CoronaKindness: 5 innovation stories from big business you might have missed

28 April 2020

Oliver CookeChief Digital Officer

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5 minute read

With ongoing negative news flow from the coronavirus crisis, we’ve captured some of our favourite business innovation stories. Here’s how they’ve used agility to adapt and change their models to support the community.

Business innovation: How are businesses adapting in response to coronavirus?

For many of us, the news flow about the devastating effects of coronavirus and the grim reports on the economic impact has been non-stop and overwhelming. But as some countries across the world, albeit only a few, begin to see a slight turn for the better — the feeling that there might be an end in sight is starting to emerge.

We’ve used this as an opportunity to take stock of the status quo, and draw out some of the success and innovation stories from big businesses that have emerged over the last couple of weeks and months. And we wanted to share them with you. These are just some of the highlights from what we’ve found, and we’re pleased to say there are plenty more:

Apple and Google have partnered together to deliver Bluetooth technology designed to help with contact tracing – a tool used to identify and contact people exposed to the virus. [1]  Fast and successful contact tracing has proven useful in mapping the spread of coronavirus and crucially – helping to contain it.[2] However, the effectiveness of the method relies heavily on skills and capacity of the tracers, as well as on the individuals identified taking the right action. The wide-scale reach and easy-adoption elements of the Apple and Google collaboration, combined with the ‘opt-in’, could see a rise in the success of the contact tracing method. 

[1] https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2020/04/apple-and-google-partner-on-covid-19-contact-tracing-technology/
[2] The Effectiveness of Contact Tracing in Emerging Epidemics: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0000012#s1

Robots — whether that’s artificial-intelligence (AI), chatbots, the humanoid type, the self-driving type, the flying type or your bog-standard patrol types — have all been enlisted to help in the battle against coronavirus. CloudMinds donated a range of robots to hospitals in Wuhan and Shanghai.[1] They provided medication, took vitals such as heart rates and even danced to help patients with exercise and entertainment. Chinese hospitals deployed self-driving disinfection robots to keep them safe and clean, sparking robot-adoption outside the country with new models and technologies emerging from Universities in Thailand and Singapore. Other robots across the world have been helping in a variety of ways: AI smart glasses from Rokid are helping to scan crowds for fever,  UPS have been delivering medication using drones and Microsoft developed a ‘Healthbot’ to bring artificial conversation intelligence as a first line of defence.[2] 

[1] https://www.en.cloudminds.com/news-and-blog/
[2] https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/project/health-bot/

You’ve probably heard of big businesses like Dyson and Rolls Royce volunteering to change their factory lines to help create life-saving equipment such as ventilators for hospitals. The latest innovation has come from a collaboration between Mercedes F1 and engineers from the University College of London. They have created a new device to aid breathing, allowing ventilators to go to the most critically ill patients.[1] In Italy, Decathlon supplied detailed drawings of their Easybreath snorkelling mask[2] to Isinnova who reverse-engineered the design and used 3-D printing to create essential valve replacements for hospital breathing equipment.[3]  Meanwhile, it’s not just red carpet brands such as Burberry and Prada that are making masks and protective gowns now. More and more retail brands are joining in such as Barbour, Nike, Gap, UNIQLO and Canada Goose.

[1] https://mecheng.ucl.ac.uk/news/coronavirus-inside-story-of-how-mercedes-f1-and-academics-fast-tracked-life-saving-breathing-aid/
[2] https://www.decathlon.it/maschera-snorkeling-easybreath-id_8526111.html
[3] https://www.isinnova.it/easy-covid19-eng/

It’s not just LVMH (the parent company of perfume brands such as Dior and Givenchy) who have diversified into producing hand sanitiser. Alcohol companies across the globe have started having a go, including BrewDog, Bacardi, Budweiser, Leith Gin, Verdant spirits and Pernod Ricard to name just a few. In fact, the American Craft Spirits Association has set up an online MarketPlace to help distillers repurpose their breweries to create the disinfectants and connect entities/consumers with new suppliers. They are working closely with the regulatory bodies to ensure that they are offering effective guidance and information to ensure guidelines are followed including resources and even webinars.[1] Three out of four members of the American Crafts Spirits Association are now producing alcohol for use as disinfectant. 

[1] https://americancraftspirits.org/covid-19/

As the need for hospital beds and testing spaces grows across the globe, venues have opened doors to the NHS, medical staff and patients. Ifema centre in Madrid, Arena Zagreb in Croatia, Javits Convention Centre in New York and London’s ExCel centre are just some of the closed spaces now opening doors to house medical services. In the football world, Tottenham Hotspur was the first Premier League club to provide a place for testing and swabbing. [1] Meanwhile hotels from Chelsea Football Club and GG Hospitality (owned by former Manchester United Players Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs) have converted into NHS and medical staff accommodations. To help the wider community, other unlikely venues have reconfigured their spaces into pop-up food banks such as Blackpool Tower and RBS conference centre as well as local community centres, schools and clubs across the world. 

Other arts and group venues have innovated by opening their digital doors to people’s homes — often for free. London’s National Theatre and New York’s Met Opera House are just some of the arts houses offering shows to stream. Famous museums and attractions from across the world are creating virtual experiences and tours to watch online such as the Icehotel in Swedish Lapland, Israel’s Jerusalem or Paris’ Louvre Museum. The shift to digital classrooms and meetings has also meant that many services have been able to continue, whether that’s fee-paying such as gyms and craft classes or community-based such as choirs and support groups.

[1] https://www.tottenhamhotspur.com/news/2020/april/club-facilitates-covid-19-testing-at-tottenham-hotspur-stadium/

Agility and innovation are key to business and community success

These stories here are just the tip of the iceberg. Companies big and small from across the globe have been shifting their business models, diversifying their product lines and expanding into the digital world in ways that we could not have imagined before. We’re encouraged to see that in times as new and strange as this, businesses are adapting and innovating with purpose — not just to help their bottom line, but to help others and the wider community, too.

For more like this, visit our Coronavirus Insights Hub

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