and profitability, product advantage, fit with corporate resources and market factors, product uniqueness, market and technological feasibility of the idea, organizational-fit, time to develop, as well as costs, profitability and investments required.
The screening and evaluation process:
The idea selection process will take different forms in different organisations. However, I’ve also observed that companies with a more formalised process would typically have a stage-gate flow model of selecting & developing new products and services. They would also implement idea classification and management software. Some have gone on to toy with the idea of implementing the concept of Innovation Coach where all ideas are sent for final screening. There are always pros and cons for each approach. The salient point to consider is that companies need to avoid the trap of starting with a tool (idea classifier & management software) but instead need to first consider their strategies, objectives and culture, and then find a tool that works in its unique context.
Additionally, there needs to be some sort of screening method adopted. This may be a quantitative or qualitative method, or even a combination of both. I would argue that a simple qualitative method is better utilised early on in the screening process to sort out the obvious “misfits” and the more quantitative ones later on in the process when more information is available.
Innovation literature is not short of frameworks for the process of idea screening and evaluation. As a start, I’d suggest to stick with a simple three-stage framework of initial selection that draws from your idea pool, categorization of ideas into clusters based on pre-defined criteria (perhaps using idea classification and management software), development an idea portfolio from the clusters.
No matter how sound the selection process is and how good the criteria is, the idea selection team always has to have the final say. Unfortunately, I have seen selection teams often end up being staffed by persons who have creative people that know (or care) very little about customer and markets, managers who are less in touch with innovation and technology trends; and in most cases team members who who have scant understanding of finance. In my view, the success of innovation hinges on the balance between creativity and commercial acumen. It goes without saying that idea selection teams neeed to to be capable, open minded and multi-functional team. Such a team should typically include lines of business, finance, sales & marketing, R&D, etc., creative people, that will offer different perspectives and key information before resources can be committed on an idea. Whether ideas should be screened one by one or in groups, it is this team that woud have the responsibility to analyze ideas at different stages of the screening process. Although development of the selected ideas may not be the responsibilitiy of the selection team, it becomes necessary that the team contrinues to work with development and commercialization teams.
Lastly, development strategies may take different approaches. For example, your organisation may find value in prototyping once an idea has passed the screening and evaluation stage. Prototyping involves realising the design in a physical form, though at a small scale. The prototype demonstrates capabilities in visual form and provides evidence of the product’s performance; an essential step to prove that the product works before further investing on it. From the prototype, the company would need to re-evaluate the idea and decide to either ‘kill’ it or allow the designs to be further refined in its normal product development life-cycle. Once development is done, we hit the last phase of the Innovation Value Chain discussed in the previous articles of this Innovation Management Series, Idea Diffusion.
Why invest for the future
AN investment plan forms a critical pillar of a financial plan, says Tokiso Nthebe, a local author and financial services adviser.
Nthebe, the founder of TKO Financial Wellness and Advisory, says when people invest, they can use their money to buy assets that will increase in value over the long term.
He says these assets can help them build wealth.
“When you invest, your money starts to work for you by providing returns that will beat inflation,’’ Nthebe says.
Nthebe says there is a huge difference between saving and investing.
He says investing requires that you take some level of risk in exchange for an expected return or growth.
Nthebe says Basotho should consider many factors before they decide to start investing.
“It is important to have a clear strategy that guides your investment decisions and to work with qualified professionals,” he says.
Nthebe says one should consider their growth mind-set, investment goals, and their risk tolerance.
In addition, one should consider what kind of growth or return they expect.
He says one should find out whether the institution they invest in is licensed or regulated and how long one should invest.
Nthebe says one should further consider what risks are associated with the investment option and whether there are any associated costs.
He says it is also important to remember that investments take time.
“There are no short cuts to building wealth. Do not fall prey to get-rich-quick schemes,” he says.
Moreover, Nthebe says the investment landscape comprises commercial banks, asset management companies, and insurance companies.
He says each provides different financial products and services.
Nthebe says the Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL) also offers investment solutions such as treasury bills and treasury bonds that Basotho can consider.
Depending on your investment goals, he says financial service providers have a wide range of investment solutions to choose from that cater for short, medium, and long-term goals.
“I encourage Basotho to do thorough research and seek professional advice before making financial decisions,” he says.
Vince Shorb, the United States National Financial Educators Council CEO, writes that “many of the financial problems people face today started when they were young and making their first financial decisions”.
Shorb further says taking on too much debt, not investing early, and failing to plan can take one decades to recover from such.
However, it takes financial literacy to make good decisions, he says.
Financial literacy has been perceived as a tool that gives you the opportunity to be confident and empowered to live the quality of life you have worked hard for.
Shorb says one of the wisest decisions one can make to prepare for the future is to invest.
Investment has been defined as the commitment of funds with a view to minimising risk and safeguarding capital while earning a return.
When Covid-19 hit and the government shut down all gatherings in April 2020, there seemed no way out for ICONICS (Pty) Ltd, a budding events management company based in Leribe district.
They had two options: shut down or innovate to keep the business going.
They chose the latter.
Three years down the line, ICONICS (Pty) Ltd has completely transformed itself from an events management and public relations company into a manufacturing company that is now the envy of Lesotho.
“The closing of events translated into the closing of our business,” Rapitso Mosebetsi, one of the co-founders of ICONICS (Pty) Ltd told thepost this week.
