If you want to stand out, think differently

Lakshmi Kothaneth – lakshmiobserver@gmail.com – Innovation is a way of thinking, said an expert on innovation. It was a team of people throwing ideas at each other. The person who said this was the Director of National Innovation Strategy Project, Dr Shariffa al Harthiya.
She drew attention once again when she said, “Social innovation is more important than technological innovation because we have job-seekers.”
“Mothers at home can be socially innovative. A lot of Omani women have found a niche market for their traditional cooking. The rural women who own cattle have been coming up with dairy products. If these women can come together, they can reach another level all together. Innovation can be in everything,” Dr Shariffa said.
Someone, somewhere is always thinking differently that makes them stand out. And innovation leads to entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurs need more than ideas. Tom Strodbeck from Strodbeck & Company Limited, who was in Oman for the Incubation Conference, deals with startups in 38 countries.
According to him, entrepreneurship is a challenging thing to go into and lot of it is cultural. If we look at graduates, parents want them to go into professions – doctors, lawyers or government workers, which is consistent everywhere.
There are a lot of successful entrepreneurs who are 40 years and above. There is also a concern for retirement and children’s education at that time and that is also universal too, he says.
Whatever the age, there is always a concern for entrepreneurs and that is the fund. “There is a general concept that there is a lack of money for entrepreneurs. This is common throughout the world,” Strodbeck said.
Family-owned businesses and succession is important issue because in Oman traditionally it has been family businesses that have withstood time. However, the dynamics in this area too are changing.
Worldwide, Strodbeck found most of the family business owners were not tech-enabled, while their children are, because they grew up on Facebook, Instagram and so on. Accordingly, they have much more technological orientation.
“The succession is going to be interesting because there are old businesses everywhere and how they are going to evolve is going to be important,” said Strodbeck.
“On the other side, some kids do not want to take up family businesses because they want to something on their own. How that is going to work out is going to be very exciting particularly in Oman because statistics show less than 10 per cent of family-owned businesses in Oman have a web presence.”
While technology has both advantages and disadvantages, it does not matter whether you are going to be innovative in family business or start an independent project. Because challenges are universal.
In the case of Oman, demographics highlight one of the challenges that can also prove to be an advantage. Oman’s population is young. It has been highlighted time and again the need to make opportunities for young population outside the government.
As for the SMEs, this is his advice: “You have a job and that is to figure out what people want and determine if there is a way to make it in a way that is profitable. If it is possible, then make it profitable and scalable, and then you can grow a big business.”
He wants them to prove to investors there are people who would want to buy what you make, be it food or technology.
So how do we define scalability? “The outputs are substantially greater than the inputs. Lot of software are scalable because they can be one thing, but can sell a million,” said Strodbeck.
What is the most important trait an entrepreneur should have? The answer is optimism. “They would, most of the time believe, next year is going to be better than this year. Universally, they believe there is a better tomorrow,” he concluded.