The COVID-19 pandemic is a global changing event. Governments, businesses, and individuals around the world are being forced to innovate, throw out the old assumptions and re-dimension lives. The after-the-crisis new normal is being shaped now, as an immediate, however challenging and frictionless, response to the necessity of each entity to “keep the lights on” and weather this storm. This pandemic is a worldwide call for action to leverage the potential of innovations to prevent, diagnose, treat, inform and help businesses and each one of us adapts to a new set of circumstances. The future paradigms of our behaviors as customers, professionals, and social beings are being formed in the new ways that we respond to what is happening now.
Typically, crises are unpredictable, the unknown kind of the unknowns, and require the overturning of many assumptions but reassure us that they will leave a mark. Many of the changes and innovations that will emerge now will prevail in the crises. Likewise, in other crises, they will be directly linked to the assumption that is being overturned. The 2018 crises, for instance, posed big question marks on assets and ownership. As a response to that, asset sharing solutions like Airbnb and Uber emerged in 2008 only to become “the indispensables” of our today. A “today” when many value experiences over ownership. Some of “the indispensables” of tomorrow are easier to gauge, they were there before the crises, but the pandemic posed them as the only way. Tele-medicine, online-education, VR activities such as traveling, purchasing estate and retail, collaboration platforms mimicking workplaces’ rooms to allow for those “water refill” moments and kitchen encounters, just to name a few. There will be a new normal shaped by us to which we will need to adjust.
First and foremost, the COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis of immense proportions in which timing is vital. To this urgency, the response has been encouraging. Innovation is coming together in the most inspiring ways by drawing everyone together while blurring the lines of industries and the public & private sectors. These collaborations have enabled organizations such as the UNDP to launch the “COVID-19 “Detect and Protect Challenge” global hackathon, the California 3D modeling company CAD Crowd to launch a month-long prototypes competition for tech-based COVID-19 solutions and the Health Innovation Exchange to launch the Coronavirus Global Innovation map as a way to strengthen and fasten the response to COVID-19 globally. Not to mention all the media, consulting companies, and universities’ research centers that have completely shifted their activity towards addressing the COVID-19 challenges on health, economy, and society.
Entrepreneurs worldwide are adapting their solutions to address the current challenges. From less tech-heavy to the state of the art solutions, no issue is to be neglected in a war where washing your hands properly is the equivalent of a “heavily armed” protection. In that regard, Miaza Mirror, a smart mirror startup, is using its technology to raise awareness in India about the importance of washing hands by instantly walking people through a multi-step hand-washing process. In Australia, a computer vision technology, initially developed to measure vital signs in premature babies, is pairing with a drone-based solution to help local authorities identify potential future virus hotspots so that resources could be deployed efficiently. These innovative solutions and adaptations are being supported by various government programs, innovation platforms and Venture Capital Firms around the world. Plug and Play, a Silicon Valley-based VC and innovation center, has launched a separate COVID-19 program across six different industries – healthcare, enterprise, retail, finance, travel, and supply chain – that supports and brings together world-wide startups to fuel customer and corporate innovation. Everyone is adapting, not only to survive the hit but to best serve one another and enable us all, together, to have better chances at winning this fight.
Just like a war, the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing governments, inherently traditional and highly resistant to change, to innovate on a scale and at a pace that no one would normally deem possible. Not only has work from home, in a time of crisis, become widely accepted, but governments are working with startups to address various challenges such as the containment of the virus, the rising unemployment, the unmet needs of citizens that are in lockdown, etc. In Estonia, the government is working with startups such as Zelos and ShareForceOne to address rising unemployment. In Poland, South Korea and Singapore (not to mention China) various tech has been used to trace the spread of the virus during the restriction lifting phase. In a more advanced and voluntarily data sharing basis, apps notify users if they are in a 100 m distance to a spot visited by a COVID-19 carrier. The collaboration between governments and startups shows that when there is a critical mass of will and clear priorities, innovation is there to push boundaries.
As we move along the different phases of the COVID-19 spread & containment and navigate the different control levers, we must not only contemplate the burden that this crisis has put on businesses, governments, and the society but also consider the chance we have to write our own tomorrows. Crises generate a lot of energy that, if harnessed constructively, can be a great source of innovation. We can’t let the urgency imposed by this crisis “go to waste” and miss this opportunity to leverage this abundant energy, altruism, and new resources in big and meaningful ways for the long-term, the new normal.
Zerina Bruci, MIP Alumni Fellow