Xavier Marcet:"When it comes to innovating you have to distinguish between ideas and business opportunities"

Interview with Xavier Marcet, president of the consultancy firm LTC Project

Turning an idea into an innovative, profitable project: this is the challenge companies face when they want to pursue innovation to boost their competitiveness. Marcet, a speaker at an innovation congress organised by the Barcelona Food Cluster Association, explains the keys to the process.

Q- You have to be somewhat creative to innovate, don’t you?
A- Yes, but you shouldn’t confuse innovation with creativity. Innovation is more than that. It is creativity plus the ability to execute projects that have a positive impact and at the earliest opportunity in the operating account.

Q- So it isn’t enough just to have lots of ideas...
A- You have to distinguish between ideas and business opportunities. Obviously ideas are the raw material for innovation and we often work with them. But all of these ideas should pass an initial filter so that we end up choosing the ones that can be adapted to our strategic challenges, bring something different to our customers, have a positive impact on our business’s operating account and so on.

Q- Is it worth looking at what the competition is doing to get innovating ideas?
A- The competition is always a point of reference and we ought to look at what they are doing because often we can improve on innovations that our competitors have already introduced. Being innovative isn’t exactly the same as being pioneering; however, I would point out that it is about much more than copying.

Q- And then once we’ve chosen the ideas, what do we do?
A- This is when strategic ideas can become opportunities. However, these opportunities should be developed, tested and perfected. In short, they need to mature and be put to work before they become a truly innovative project.

Q- It’s like pouring ideas through a funnel!
A- The process is often called the funnel of innovation and it enables us to reduce risks.

Q- Apart from being methodical, what else should an innovative business have?
A- It’s important to understand that innovation is another way of developing your strategy, and above all a company must commit to making it a systematic part of that strategy that will boost competitiveness.

Q- Is innovation potential related to a company’s size?
A- It shouldn’t be a determining factor. Medium-sized enterprises can be very flexible because they have less structure than the industry behemoths. It’s true that they will have fewer resources, but if they make up for that with passion and effort the results can be spectacular.

Q- Why should a business commit to innovation?
A- Because it is a way of making a company stand out from its competitors from the customers’ standpoint. If there is no differentiation we can obviously only compete on price, and that is something which always involves a reduction of margins.

Q- Is there much margin left for innovation in a traditional sector like fresh produce?
A- Innovation works on mature markets too, such as the case of fresh food. Someone decided years ago to fresh-pack washed, ready-cut vegetables to create the line of pre-prepared salads that everyone sells these days. Neither market limitations nor maturity should be impediments to innovation.

Q- What do you think about the agreements Mercabarna has signed with Catalan science parks and institutions that promote R&D, or the innovative initiatives the Food Cluster Association fosters?
A- This is the right path, because what Mercabarna is doing with these actions is shoring up the food-sector innovation system in Catalonia. I think it is essential for sectors players like Mercabarna to help support this ecosystem and provide increasingly more value groups to their activity.

Q- Could you give Mercabarna businesses a recommendation?
A- First, that they think about which part of their present revenue comes from relatively new products, services or business models. If they don’t like the answer, they should begin to look at their innovation challenges and coach themselves to come up with ideas and develop and apply them. Discipline and training are required in order to innovate.