Innovation icons

To get ahead in a competitive world, every company needs to find a unique angle to stand out from the crowd.

But innovation is never easy – and if you want to make a major leap forward, you need to understand that it’s a messy, unpredictable, serendipitous process.

Successful innovation is about learning from your mistakes, persisting when the going gets tough, rethinking your business in the face of disruption. Sometimes it means doing something someone else does, better. It can even involve obstinacy and luck.

To inspire you to think differently about innovation, we bring you the Innovation Icons series: classic examples of companies that have done things their own way.

Amazon: a master of reinvention

Julian Birkinshaw

"Amazon is the single best example of a serial business model innovator," according to Julian Birkinshaw

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Is the right innovation at the right time down to luck?

Julian Birkinshaw

Lessons from YouTube – an innovator that harnessed the winds of change.

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If at first you don't succeed...

Julian Birkinshaw

Five thousand, one hundred and twenty six prototypes and still no joy...

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Lessons from the world's best-known fast-follower: Samsung

Julian Birkinshaw

You don’t have to dream up something new to be a great innovator. But you must do it better

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Real Innovation Awards case studies

We established the Real Innovation Awards in 2016 to recognise and celebrate the reality of the innovation process: it’s messy, time-consuming and tough. The winners are extraordinary people who persisted when the going got tough, learnt from their mistakes and had the courage to rethink their businesses in the face of disruption. Have you got what it takes to be a successful innovator?


An unlikely construction disruptor

How a macho industry has been transformed






From beach clubs to the global refugee crisis

Freezmate’s Tarek Al Emam reflects on an extraordinary innovation journey





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Innovators to watch

What inspired this year's Real Innovation Awards winners?






How two school friends developed Hire Space into one of the UK's leading venue websites





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Steeled for more success

How Sanjeev Gupta has led Liberty House and the GFG Alliance to reshape the steel industry in the UK and beyond





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Turning waste on its head

How underground waste collection and storage pioneer Villiger Entsorgungssysteme is cleaning up our cities and saving councils money




Transforming a Danish state-owned power company into a renewable energy business with wind in its sails





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How I went from boredom to the boardroom

The tedium of a comfortable salaried existence was the spur that drove Avnish Anand to co-found India’s first online jewellery store





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From wine novice to connoisseur in seconds

How Vivino's co-founders have achieved global success with an app that gives people instant access to wine reviews






Could pond life save the world?

Mitsuru Izumo kept trying to find a way to produce Euglena on a large scale. Now it’s being used for everything from food to biofuel






Innovation? It’s child’s play

Jeff Weers’ love of baseball may have inspired him to develop a breakthrough in drug delivery but chance also played its part






New and taboo: 5 tips from an innovator

FabLittleBag’s Martha Silcott shares the highs and lows of getting her invention to market






Dubsmash: the power of persistence

Dubsmash fine-tuned its lip-synching app through constant iteration. It’s now a full video messaging app, used by more than 100m people in 193 countries who share 35 videos every second.





Fighting fire with fire: a story of reinvention

Steve McGuirk’s transformation of the fire service led to cost savings and fewer fires






An innovative solution to nuclear waste

Andy Barr’s core business used to be manufacturing dredging tools for scallop trawlers. Now he’s helping clean up decommissioned nuclear power stations






True grit: saving babies through innovation

Jane Chen was so determined to save newborn infants’ lives, she moved to India to get her venture off the ground






Creativity is key at Hertfordshire Independent Living Service, joint winner of the If At First You Don’t Succeed Award




What drives the winner of The Best Beats First Award?



About the IIE

The Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE) supports field-leading faculty research, entrepreneurial and extracurricular student activities. We disseminate the expertise necessary to equip the next generation of innovators and business leaders with the tools and insights they need to prosper.

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