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Innovation is key in addressing the challenges Brexit may bring

18 Nov 2019
Although the UK/Ireland relationships post-Brexit are currently unknown, businesses should be proactive. Continued innovation is vital for firms to stand out and thrive in what are increasingly competitive markets. If Brexit negatively impacts companies, they need to be creative and forward-thinking. The Co-Innovate Programme has funding and expert advice available to help cross-border businesses collaborate on research and innovation projects.

Despite the uncertainty, innovative businesses with operations in Ireland and the U.K. are already proactively doing their best to identify Brexit risks; identifying new markets or product opportunities to stay ahead of the competition, or even help themselves manage the changing environment and mitigate any negative impacts.

As well as creating challenges for businesses, for the savvy, Brexit will also create some opportunities for SMEs who are acutely aware of the landscape that is developing and engage in innovation activities to address key areas of risk, such as:

  1. New immigration rules may lead to a shortage of workers. However, the development or implementation of AI and robotics to automate manual labour can supplement many of these workers so that, as the borders tighten, services, supply or manufacturing process we can still function effectively. Examples of this can be seen in agriculture (monitoring plant growth with drones, automated farming process, utilising data to monitor and maximise outputs) and in social care (monitoring and supporting vulnerable people.)
  2. If lead-times for supply or distribution increase due to increased border checks, customs clearance, and approval processes, then this could impact perishable items such as medicines and food. Development of products that have longer shelf-lives, packaging that extends the use by date, streamlining logistics or utilising alternative transportation methods, could be opportunities that businesses could take advantage of if they can offer them.
  3. Changes to tariffs could add costs to goods. However, if your businesses gains a better understanding of product tariff classifications within WTO for example, then it is possible for them to undertake product development so they are categorised under a lower import tariff than they currently would be defined.
  4. Increased tariffs could also reduce profitability, but there are innovative ways to offset this. It is possible to reduce costs by developing new manufacturing processes, implement lean practices or new techniques, or redesigning products to be less reliant on imported components. Genetically modified crops are being grown which produce higher yields, are more disease resistant, and require fewer chemicals than their non-GM counterparts. Drone and satellite data can be used to target fertiliser and pesticide where and when it is needed, reducing the costs and environmental impact of farming.
  5. Market diversification driven by innovation and a consumer-led, market specific product strategy can help reduce the dependency on a key market. Developing your knowledge of market growth opportunities in new geographies can make growth possible once you consider key factors such as demographics, market trends and specific points of ease of doing business in these new markets.

Developing value-added products and improved services and processes to address or take advantage of these type of opportunities are actions Irish & UK companies can take to overcome the potential challenges of Brexit. Products and services will have to have clear unique selling points for buyers to be interested. Businesses should examine their product or service portfolio and determine what your unique selling points are in all of their target markets. In tandem with this, consider what tweaks to existing products or new iterations will help you to stand out from the crowd.

Why not explore the option of collaborating with a third party to develop a product or service? There is no doubt that collaboration is a successful tool for businesses to utilise in order to achieve outcomes not possible for them alone. The best partner to maximise your benefits may not be in your local area, so businesses should be open to seeking collaborative partners with the best capabilities for their needs from further afield.

The Co-Innovate Programme has funding and expert advice available to help cross-border businesses collaborate on research and innovation projects. Co-Innovate can utilise it’s networks to help you find a company to work with, or an academic expert to garner knowledge from. The funding available can help you undertake a research and development project to develop new products, processes or services. If you have an idea and wish to register your interest in the project support, please email requesting an expression of interest form.

By Neil Ryan, Co-Innovate Programme Director

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