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Professor John Bessant

Professor John Bessant

Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship


+44 (0) 1392 723233

Streatham Court, University of Exeter, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4PU, UK

Originally a chemical engineer, Professor John Bessant has been active in research, teaching and consultancy in technology and innovation management for over 25 years. He currently holds the Chair in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Exeter University where he is also Research Director. In 2003, he was awarded a Fellowship with the Advanced Institute for Management Research and was also elected a Fellow of the British Academy of Management. He served on the Business and Management Panel of both the 2001 and 2008 Research Assessment Exercises. He has acted as advisor to various national governments and to international bodies including the United Nations, The World Bank and the OECD.

Professor Bessant is the author of over 20 books and monographs and many articles on the topic and has lectured and consulted widely around the world. His most recent books include Managing innovation (now in its 4th edition) and High involvement innovation (both published by John Wiley and Sons).


BSc, PhD

Research clusters

Research interests

  • Management of discontinuous innovation
  • Sustainability and innovation
  • High involvement innovation

Professor Bessant's research is concerned with the process of technological innovation and its management. At firm level, it focuses on trying to identify the key structures and behaviours which enable organisations to renew their business offerings (products / services) and the ways in which they create and deliver them. Product and process innovation of this type requires capabilities both in 'doing what we do better' - continuous improvement' - and occasionally 'doing something different' - radical / discontinuous change. Professor Bessant's work aims to improve understanding of what is needed here but also to identify or develop tools and techniques to enable organisations to build and sustain these capabilities.

An increasingly important dimension to this problem is the fact that organisations do not operate in isolation. Most activity involves different kinds of relationships with other organisations, and understanding how the principles of effective innovation management can be applied to inter-organisational networks forms an increasingly important area of Professor Bessant's research.

At sector and national level, his main interests are in the processes of technology transfer and the design and evaluation of policies to enable these to operate well. In particular, he has been working on policies designed to develop a supportive infrastructure for providing innovation support to smaller enterprises - via networking, targeted information and advisory support and through innovation consultancy systems.

Over Professor Bessant's career, he has been responsible for raising over £12m in research funds from various sources to support his work. Sponsors have included the major UK research councils, UK government departments, the Anglo-German Foundation, the National Economic Development Office, OECD, the International Labour Office, the EU and various branches of the United Nations.

Research projects

  • Professor Bessant recently completed a £3.5m 'Grand Challenge' programme on Innovation and Productivity, a consortium project with AIM and Imperial College, Cranfield, Loughborough, Liverpool and Cambridge universities (3.5 years, EPSRC/ESRC funded).
  • He is also working on 'Designing out medical error', a joint project with Imperial College, Royal College of Art and St. Mary's Hospital Paddington (3 years, EPSRC funded).

Awards and Honours

  • Elected Fellow, British Academy of Management
  • Fellow, Sunningdale Institute Senior
  • Fellow, Advanced Institute of Management Research

External positions

  • 2008 - present: Visiting Professor, University of Nuremberg, Germany
  • 2008 - present: Fellow, Centre for Leadership and Innovation, H.H. L. Business School, Leipzig, Germany
  • 2008 - present: Senior Fellow, Irish Management Institute, Dublin, Ireland
  • 2008 - present: Visiting Professor, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Ireland
  • 2007- present: Visiting Professor, Cranfield University
  • 2003 - present: Visiting Professor, University of Brighton
  • 2009 - present: Visiting Professor, Imperial College
  • 2005 - present: Fellow, The Sunningdale Institute, National School of Government
  • 2003 - present: Visiting Professor, University of Brighton
  • 1982-1995: Honorary Fellow
  • 1998 - present: Honorary Professor, Science Policy Research Unit, Sussex University
  • Member, EPSRC's College of Peers

  • Innovation management
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Operations management

Professor Bessant's teaching focuses on how we can organise and manage the innovation process effectively - and how to extend and develop that capability as we encounter new challenges posed by an increasingly complex and turbulent environment. So his teaching includes both a 'roadmap' of the core process which we need to manage and then a series of key issues which we have to learn to deal with. Examples might be the huge challenge of 'sustainability' - how we create products, services, processes and business models which meet the needs of a predicted nine billion people, whilst simultaneously coming up with innovative solutions to problems like climate change and resource scarcity. Another big theme is healthcare - how we develop new models for providing high quality care for an increasingly old population without placing unacceptable burdens on financial and human resources. Another lies in how we tap into the latent creativity every individual possesses and make better use of this within our organisations, and as part of an increasing movement towards 'user-led' innovation.