Entrepreneurship9 November 20204 min

Partner Insight of the Month: How to talk, talk, talk & be inclusive with VITO

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Building truly circular, safe and inclusive new businesses is a huge and essential challenge. Our partner VITO, an independent international research and service centre, translates sustainability research into real change for the planet, society and economy by involving a wide range of stakeholders. Here’s their take on how to be more inclusive to make a greater impact:

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Talk to your stakeholders as soon as possible

It’s not the planet pushing us to our limits: it’s us pushing the planet to its limits. Scarce resources, superbugs, climate change, ecological diversity, growing inequality are all affecting humanity big time. But so can your new business idea!

If you get it right, you can have a massive positive impact on both people and the planet. But impactful innovation requires the alignment of a wide range of stakeholders before it’s too late: COVID-19 is teaching us this the hard way. That’s why learning and applying customer centricity and stakeholder management is at the heart of VITO’s AYOUBI (Accelerate YOUR Business Idea) campaigns aimed at accelerating its credibility and impact.

VITO engages experts from outside their organisation to turn great innovations into appropriate, impactful solutions for a verified market. They believe that inventors, engineers and scientists need to get out of the lab and talk to key opinion leaders, pioneer customers and captains of industry in a structured and iterative way. Explaining the value of ideas to each stakeholder involved, understanding their needs and discovering the gaps in the plan helps eliminate bad ideas early on in the process and polish good ideas into brilliant ones. During this consultative process, new and sometimes unexpected business ideas can arise. Delivery is everything, and each situation requires wording tailored to the specific audience. Effectively adjusting your language to that of your stakeholder can make or break your plan.

Applying customer centricity by consulting with potential customers early on increases their chances of success and sharpens the entrepreneurial mindset of their researchers. “Working with our teams, I see a tremendous acceleration in their solution building when they're in active conversation with their future customers,” says Phaedo Thys of VITO’s tech transfer office. A big challenge is to balance 'listening carefully to the customer' and staying focused on the core elements of the solution'.”

Make inclusive happen everywhere

Being inclusive doesn’t just happen within the walls of your enterprise or within the boundaries imposed by regulation. Inclusivity is everywhere. Is the value chain of your business or product, from sourcing to production, logistics and sales, throughout the customer lifecycle as clean and as circular as possible? If the answer is yes, you’ve achieved a major milestone. Congratulations! Companies like VITO can support you in this journey by helping to improve the circular nature of your activity.

There is more to being a truly inclusive company though. Is anybody directly or indirectly involved across your value chain impacted negatively by your activities? Have you really looked into how people, society, economy and the planet can benefit more from your business? In contrast to the abundance of toolkits to optimise the money side of a new business, there are relatively few tools to structure the inclusive side of a business.

Other societies have proved a great source of inspiration for entrepreneurs and VITO. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the word ubuntu (meaning: “I am, because you are”) is part of the common worldview. Over the course of five “Sustainable Technology for Africa” campaigns by VITO together with ‘Ondernemers voor Ondernemers’ and African entrepreneurs, it became clear how interdependent we all are. North & South hold complementary parts of the solution, and combining insights can support the deep integration of circular, safe and inclusive values. In the fast-growing and deregulated African markets, solutions of the future flourish. For example, in countries with highly fragmented energy grids, players like Innovex bring quality and security for both prosumer and technology providers. Akaboxi creates equity and financial resilience for the poorest villages by connecting their savings digitally and helping them access regular financing.

Fortune favours the bold. Go out and talk to your stakeholders, build your dreams and make sure to be inclusive and circular!

Want to learn more about building a future-focused business? Get in touch with VITO’s tech transfer office here.