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Innovation key to business survival

So what do Verafin, FONEMED, Dynamic Air Shelters and the Newfoundland Chocolate Company all have in common? Each of these locally owned companies is driven by great leadership and innovative thinkers who are transforming ideas of opportunity into action and results.

Kim Keating is chair of the St. John's Board of Trade.

Experiencing rapid growth, Verafin fraud and money laundering detection software is now in more than 1,100 financial institutions across North America. Last year it landed the biggest cash injection ever for an Atlantic Canadian startup.

FONEMED has evolved from giving clinical advice through the provincial Health Line to providing remote health advice across North America.

Dynamic Air Shelter’s custom-made, inflatable shelters are made for commercial, industrial and military use and their quick-deploying, portable units are shipped to customers all over the world. This business from Grand Bank recently held a job fair to recruit an additional 30 to 40 employees.

Through creative products and designs, the Newfoundland Chocolate Company has grown a hobby into a successful business, expanding into new markets across Canada, including an online store to export their products.

In this rapidly changing world, innovation is key to business success. Technology is advancing at a pace never before experienced in our history. In 20 years, we have gone from early electronic mail to communicating through a multitude of social apps. Our children have not known a world without Google or the Internet. The way Canadians live and work is changing profoundly.

According to a recent Deloitte study, rapid advances in technology are poised to disrupt many of the sectors that anchor Canada’s economy. The impact will be felt across the country and Canadian businesses are not prepared.

Deloitte evaluated business performance in four areas: awareness of changing technologies, organizational culture encouraging innovative behaviour and practices, agility and resources. Only 13 per cent of firms were highly prepared for disruption in their business due to new technologies, and 35 per cent — more than one in three — were unprepared.

A Statistics Canada study of innovation among Canadian firms, more than one-third — representing $740 billion of the country’s GDP — describe themselves as non-innovative, and in the same study, only one-quarter of those firms said their goods and services were unique with few or no substitutes. This means most businesses produce items or services that can be replicated or superseded by competitors.

Both studies should serve as a wake-up call.

Newfoundland and Labrador is a comparatively small, export-driven economy in an increasingly competitive world with a population that continues to decline. So how can we become more innovative?

It starts with leadership. Innovation needs to be part of every organization’s strategic planning process, and we need to start by investing more in research and development now to prepare our businesses for the future. Business leaders who promote a culture of innovation within their organizations will have a better chance of competing, and surviving.

To be innovative, business must embrace change and accept risk. Know what makes your company stand out from the competition, and build on it. Setting performance metrics and targets to continually evaluate performance will help ensure you are progressing at the same pace, or faster, than your competitors.

We need to work with educational institutions to ensure that our future business leaders have the skills required to help grow our economy. And we need to increase our international presence; we have the talent and ideas to compete on the world stage.

May 19-22 is Innovation Week, and this year the St. John’s Board of Trade will join representatives from leading industry groups, educational institutions and business to highlight the incredible people and things happening here in Newfoundland and Labrador. Information and events can be found online at

I am looking forward to joining the NATI Knowledge Summit panel May 20 which will focus on the Innovation Highway: What Direction is Next?

We will also welcome Gov. Gen. David Johnston, who will discuss his perspective on leadership and innovation in Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada, at a Board of Trade luncheon on May 22.

Harvard University professor Michael Porter once said, “Innovation is the central issue in economic prosperity.” I couldn’t agree more. Innovation must be more than a buzzword — it’s an attitude that needs to be embraced, encouraging dynamic, creative thinking in developing new products, services and business models and driving a culture of responsiveness, resilience and relevance.

There are always better ways to do things, whether you are in Silicon Valley or the Humber Valley. Whether it’s small process improvements that increase efficiency, an exciting new product or a major overhaul that steps up your productivity, innovation can help you take your company to the next level. Seize the opportunity to be an innovator and drive your company’s growth.

Kim Keating is the 2015 chair of the St. John’s Board of Trade.

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