Innovative business

What does innovation actually mean? We asked the experts

There’s a lot of support available to businesses who are being innovative, but what does that actually mean? Defining innovation isn’t easy, and just when you’ve settled on one workable definition, someone comes along and challenges it.

At How’s Business (the single point of contact for business support in York, North Yorkshire and East Riding), we’re all about making it simple for you to get the right funding and advice for your business. So, we went out and asked the people responsible for the region’s innovation grants what their definition of innovation was and gathered together some examples of innovative business activity to help clear up the confusion around innovation.

The Product and Process Innovation scheme specialises in providing grants to buy equipment, enabling businesses to be innovative with their products or processes. When we asked them what their definition of innovation was, they said it’s about “taking a new approach to a business challenge or problem that serves as a catalyst for growth. It doesn’t have to be about people in lab coats or something completely new, it could be an incremental change like a small variation to an existing product.”

So, if you’re looking at product development already, you’re probably being innovative. The Product and Process Innovation team gave us an example of innovation from the food and drink sector: a gin distillery business that was introducing a new flavour to their existing brand. They class this as innovation as it brings variation to their existing product range and shows that a business wants to grow. 

When we spoke to Let’s Grow, a capital investment programme with funding for businesses who are creating new jobs by developing or diversifying their current business, they told us that innovation “doesn’t need to be necessarily earth breaking, cutting edge technology, it can be looking at your procedures, your processes, just having an open mind to do something in a different kind of way.”

Innovations are often made by businesses who invest in changes to their business to reduce the amount of waste they produce. Another example from the Product and Process Innovation team shows a business who received funding to support their waste development.

The pallet recycling business was “generating a lot of sawdust material, and in particular, a very fine sawdust that didn’t have a use. This business saw an opportunity in that material and started on ways to turn that waste into a useable product” which they were then able to sell on for a profit. 

At its heart, innovation is about solving problems. It’s about reducing waste, increasing efficiency, and capitalising on improving a product, process or service or making it sustainable. It can be an adaptation of your current manufacturing process to make the whole process run faster or reduce wasted time or materials.

SparkFund, a programme offering revenue funding which can be used to cover the cost of bringing in expertise to make your innovative idea a reality, sees innovation as a way to “improve or develop exciting new products, services or processes.”

Many business owners get caught out by the word “new”, but hopefully we’ve shown that it’s not as difficult to achieve as you might first think. New simply means new to your business and the idea of developing a product, process or service provides a much more attainable goal for innovation than creating something brand new.

There are lots of programmes across York, North Yorkshire and East Riding that offer support for growing businesses, several of which have a specific focus on facilitating innovation like the Product and Process Innovation, Let’s Grow and SparkFund grants.

If you’d like to find out more about what opportunities you could be eligible for, get in touch with the How’s Business support team by emailing As the growth hub for York, North Yorkshire and East Riding, we are the single point of contact for business support in the area and can quickly establish which support will be best for you and connect you with the right programme.