Innovation definitions — language is important

Language is important. Our words contain meaning beyond what a dictionary will describe.

Research disciplines operate on a lexicon, a shared understanding of terms and meaning. Part of research is challenging these definitions.

In the emerging field of innovation and entrepreneur studies, terms are constantly being challenged. Some words such as “innovation” have had some rigour applied by the OECD to come to a shared understanding. Other terms such as “startup” continue to lack an agreed definition.

While is may seem — and likely is — academic, I spend a bit of time focusing on language particularly with the mapping project for Australia’s entrepreneur support system. Creating a taxonomy of actors and roles requires a constant review and challenge of categories, roles, and functions.

This is top of mind as I spent most of the day updating key definitions for the thesis. Below is an excerpt, in the interest in capturing the point in time through the daily 30-minute update.

Short-term (1 to 6 months) structured programs to support entrepreneur growth, usually with a start and end date, with potential for funding.

“The local unity of a group of human beings who live their social economic, and cultural lives together and jointly recognize and accept certain obligations and hold certain standards of value in common” (Porter & Cantarero, 2014, p. 1094; Murgaš & Klobučník, 2017).

“The existence, development, and engagement of community resources by community members to thrive in an environment characterized by change, uncertainty, unpredictability, and surprise” (Hightree et al, 2018).

A coworking space is a physical location that offers short-term and flexible desk space for hire.

The ecosystem describes the inherent complexity and motion within a system, as defined by the original author as a “constant interchange of the most various kinds within each system.” (Tansley, 1935, p299; Willis, 1997). The focus and boundaries of the ecosystem are defined by the preceding word: innovation ecosystem, entrepreneur ecosystem, startup ecosystem. For example, innovation ecosystem is described as “the complex relationships that are formed between actors or entities whose functional goal is to enable technology development and innovation” (Oh et al, 2016). The functional goal of the entrepreneur ecosystem is to support entrepreneur’s, of a startup ecosystem is to enable startup companies, etc.

An entrepreneur is “A person who begins a business, taking upon themselves a financial risk with the hope of a profit.” (Oxford, 2019; Innovation and Science Australia, 2016). Key characteristics in this definition include personal initiation, ownership, control, risk, and potential for personal gain (Gartner & Shane, 1995).

Physical spaces designed for working with hardware and creative media, not necessarily for entrepreneurial outcomes.

Recurring programs that are short intensive activities to develop ideas and create businesses.

“All enterprises with average annualized growth greater than twenty percent per annum, over a three-year period. Growth is thus measured by the number of employees or by turnover.” (Eurostat / OECD, 2007, p61).

While innovation definitions vary, it can be seen broadly as involving transformative steps to create new or improved products or services that add or create value (Baregheh, Rowley & Sambrook, 2009). The more technical definition by the OECD is as follows: “An innovation is the implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organisational method in business practices, workplace organisation or external relations.” (OECD, 2018, p20)

An innovation hub is a physical or virtual space with dedicated resources (programs, mentors, capital) to support entrepreneurs. Innovation hubs go beyond the traditional coworking model through dedicated resources to provide access to connections and networks, a space and community of like-minded individuals, and skills development all related to entrepreneurial activity (Gathege & Moraa, 2013). This definition can be expanded to include hubs not simply as physical spaces, but “‘human spaces’ which facilitate collaboration between individuals and organisations” (Kovács & Zoltán, 2017). The emphasis on the human element allows for an expanded inclusion of virtual or online hubs, “pop-up” locations such as a pub or library activated by a local group or program, and individual leaders who bring people together in a community to support individual projects and businesses entrepreneurship and innovation (Schopfel, Roche & Hubert, 2015; Cabras, & Mount, 2016).

The innovation system is the system (roles, actors, network, functions) that facilitates the innovation process. This occurs within various geographic, technical, and social boundaries (OECD, 2018). The boundary of the system includes “all important economic, social, political, organizational, institutional, and other factors that influence the development, diffusion, and use of innovations” (Edquist, 1997). The technical definition applied to the national innovation system level is “The network of institutions in the public and private sectors whose activities and interactions initiate, import, modify and diffuse new technologies.” (Freeman, 1987; OECD, 1997, p10).

As outlined by Australian advocacy body StartupAus, “There is no current centralised definition of a ‘startup’ in Australia. Competing definitions exist across existing programs, requiring startups to requalify for each scheme. As startup-focused programs proliferate, this regulatory burden is likely to increase.” (StartupAus, 2018, p17). The lack of clear definition is experienced in the general business community, with many considering any company starting out to be a “startup”. The definition utilised in by StartupAus is used for this research: “A young high-growth company that is using technology and innovation to tackle a large, probably global, market, with two defining characters: Potential for high growth and disruptive innovation.” (StartupAus, 2019).

The system is defined by actors and the network created by the actor’s interactions as they perform functions within defined boundaries (Williams & Imam, 2006). Through the research, terms of actors, roles, and functions are intentional as described below:

An actor is a specific organisation or individual that fills one or more roles and performs functions in the system.

A role is a collection of functions performed by one or more actors in the system.

A function is a grouping of activities to achieve outcomes in the system.

“A region is typically defined as an area that contains a cohesive network of trade and commerce; local commuting for jobs and shopping; common access to services; and association of community activities” (NSW Government, 2017, p11). The concept of region for this research borrows on the definition of functional economic regions (FER). The Australian Productivity report considering that identity and function play a role in defining regions, in that:

  • people often travel between areas for work or to access services;
  • businesses hire workers, purchase services, and sell products and services across areas; and
  • governments and people interact economically, socially and culturally across areas.

FERs benefit as they “facilitate better evaluation and implementation of regional strategic plans and development policies.” (Productivity Commission, 2017, p5).

The term “regional” is used to consider areas outside of what would be considered a capital city’s functional area.

American & Australian, playing in the cross-section of people, business and digital, with a passion for discovering how we all tick