Innovation and adaptability: the keys to success in times of Covid-19

By Margaux Cervatius - 26 April 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting our daily lives and our institutions: work, education, healthcare, travel… As Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Adaptability is just as important for the survival of companies as it is for our species. As they operate in an uncertain and changing environment, companies must be able to react quickly and move nimbly. If they fail to do so, their model or organisation could be put at risk.

With more than five years of experience in supporting startup-corporate collaborations, Early Metrics shares the lessons to be learned from the pandemic and the roles that startups can play in bringing answers to this unprecedented situation.

Work 2.0: how Covid-19 accelerated the transformation of workplaces

There is no doubt today that companies cannot avoid digital transformation if they wish to survive. While most large companies had started their digital transformation before the pandemic, the pace of change was greatly boosted by the crisis. Almost overnight, they had to implement digital collaboration and data sharing tools to allow their employees to continue their activity from home.

For certain European countries, such as France, working from home (WFH) was a rare practice before the Covid-19 crisis. While it is the safest method for people to continue working during lockdown periods, it has raised several issues around the organisation of work, employee engagement and access to digital tools (to cite a few). WFH also proved tricky for parents and in particular mothers – as Sarah Balachandran, Head of CX and Innovation at Capgemini, discussed in our Women Talk Tech podcast.

Related report – The Future of Work by Capgemini & Early Metrics

Despite the urgency of the situation, these newly adopted digital tools and remote working habits should not become a threat to corporate security. Companies are faced with a growing number of cyberattacks, similar to those suffered by Saint-Gobain and Bouygues Construction. Thus, they must strengthen the security of their information systems, with the help of specialised startups for example.

In addition to creating better digital workspaces, companies will need to implement safety measures in their physical workspaces for when restrictions come to an end. Many startups are developing new disinfection tech such as cleaning robots, ultraviolet ray emitting devices and self-sanitising door handles. Mobile apps and other solutions developed by innovative startups can help monitor and isolate employees affected by Covid-19. 

Improving adaptability at all levels of a business

It would be simplistic to think that the need for adaptability only translates into digital transformation. Companies in all sectors and at all levels of their organisation must adapt to changing:

  • market trends
  • employee needs
  • consumer demand.

First of all, within the organisation itself, the company culture is of paramount importance in times of crisis. It helps maintain the link between teams and make work feel more meaningful. A company can adapt and make decisions quickly only if it has cohesive teams committed to a common mission. This idea of company culture is omnipresent in startups, but it must also find its place in larger structures.

Companies also have to adapt from a customer perspective. The LVMH group is a good example: in a matter of days, it transformed its production line to respond to the shortage of hand sanitiser in France. In the logistics and distribution sector, companies have had to quickly adapt their supply chains to meet increased consumer demand for certain staple goods. Some supply chains have been shortened to reduce delays and travel as much as possible, allowing to keep business going despite border closures. Lockdown measures also led to the emergence of a new mode of consumption that is more focused on local production.

Innovation remains a key challenge

In this uncertain context, open innovation becomes even more important as startups can be valuable partners. Indeed, startups offer innovative solutions that can be integrated into the existing tools and systems of large companies or adapted for custom projects. In fact, European governments have ramped up their support for startup-led innovation in the last months. In March 2020, Cedric O, the French Secretary of State for the Digital Economy, encouraged startups tackling the pandemic to make their innovative solutions accessible for free or at reduced rates for the greater good.

The Italian startup Isinnova has converted a Decathlon full-face snorkelling mask into a ventilator

Several partnerships have emerged in the healthcare field, demonstrating the concrete added value brought by startups. For example, AstraZeneca developed a telemedicine solution with Cureety, libheros and Qare, three startups rated by Early Metrics. It helps hospitals monitor at-home cancer patients to protect them from possible exposure to Covid-19. Startups in the manufacturing sector have also joined forces to leverage 3D printing. For example, the Italian startup Isinnova converted a Decathlon snorkelling mask into a ventilator by adding 3D printed components. This created new opportunities for hospitals, which could then print the required parts themselves.

The Covid-19 crisis has significantly accelerated the adoption of new technologies in the health sector. It highlighted the strong potential of solutions that already existed but were rarely used until now: telemedicine to monitor vulnerable people, AI to improve diagnosis based on lung X-rays, big data analysis to predict the evolution of the epidemic, chatbots to keep the public informed on the virus or to help them self-diagnose… and the list goes on. The health crisis has also created opportunities for innovation in other sectors such as insurance, education and banking.

As startups bring a wind of change, they play an essential role in providing new technologies and innovative solutions to help large and medium-sized companies deal with unexpected crises, such as the current one. More than ever, open innovation teams, which are driving the internal transformation of corporates, are crucial. They must continue to search for the most ground-breaking solutions as innovation is key to adapt to an ever-changing and unpredictable world.

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