What are the Pillars of SME Success? Diversity, Leadership, Strategy and The Team
The second annual Skillnet Ireland SME Research Conference took place recently in Dublin. Hosted by Skillnet Ireland in partnership with the College of Business in Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), the annual conference seeks to strengthen the Irish SME sector through the adoption of the latest evidence-based research.
The conference heard contributions from leading business academics from across Ireland and the UK who presented the latest research on subjects such as diversity, growth, strategy, and management development. The aim of this research is to help SMEs improve their bottom line and drive growth in their businesses.
Speaking at the conference, Paul Healy, Chief Executive of Skillnet Ireland, said: “In their most recent country report for Ireland, the OECD highlighted a growing divergence between the productivity of indigenous Irish companies (primarily SMEs) and the multinational operations that are based here. The report observes that there is an opportunity cost also in play here, in that indigenous SMEs are not tapping into the value chains and opportunities that are presented by having such large multi nationals on their doorstep. The OECD have also noted that the low uptake in lifelong learning and management development amongst Irish SMEs as a causal factor in this divergence of productivity”.
Healy added: “Building a culture of lifelong learning in SMEs, and encouraging a greater uptake of management development training by SME owner managers is a considerable challenge that needs a sustained response both a policy level, and by the firms themselves. Skillnet Ireland are making great strides in this space – 15,000 private firms availed of Skillnet Ireland funded training in 2017, 85% of which were SMEs. Skillnet Ireland also offer a bespoke subsidised Management Development programme for SME owner- managers, supporting over 800 owner-managers each year”.
Delegates at the conference heard from Professor Dylan Jones Evans, of the University of South Wales and founder of the Wales Fast Growth 50, an awards programme for the fastest growing 50 firms in Wales. In the last two years firms participating in Wales Fast Growth 50 have generated £268 million of additional sales at an average growth rate of 163 per cent. Evans stated at the conference “that the leaders of fast growing companies all share a clear vision for the future, they know how to build a team and they commit to success through change and innovation.”
Professor in Entrepreneurship at DIT, Thomas Cooney, presented the results of his research on the Entrepreneurial Team. Professor Cooney, challenges the notion of the entrepreneur as a ‘lone hero’ but rather a successful entrepreneur is part of or builds a team around themselves.
The conference also addressed the issue of diversity in entrepreneurship. Professor Maura McAdam, an internationally recognized scholar of entrepreneurship with a particular expertise in gender, shared insights from the Boston Consulting Group that indicate if women and men participated equally as entrepreneurs, global GDP could rise by $1.5 trillion. McAdam asked delegates to challenge normative standards and reflect on unconscious biases in the workplace.
Delegates also heard from Professor James Cunningham, from Northumbria University, on how businesses can learn from failure and how business leadership can prepare for it.
The research presented at the conference has a valuable impact for business and can improve their bottom line when applied in the right way. The conference, which was facilitated by Skillnet Ireland, is the next step in a collaborative process between Skillnet Ireland and DIT that aims to bring valuable research and practical implementation together.
“We are delighted to be part of this conference and to have the opportunity to bring research to the very people who can benefit from it” said Dr Katrina Lawlor, Director and Dean, College of Business at DIT. “Skillnet Ireland have enormous experience working with SMEs and enabling them to release their true potential and through this collaboration the very latest research can be used to benefit the sector. Universities across Ireland carry out work that is internationally recognised but all too often the people in the SME sector do not have the opportunity to avail of it. We want to change that.”
Pictured left to right: Thomas Cooney, Professor in Entrepreneurship at DIT; Lorcán Ó hÓbáin, Skillnet Ireland; Professor Dylan Jones Evans, of the University of South Wales and founder of the Wales Fast Growth 50; Paul Healy, CEO of Skillnet Ireland; Dr. Katrina Lawlor, Director and Dean, College of Business at DIT; Professor James Cunningham, Northumbria University and Paul O’Reilly, Head of Department of Management Studies at DIT.