Could COVID-19 Fuel The Next Wave Of Entrepreneurial Innovation?

The COVID-19 situation has brought the world and their governments, economies and businesses to a complete halt. But if you look closely, you’ll see hidden opportunities and entrepreneurial innovation between the chaos. 

For example, The Black Death which took place in the 1300s in Europe resulted in breaking the long unjustly feudal system and replacing it with a more advanced system in the form of an employment contract. Then there was the 100-year war between England and France.

What this war brought, asides from unfortunate suffering and deaths, was the innovation drive that drastically improved agricultural productivity and boosted the economy. 

With chaos comes opportunity

Turning to some of the recent events, the SARS pandemic of 2002-2004 paved the way for Ali Baba, an e-commerce company which has today established itself as the forefront retailer in whole Asia. This growth was a result of humans’ deep fear of travelling and human contact, exactly what we are facing today due to COVID-19. 

Another event which paved the way for companies to shine in the midst of darkness was the financial crises of 2008. Startups like Airbnb and Uber took an opportunity and the whole west side of the world looked at them as a new way of living, forcing people to start saving and sharing their assets in the form of renting out the spare space in the house and carpooling with strangers going in the same direction. Even video games saw an opportunity in this crises. Video games companies like Nexon in Asia and King in the west changed their paid business model to a free-to-play business model.

Now with COVID-19, we are already experiencing a shift in how consumers and businesses interact. Remote working is becoming a new norm and is being encouraged by both tech and non-tech companies around the globe. Most of the airlines are going through an immense loss and retail stores are going out of stock as there are no products available on the market. Even though some of these changes are for a short period of time and will get back on their feet after the pandemic, some will face the heat for decades to come.

Three way impact

Historically, the three spheres of biology, psychology and economy have directly been affected by the global outbreak of pandemics. Although the mortality and morbidity rate of the disease varies in intensity which in effect, increases or decreases the speed of its spread. 

Let us now look at the effects of the pandemic on the three spheres above in more detail. Naturally, the biological effects have been immense and have hit the elderly section of society in a larger proportion. Psychologically speaking we have seen double negatives — firstly, the unprecedented lockdown on humans have created low morale everywhere in the world and has increased the levels of isolation as global travel has been banned. Secondly, the outlook of investors on the stock market has come down which has brought economies of the world to its knees. Lastly, the unforeseen calamity has destroyed supply chains everywhere which would inadvertently reduce global GDP. 

Adapting to these grave circumstances, a business will require long term model changes. We should expect to see costs of services and prices coming down in the recession following the psychological and economic effects. Ironically, it is because of the adverse consequences of the pandemic, which brings about new entrepreneurial innovation and new business strategies as well. Startups and new business models are gaining traction at a high rate. The following 3 macro innovations are expected to stay beyond the current COVID-19 world.  

Reliable supply chains

The nature of global supply chains have traditionally been quite solid in terms of reserving quality and at the same time keeping a low cost profile. However, this pandemic has taught the world that the old system lacks resilience. For example, as China has scaled down production, we are seeing an immediate impact on global supply. Therefore, a systematic change in the models of distribution, third-party logistics, and the coordination and tracking of supplies is needed across the globe to match their demands. 

To this end, technological advancement in sectors such 5G, robotics, Internet of Things and blockchain is required so that vendors can interlink and create a reliable and robust web of supply chains. Additionally, the involvement of self-driving cars and delivery drones will increase as e-commerce will evolve. We can imagine companies such as Amazon and Ali Baba to compete for these advance changes in the supply chain in the years to come. 

A move towards digital bureaucracy 

This pandemic has undoubtedly changed the nature of governance in several nations. For example, South Korea had acted swiftly in terms of testing the majority of its population and tagging its citizens through smartphones which shielded others. And, in Wuhan, China we have seen the construction of a hospital at record speed. All these positive changes could have been implemented globally if there had been more smart cities around the world. 

A study by the University of Glasgow revealed that only 27 out of 5,500 large size cities are leading stringent changes to accommodate the current situation. Smart governments need to be developed in order to deal with future catastrophes. Companies such as Microsoft, Siemens and Cisco will benefit with such a paradigm shift towards digital governance. 

Digital mental health support

Wand morale of a team. Individually, the mental health of workers is also impacted. Work-from-home is the new normal. However, it is increasingly difficult to manage situations where group work is necessary. This also affects the productivity 

We are seeing an increasing number of traditionally offline industries adapt and move online, but experts are saying we need a mix of both online and offline presence to cover a diverse range of consumer needs and preferences. 

Kiri Purushottam, CTO of online shopping comparison site, Bag it Today, says, “Companies can no longer need to have an online or offline presence. To have success during and post-pandemic, consumers must be targeted through “omnichannel” retailing, and do everything in their power to gain a deeper understanding of their customers’ needs.”

There are a handful of companies who are doing just this by adding a human touch to their digital model. A start-up by ex-google HR chief Laszlo Bock, Humu and other tech companies such as Github and Automattic have capitalized on the current situation as they have a remote collaboration model of business. Other startups such as Braive and Moment Pebble are also fuelling this entrepreneurial innovation by working on mental health issues born out of isolation and apps such as Ripple are developing programmes which can help too.

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

A new world

The outbreak of COVID-19 has pushed us all towards a new world order and has significantly impacted everyday life. Businesses in particular must learn to adapt to the changes while also maintaining health standards for their workers. Those that do will face the least amount of disturbance.  

The European strategy 

Key players around the world have pooled in their ideas and suggestions to help counter the negative effects of this pandemic. Keeping such a spirit in mind, Mariya Gabriel hosted #EUvsVirus — an online event which brought together 20,000 participants including entrepreneurs, scholars and businesses, where teams which would compete against each other to find immediate solutions against the spread and adverse effects of COVID-19. Topics included health and life, business continuity, social and political developments, work-from-home, digital education and finance etc. This Hackathon resulted in 2,000 solutions and ideas. 

The self-employed sector is one of the most affected professions right now. This is corroborated by reports from the United Nations International Labour Organization and OECD. There are reportedly 32 million self-employed professionals in Europe alone. A lack of policy covering these professionals pushes them to the brink of poverty. 

Several sectors such as travel, restaurants and event organizations etc. have been forced to downsize and a lot of freelancers have been laid off. This is due to the lack of demand which has affected the ability of the population to cover rent, food, medicines.   

The next step in freelancing 

Although the freelance service sector has been severely hit in the private sector, there is still a large scope for freelancers in the public sector if the necessary support is introduced by governments. With governmental and public offices swamped with information and requests, employees would be overwhelmed and a swift response to all the problems would be challenging. 

Therefore, it is suggested that governments can use existing platforms for freelancers and use these self-employed professionals to reduce the workload. This could be beneficial for the government and give respite to the freelancers as they would be given employment. 

This solution could be given a trial with one department using an existing digital platform through which freelancers can be engaged. 

Moving forward

#EUvsVirus was a tremendous success which brought professionals together to fight this pandemic. It is now time to take these solutions towards practicality. 117 projects selected by the jury of the Hackathon have been forwarded to the European commission.

It is now imperative to work towards tackling the large scale problems through entrepreneurial innovation and creative thinking. Although some solutions have been implemented, there is a need for so much more.  

Luke Fitzpatrick: Luke Fitzpatrick has been published in Forbes, The Next Web, and Influencive. He is a guest lecturer at the University of Sydney, lecturing in Cross-Cultural Management and the Pre-MBA Program. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
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