Bringing Back Business: Covid-19 impact on Innovation
A recent Chamber event saw the Chief Economist from RBS observe that economic recovery requires three things: demand, policy, and innovation. Whilst we at the Chamber strive to ensure that the policy environment is one in which businesses are able to thrive, it is Edinburgh’s businesses that have been providing some of the most interesting and inspiring examples of innovation in the face of the pandemic.
At today’s Business Innovation event, we heard from three fantastic businesspeople who have all successfully managed to innovate, adapt, and reinvent their business to allow them to tackle the many challenges thrown at them over the past 6 months.
With over 380 million people travelling by bus each year in Scotland alone, the work of Fiona Doherty, Managing Director for Stagecoach West Scotland, is essential for allowing people to get to work and to shops, and for linking up communities. Following the imposition of lockdown restrictions in March however, Stagecoach saw a 90% drop in passengers overnight, leaving Fiona and her colleagues little time to work out how to keep services running, whilst paring back costs and keeping both bus drivers and passengers safe. Incredibly in just five days they managed to completely rethink their operation, reworking routes and timetables, furloughing 80% of staff, and bringing in extra safety measures and cleaning regimes – all whilst sustaining the majority of their 100+ bus routes in West Scotland.
Similarly, for Neil Rudram, Sales and Marketing Manager at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange, his work completely changed when lockdown hit. As one of Edinburgh’s leading event and conference venues, the imposition of restrictions led to the cancellation or postponement of every single event that they had planned. Even once lockdown restrictions began to ease in mid-July, indoor events were still not possible. However, Neil and his team were able to completely reinvent the way they used the spaces available to them, turning their carpark into Edinburgh’s biggest beer garden that saw over 13,000 people book tickets to gather with friends and have a drink in a safe, socially distanced way.
Our third speaker was JP Anderson, Chief Technology Officer at ClearWater Hygiene Ltd., a company founded in March to help sell the products of several Scottish distilleries, which had switched from producing alcoholic drinks to alcoholic hand sanitiser, but were struggling to get their products to market. Within a matter of weeks the business was not only set up and running, but thriving, securing contracts with a value of £30million within 12 weeks. ClearWater Hygiene is able to support businesses to open safely, providing sanitiser alongside innovative products such as dispensers that simultaneously take the temperature of customers coming into the business.
So what are some of the lessons that can be learned from these brilliant examples of innovation? Well first and foremost is the need for creativity, and a willingness to adapt. JP emphasised that not one week has gone by since the start of lockdown where his business has not been evolving, been tracking the market and adapting their work in response. In a market that is more unpredictable and changeable than ever, the ability and agility to adapt to shifting circumstances is crucial, whilst having the creativity to see new opportunities in a crisis has helped many businesses to overcome the challenges of Covid.
In addition, this pandemic has really shone a light on our reliance on technology, whilst simultaneously driving innovation in this arena. Fiona discussed how Stagecoach have had to make much more use of their social media channels, partly to enhance communication with customers, but also to avoid the use of paper timetables. Similarly, with 73% of restaurant goers feeling that an electronic menu is safer than sharing a physical menu, it is no surprise that innovation in the hospitality sector has also centred on the use of technology. Many venues have also now introduced mobile ordering, whilst Edinburgh-based tech firm Criton is enabling hotels to create their own branded app that digitises guests’ experiences and reduces physical touchpoints. Meanwhile a recent report from the Fraser of Allander Institute found that 73% of Scottish businesses said that the pandemic has encouraged them to adopt new technology to provide their goods and services, with the vast majority saying that these changes are here to stay.
Ultimately however, this pandemic has demonstrated what can be achieved when everybody commits to working together to make something happen – at Stagecoach, Fiona paid tribute to the support of everybody from the unions to the government that allowed them to adapt so quickly. Neil highlighted that it was the creativity of his team, all working together, that gave rise to the reinvention of the facilities at the Corn Exchange, whilst ClearWater Hygiene was created through collaborating with distilleries in order to meet needs of businesses. At the Chamber we aim to foster this kind of collaboration, through our Inspiring Communities Group for instance, that brings together businesses and third sector organisations, or through our networking events and roundtables, that encourage the sharing of ideas that can ultimately lead to innovation.