Not all bad news for businesses – adapt to survive

With untold numbers of businesses across almost every sector closing because of COVID-19, some are finding ingenious ways to pivot and adapt, keep workers employed and provide valuable services or products to health authorities and the community.

Professor Gary Mortimer from QUT’s Business School said there were an increasing number of ‘good news’ stories emerging. And there will be businesses forever transformed.

“During times of uncertainty and fear, businesses, like humans, adopt a ‘fight or flight’ response. Some have simply closed their doors, while others have pivoted, adapted and taken a more innovative approach to doing business in highly dynamic times,” said Professor Mortimer.

“Bundaberg Rum and a number of other rum and gin distilleries, including Shane Warne’s SevenZeroEight gin company, are now producing much-needed hand sanitiser.

“Melbourne-based ResMed Australia is fast-tracking production of ‘non-invasive’ ventilators, along with international manufacturers like General Electric, Philips, Tesla, General Motors and Medtronic. With a worldwide increase in demand and critical shortage, this new production will be essential – a bit like the production of weapons in wartime.

“Others are adapting by taking their business off-site and having employees work from home. Google, meanwhile, established a COVID-19 fund that enables all temporary staff and vendors, globally, to take paid sick leave if they have potential symptoms of COVID-19, or can’t come into work because they’re quarantined.

“LinkedIn has opened up 16 of its learning courses for free to provide tips on how to stay productive, build relationships when you’re not face-to-face, use virtual meeting tools and balance family and work dynamics in a healthy way.

“Coles has donated $1M worth of food and groceries to vulnerable Australians while elsewhere we are seeing restaurants and retailers are targeting needs within the community via home delivery, online shopping and provision of takeaway services.

Professor Gary Mortimer

“In Brisbane we are seeing craft breweries Catchment, West End and Newstead Brewing doing ‘take-away craft beer and pizza’ offers, while Walters Steakhouse is selling its renowned porterhouse to cook at home, Italian restaurant Bucci has takeaway pasta kits with its famous house-made sauce, and Gerard’s Bistro is doing a different readymade takeaway meal every night and delivering locally.

“These are challenging times and it would seem easier to simply close the doors, but businesses need to really look at how they can adapt, innovate and face the challenge head on.”

Professor Rowena Barrett, Executive Director, QUT Entrepreneurship, added that a global health crisis like COVID-19 will undoubtably lead to what are called ‘business pivots’, as well as greater compassion in the entrepreneurial community.

“Some of the world’s biggest companies famously pivoted to become the success stories we know today,” said Professor Barrett.

“Twitter began as a place people could find podcasts while Starbucks used to sell espresso machines and coffee beans and Nintendo produced playing cards, vacuum cleaners, instant rice, a taxi company and even a short-stay hotel chain before becoming a force in gaming.”

Professor Barrett said now was the time to think outside the box and cited examples from the QUT community.

“QUT alumni Victor Vicario of ARC Hardware Incubator is working on 3D printing components in short supply such as face masks and valves to connect respirators. Others we know have evolved from in-house dining to food delivery or ramped up delivery options – Nourish’d for example, another alumni-led venture,” she said.

“ClipChamp, which is also founded by a QUT alumni, has opened up free subscription to its video editing technology.

“There’s also an amazing groundswell of support, sharing and help in the entrepreneurial community globally which is driven by the entrepreneurial community culture of ‘give first’.

“Alongside our regular, now digital, program of learning at QUT Entrepreneurship, we are co-sponsoring a speaker series with the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. Starting next week, it will inspire entrepreneurial change and help entrepreneurs stay focussed on important matters during this period.

“There are also online hackathons being run to ‘hack the crisis’ and accelerate developments whether these are medical, social or economic. We encourage people to participate and bring their skills and experiences to help rapidly find solutions to problems that matter right now.”

Queensland’s Chief Entrepreneur and QUT Adjunct Professor Leanne Kemp has been driving a Twitter campaign to encourage start-ups to adapt and consider what opportunities are being presented for the ‘new normal’; and how to tweak, feature or pivot to leverage them.

The Office of the Chief Entrepreneur has also moved resources online to continue to champion start-ups and innovation. Initiatives include Town Hall talks with Professor Kemp on Facebook every Wednesday, as well as ‘Toolbox talks’ in which people are encouraged to tune in for a quick chat with an expert from Queensland on a specific topic related to start-ups, and ‘Mental Health Mondays’.

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