Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

  • About 97 per cent of businesses in Australia are SMEs, delivering $330 billion of the nation’s economic output.
  • They employ about 4.5 million people – almost three-quarters of the Australian workforce.

  • Australia’s SMEs invest about $5 billion a year in research and development.
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers says $49.2 billion of economic potential could be unlocked if SMEs transformed their operations using mobile and internet technologies.

"Smaller businesses definitely have the edge when it comes to embracing the new. Business innovation also benefits the wider community – so it’s little wonder the buzz about it just keeps getting louder."

Innovation is a business buzzword with good reason. It drives success on all levels of business, from product to processes and people. While big businesses may sometimes struggle to innovate, experience shows naturally nimble smaller players invariably outstrip them.

As Virgin founder Richard Branson told Virgin Media Business: “Small businesses are nimble and bold and can teach larger companies a thing or two about innovations that can change entire industries.”

Cargo Crew

Faster, leaner, better

Smaller businesses have the edge, and here’s why: it’s easier for them to be entrepreneurial and seize opportunities or make changes on the spot, without having to consult a raft of decision-makers.

They can keep their operations agile and lean, act on ideas and allocate resources quickly. Creative thinking can be encouraged across the whole business, giving employees permission to try new things. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously told the SXSW conference in 2009 that companies in the early days need to “move fast and break things”. “At the end of the day, the goal of building something is to build something, not to not make mistakes.”

The tech connection

Innovation is not only determined by the way the operators of small to medium enterprises (SMEs) think, but also by the way they embrace technology. A report by BCG, Ahead of the Curve, shows that SMEs which are early technology adopters increase revenues 15 per cent faster and create jobs at twice the rate of others.

Small businesses that are digitally savvy (for example, they use search engine optimisation and digital technologies) have around a 20 per cent increase in annual revenue, according to research by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in its 2015 Small Business: Digital Growth report.

Boosting SMEs

The potential for SME business growth hasn’t escaped the federal government. It has launched a $5.5 billion Jobs & Small Business package to help SMEs grow and employ more workers.

Innovation is also being championed as a way to boost the Australian economy. Last December, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called for an “ideas boom” and announced plans to spend almost $1.1 billion over four years on business-based research, development and innovation.

“Our innovation agenda is going to help create the 21st-century economy Australia needs,” he told a media conference. “It is limited only by our imagination.”

Central to the plan is getting businesses to work with universities and research institutions to create one big think tank to benefit everyone.

Innovation on my mind

SME operators are typically flat-chat dealing with their business, but there are ways to keep innovation top of mind. “Seek out the next trend and execute a modern digital strategy,” urges Jason Wyatt, managing director of Marketplacer, a tech company that builds e-commerce sites.

To foster the innovation mindset, he recommends regularly attending conferences and seminars, and bouncing ideas internally in daily stand-up meetings.

Employees, too, should be encouraged to always stay one step ahead – either on-site or by supporting their lifelong learning.

Meet the winners

Our best-performing businesses are already ahead in the innovation game. Each has taken an individual approach to business innovation – from micro business Nexba’s lower-sugar iced teas, originally sold from the back of a Kombi van but now in major supermarkets, to Western Australia’s Executive Risk Solutions, an agile emergency management and response company that kicked off in the mining boom and continues to find new customers in new industries.

Read the full stories of each of the Telstra Business Awards Winners:


Know an inspiring business?

 For more information about the Awards or to nominate for the 2016 Telstra Australian Business Awards, head here. 

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