As countries around the world ease their lockdown restrictions, valuable learnings have emerged for stakeholders in the innovation ecosystem. The lockdown allowed everyone to hit the pause button and reflect and reassess their priorities. Here is looking at how the novel coronavirus turned out to transform entrepreneurs, academia, corporates and the government, as it compelled them to build back better in preparation of the post-COVID-19 world.
#1 Course correct to stay ahead: Lesson for entrepreneurs
One of the first lessons entrepreneurs learn when they are new to the startup ecosystem is to remain amenable to change. COVID-19 has put to test the resilience of startup founders and their capacity to adapt during a crisis. History is witness to how entrepreneurs have always risen to the occasion during unforeseen catastrophes, be it 9/11 or the great recession of 2008. Many iconic companies have also been founded during such times. For instance, Microsoft was set up during the oil embargo recession of the 1970s, and General Motors was established in the 1908 economic recession.
The lockdown provided entrepreneurs with an opportunity to gain sharp insights into how they should make a fundamental change to their product or service and re-strategise for future growth. For instance, food delivery aggregators Swiggy and Zomato are exploring the cloud kitchen business as restaurants have taken a severe hit and are now capped at only 50 per cent seating capacity. Startups like Aqoza technologies and PerSapien have developed chemical formulations for disinfecting public spaces. Airlens minus corona from PerSapien dispenses water droplets to oxidise the viral protein. Such and more innovations from startups have energised the battle against COVID-19.
According to a recent survey by Nasscom, 54 per cent of startups were looking to pivot their businesses. Given the unpredictable nature of COVID-19, startups are aware that if they don’t pivot their business soon enough, they might perish.
The survey also revealed that 50 per cent of the startups are focused on emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and cloud computing for innovations geared to counter the pandemic. Indeed, the lockdown has been an eye-opener for entrepreneurs and enabled them to become more agile and vigilant to emerge stronger on the other side of the crisis.
#2 Universities are hotbeds for innovation: Lesson for the academia
COVID-19 has unleashed a fresh wave of innovation on campuses across the world. Scientists have displayed an entrepreneurial mindset to support the creative solutions and ideas emerging among their students and faculty to combat COVID-19. Universities used the lockdown to develop better response systems to counter the pandemic.
The lockdown gave sufficient time for universities to collaborate with policymakers and governments to generate breakthrough ideas in the areas of vaccine development, design and manufacture of ventilators and ramping up rapid testing, among others, to eradicate COVID-19.
The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are on a war footing to help India’s battle against COVID-19. IIT Kanpur is developing a vaccine; IIT Delhi’s researchers have made three-layered surgical masks and N95 face masks; and IIT Kharagpur is designing rapid diagnostic kits, real-time PCR machines, body suits for patients and hazmat suits with purified and cooled air circulation for medical professionals.
Since there has been a steep drop in international student fees and philanthropic contributions, foreign universities have woken up to the need for remaining agile and creating new strategies for growth. Potential mergers with other academic institutions and new financing options could transform the face of higher education in the post-COVID-19 world.
#3 Innovation will be the biggest game changer: Lesson for corporates
One of the critical positive effects of the lockdown has been the spate of innovation seen in the corporate world. Multinationals have amplified efforts to innovate and remain relevant beyond COVID-19. Contrary to popular belief that the massive layoffs triggered by the pandemic will hamper innovation, organisations are seeking new opportunities to embrace the new normal by thinking outside the box and reimagining how business is done.
For instance, Hindustan Unilever is engaging with customers to usher in innovations in the health and hygiene space. Products in these multinational’s innovation pipeline include Lifebuoy ‘germ kill spray’, Domex disinfectant sprays, germ removal wipes, Lifebuoy cloth sanitizers and Surf Excel anti-germ wash booster.
The lockdown has also taught corporates to value their consumers more by making affordable products that will see demand in both urban and rural areas.
#4 Citizens will be the number one priority: Lesson for governments
The lockdown enabled governments across the globe to organise relief operations and stabilise the public healthcare system in their respective countries. In India, COVID-19 provided an opportunity for governments both at the centre and state level to collaborate actively with the local communities, civil societies and corporates to ensure that the basics are in place to save lives.
Local municipal bodies have been at the forefront to fight COVID-19. For instance, Surat Municipal Corporation has developed the COVID-19 Tracker App, which helps monitor people under home-quarantine and tracks the health status of those with a recent history of foreign travel. The Greater Chennai Corporation repurposed its existing mobile app to identify flaws in civic infrastructure, such as potholes and faulty pipelines. The Lucknow Municipal Corporation has established community kitchens at multiple locations, which feed more than 4,000 people daily. The Chandigarh government, in collaboration with market committees and the Chandigarh Transport Undertaking, has deployed over 70 buses to transport essential supplies to RWAs (Resident Welfare Associations).
Never before has India’s social capital stood in such solidarity with the government to fight for the greater good of all.
While COVID-19 has caused a grave humanitarian crisis and adversely impacted the lives and livelihood of millions of people, it has also paved the way for change. Path-breaking innovations, unprecedented philanthropy and aggressive initiatives to stabilise the public healthcare infrastructure are just some of the valuable lessons from the lockdown.
The foremost lesson for all stakeholders in the innovation ecosystem has been to lead with empathy in these highly stressful times. If governments, corporates, startups and academia come together as one to support the physical, emotional and mental well-being of workers and citizens, it would be half the battle won against COVID-19.
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