The Future Of Innovation In Small Island Sates

Dr Betty Jane Punnett

From a small island state in the Caribbean, I wonder what to say about innovation in the future. Small island states are takers of innovation rather than makers of innovation. Our heritage is one of accepting the ideas of the colonial masters, and simply carrying out their wishes. To the extent that we have been innovators, it has been in out ability to get around the wishes of the ‘masters’ through subterfuge. Maybe this is the way forward? Small Caribbean states should be innovative through accepting and using their smallness and their unique ‘Caribbean’ heritage.

Smallness is a blessing and a curse from an innovation perspective. It’s a blessing because being small means you can move quickly and nimbly, and the world of the future is going to demand quick, nimble responses to its challenges. It’s a curse because it is hard for a small country to make an impact; limited resources limit its abilities.

The innovation solution for small Caribbean countries? Capitalize on smallness! Seek niche opportunities where customers/users want individual, unique products and services. Do not try to be ‘all things to all people’ or even ‘many things to many people’ – rather be ‘a few things to a few people’. Innovate on a small scale for a small market. Small countries that succeed in doing this can dominate in small areas and reap the attendant rewards.

Emtek’s website illustrates the type of product that can be described as a “high value-added, specialty niche product” which is positioned to address a specialty niche market (www.trendworthy.com; www.entrepreneur.com). The product is unusual and high priced, with a special appeal to a y small number of consumers. The company started small, with a specific objective and a limited range. Its specialized focus has made it an international success. The Emtek story is one which Caribbean companies can emulate. The key facet of specialized niche markets is that the products are sold on the basis of differentiation, not price. Typically, niche products are perceived as high value and differentiated, and are priced accordingly.

A major advantage for small producers is the flexibility inherent in smallness. Large producers find it much more difficult to shift production than do small producers. This means that small Caribbean companies can capitalize on their size and flexibility to meet the potentially cyclical nature of high-value niche markets. Niche markets are often contrasted with mass markets. Niche products have a special, differentiated appeal to a limited number of purchasers. Mass products have a broad appeal to the undifferentiated mass of consumers. Mass products for mass markets rely on economies of scale and cost efficiencies, and compete largely on the basis of price. Niche products rely on differentiated features, and compete on the basis of these special features, meeting special and even unique consumers’ needs. Niche markets, by definition, are relatively small, but they are also associated with relatively high margins; therefore, niche markets can be as profitable as mass markets.

Niche markets are the innovation future for Caribbean countries.

Article © 2009 Dr Betty Jane Punnett. All rights reserved.

about the author...

Dr Betty Jane Punnett

Dr Betty Jane Punnett

affiliation:   University Of The West Indies; Cave Hill

position:  Professor

country:  Barbados

area of interest:  Cross Cultural Management

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