Britain’s Next Big Thing

April 20, 2011 at 2:16 pm 5 comments

by Raj Cheema

I am a complete sucker for TV shows that encourage people to come with new ideas or solutions and set up new businesses. Take for example, The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den – I’m addicted. Yesterday evening, I was flicking through the TV channels and came across Britain’s Next Big Thing. The programme basically gives a small number of entrepreneurs a chance to pitch their product to buyers from national retail stores like Boots.

I was particularly taken by the story of one entrepreneur in the programme. She’s a single mum who produced a lotion for her baby daughter because she suffered from bad eczema. She was hugely frustrated by the medicines and lotions prescribed by the doctor and took matters into her own hands in her kitchen . She produced a lotion using natural ingredients that made a huge impact on her daughter’s skin. If I remember correctly – word of mouth marketing and subsequent demand – started to make her think there could be a market for this. So she pitched her product to retail giant Boots and really impressed them by her compelling story. But she was unsuccessful.

The reason why she didn’t get through to the next round? She hadn’t tested the product and there was no ‘claim’ associated with the product (e.g. a claim that this lotion was a cure for eczema or could drastically improve your skin) – something which is heavily regulated in the pharmaceutical industry. She was hugely disappointed because she didn’t have the money to pay for this herself and it wasn’t a cost that Boots were willing to take despite recognising the fact that there was space in the market for this. Their response was: get the testing done, get your claim, and get back in touch with us.

It made me think about those innovators working in the margins and the barriers to innovation they often face to take their work to scale. I had this impression that innovation in the private sector is better supported because ‘the next best thing’ is always something that the private sector is seeking. Therefore, the gamble is worth taking. But may be this isn’t entirely the case (- and I need to stop thinking that the private sector has all the solutions). Perhaps this is only the case for those working ‘within’ an organisation but not for those working in the ‘margins’. (Even though the literature on innovation repeatedly reinforces the fact that the best radical innovations are those that come from the margins – from outsiders). Perhaps for those working in the ‘margins’, the barriers to innovation in the private sector aren’t very different to the barriers to innovation in the public sector.

Although we’re adamant that the two sectors stand for different values, actually, when it comes to innovation – there’s a lot these mavericks (whether social or non-social focussed) have in common and could learn from each other. I’ve come across a few ‘social’ programmes of work that tend to look to the private sector for support and advise. And here’s a case of a maverick who could probably learn a great deal from the social mavericks trying to innovate our public services – because when it comes to dealing with regulations – I’m sure they have a lot of wisdom to share.

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NESTA Hot Topics: Care and Communication – The future of telehealthcare What can we learn from jury service about engagement with public services?

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Claire McEneaney  |  April 20, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Great post Raj – sounds like she needs the health version of Deborah Meaden to come in and fund the development and testing of her product!

    I think you are spot on – barriers for people entering the mainstream from the fringe, regardless of what sector or industry, can be huge and derailing. Think about the band playing in someone’s garage with a great sound, but not being able to get a record contract because they don’t have the right connections or insider knowledge.

    I’d like to see more mentoring of such ‘fringe’ work – perhaps the lady with the eczema cream would benefit from a mentor who knows exactly how to get the right testing done in a way that it easy and cost-effective. Festivals of Ideas for the pharmaceutical industry?!

    Reply
  • 2. Alex  |  April 20, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Raj

    There is a Cabinet Office competition here.

    https://www.innovationlaunchpad.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/Page/Home

    Here’s a recent claim from one bid

    Our estimate is approximately £2,310 public finance saving for every £1 spent.

    Reply
  • 3. Raj  |  April 20, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Thank you both for your comments.

    I have heard about the Innovation Launch Pad backed by the Cabinet Office. Admittedly, (and perhaps somewhat naively?) my concern is that the launchpad is aimed at SME’s – and my understanding is that SME’s generally tend to be from the private sector. If this is the case, then I think that’s a real shame because it would be great for a programme to support innovative ideas from different sectors (not just industry) to learn from one another – imagine the potential of such learning. So many programmes of work are focussed on supporting either ‘social’ ideas or ‘profit-based’ ideas for the private sector. May be there has been one but I don’t know about it.

    Surely, creating the space for both kinds of innovators the chance to learn from one another would be more beneficial if we are thinking about a Big ‘Society’? – the chance to challenge and learn from one another? It’s so depressing going to ‘social’ events where there are workshops held by private sector organisations who think Big Society is about getting rid off the ‘them’ and ‘us’ attitude between the public/private sectors – engaging the community isn’t part of their remit!

    Reply
  • 4. janie McGeoch  |  May 3, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    I was also very impressed.
    Does ant one remember the product name, or more info, as I would like to get intouch with the lady and purchase her product.
    janiemcg@hotmail.com

    Reply
  • 5. asif  |  June 4, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    i really need to know this ladys product as i am fed up with using prescription products which are useless please if anyone has any details for her email me at jonny07845@yahoo.co.uk

    Reply

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