Mosebetsi established ICONICS in partnership with Tumo Mahapa.
Faced with collapse, Mosebetsi say they began buying Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) such as surgical gowns, disposal coveralls and safety apparel for resale.
Eventually they decided to manufacture the PPEs and safety clothing. That was the turning point.
But since the company was already down, Mosebetsi says diversification was a hard nut to crack.
“It became quite a long journey (for us),” he says. “We had to come up with something new for the industry.”
He says they had to overcome stiff competition from giant companies and come up with something unique that would set them apart.
“That was how thermal heating apparel was born,” he says.
“We are the first company to produce thermal heating apparel,” he says.
The company manufactures thermal clothing, which is electric clothing, using power banks of five voltages.
“The voltage is so low to electrocute a person,” he says.
The clothing also has a power button to turn it on and off.
Mosebetsi says the thermal heating apparel is on corporate clothing as well as high-visibility clothing.
Mosebetsi says they started the journey with the support of several organisations, such as the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) and the Basotho Enterprises Development Corporation (BEDCO), to build their capacity.
Mosebetsi says they also got mentorship support from organisations such as the Global Entrepreneurship Network.
The results of years of hard work are now all out for everyone to see.
In 2022, ICONICS won the M100 000 Business Plan Competition hosted by BEDCO.
This grant enabled them to acquire land and buy five more industrial machines.
This did not only enable the company to increase their production to 100 worksuits a week, but it further created permanent jobs for five people as well as three temporary workers.
Last year, the company took part in the Exporter of the Year event hosted by the LNDC in partnership with the Lesotho Post Bank and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Mosebetsi says they won the award for Lesotho’s most innovative and versatile exporter.
He says this did not only put them in the spotlight, but it further encouraged them to do more.
ICONICS was announced as the best exporter of the year at an event hosted by the LNDC earlier this month.
Mosebetsi says this made them proud, as the award is aligned with their vision.
The award further gives the company an opportunity to participate in the regional competition.
He says this opportunity will further give the company a competitive edge in terms of production locally and globally.
“It will be an honour if we can win the regional competition,” he says.
In terms of markets, Mosebetsi says the company has had the opportunity to list their products in the African Trade Market since 2020 with the support of USAID.
This is an e-commerce platform that opens up the market for African countries to list their products.
Mosebetsi says the company did not only get publicity, but the client database also increased.
He says they moved from supplying individuals only to big companies, different organisations, and different government departments such as those involved in mining and health.
Considering the decline of the Lesotho textile industry, Mosebetsi says their secret to success has been their being innovative.
“Our sustainability is matched with innovation,” he says.
Mosebetsi says it also requires patience coupled with lots of investment in terms of time.
“Rome was not built in one day,” he says.
He says working as a team also plays a critical role.
Despite their achievements, Mosebetsi says the market for innovative industries is one of the hardest nuts to crack.
He says the company is in the process of not only making their products known but also educating people about their safety.
Mosebetsi says the other challenge is the decline of the South African Rand as compared to the US Dollar.
He says some of their materials are sourced from China.
Therefore, it is more expensive to buy such materials.
ICONICS is not only seeking to make their brand well known globally, but Mosebetsi says they are also seeking to create more jobs for our youths.
LetsGo and Win!
LETSHEGO Financial Service has launched the LetsGo and Win loan consolidation campaign where customers win weekly and monthly cash prizes of up to M150 000.
The campaign, which was launched yesterday, will end on November 8.
The LetsGo and Win campaign rewards customers for consolidating their loans.
It is aligned with Letshego Lesotho’s version to offer competitive products that cater for the evolving needs of its customers.
The financial services company operates in Lesotho, Botswana, ESwatini, and Zambia.
The Marketing Manager and Business Partner, Tšotetsi Seema, said Letshego Lesotho is committed to delivering increasing value and options to customers.
Seema said this programme is a testament to that commitment.
“The campaign invites customers to consolidate their loans into one low and easy repayment with reduced rates and they stand to win weekly and monthly prizes,” Seema said.
“The weekly cash prizes will be won by lucky customers randomly selected and notified through Letshego Radio shows,” he said.
Additionally, he said two lucky customers will be randomly selected each month and given a chance to spin the wheel of fortune with a chance to receive a maximum of M20 000 each.
“The loans consolidation campaign makes it easier for customers to choose Letshego Lesotho as their preferred financial services partner.”
He said this innovative campaign aims to help individuals streamline their debt payment while benefiting from reduced interest rates.
“Debt consolidation can help customers get a lower monthly payment, pay off their debt sooner, increase their credit score and simplify their life.”
Letshego Lesotho’s Head of Sales, Distribution and Marketing, Motebang Moeketsi, said managing multiple loans can often be overwhelming with varying interest loans due dates and terms.
“The campaign addresses this challenge by combining multiple loans into a single, easy to manage repayment plan,” Moeketsi said.
He added that this simplification not only eases the financial burden on borrowers but also potentially leads to significant savings over time.
Moreover the new consolidation campaign invites customers to take advantage of their best-in-class financial services provided through Letshego Lesotho branch network and digital platforms.
“Letshego Lesotho is committed to increasing financial inclusion through its efforts to serve underbanked communities, promoting financial literacy and delivering positive social impacts for its customers and communities.”
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