Top tips for business resilience during a global pandemic

A young boy dressed as a businessman is showing his strength outside by lifting a barbell and weights. He is showing his confidence and inner strength to accomplish a difficult task amidst adversity. Image taken in Utah, USA.

Building business resilience in the response to COVID-19, and how this response is helping to shape the future of UK research and development (R&D) investment.

Survival skills

I have written and collaborated on many business continuity plans in my time. It’s the sensible thing to do, right? Along with a risk management strategy, we feel like we’re well prepared to respond to any threat that comes our way.

Enter COVID-19, okay, activate the plan:

  • follow the strategy
  • make sure every action we take preserves our current value
  • our primary objective? Survival!

Now, assess:

  • did we plan well enough to navigate through the crisis?
  • did we make the right decisions at the right time to protect the health of our workforce?
    • to stabilise productivity?
    • to preserve our customer base, our supply chain, and our investors?

What businesses have learned is that they are well equipped to put out multiple fires in all directions. But what is left amongst the ashes?

Like a phoenix rising

Resilience. It’s a term we hear often in today’s world. And it’s important because simply taking action to survive isn’t enough to… well, survive. We’ve got to build on that now that our world has changed.

So, what is resilience? Simply put, it’s the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, to adapt, live with, and continue to develop in the face of change.

Rather than just taking actions to preserve our current value, we need to seek out opportunities to create new value. The landscape on which our businesses have existed has changed fundamentally and we need to adapt.

Industries hardest hit have been where personal interactions are a necessity. Let’s take the construction industry as an example. You can’t build homes from a laptop!

Rethinking business priorities

Business priorities will need a rethink. What we do and how we do it will require innovation to enable recovery, prevent any unexpected surprises and allow flexibility to adopt new ideas. And with innovation comes change and the need to adapt, enter resilience.

In the case of construction (PDF, 112KB), the focus has shifted from the physical outputs of building production, to exploring new digital and manufacturing technologies. Coupled with new partnerships that will evolve the whole construction eco-system.

One area we’ve all had to adapt to is our ways of working. From the immediate remote digital switchover to remain productive during national lockdowns, to the steady transition into a more hybrid model of flexible working.

Injecting innovation

According to PwC’s 2021 Global Crisis Survey (PDF, 1MB), businesses are injecting innovation across all areas of their business.

Areas such as work policies are being given an overhaul to:

  • maximise safety and wellbeing of the workforce
  • upskill colleagues and develop into ‘change agents’
  • reconfigure the workplace and ways of working.

Businesses are also assessing their value proposition, with a strong focus on current relevance in today’s markets and exploring new opportunities by:

  • identifying new market needs
  • redefining the product or service offering
  • re-engineering the customer experience
  • customer mobility
  • redefining brand strategy and messaging.

And businesses are re-configuring their internal processes, their vision, and goals, focusing on:

  • improving and enhancing digital connectivity across the supply chain
  • pivoting the manufacturing processes
  • accelerating towards sustainable development goals
  • scenario testing.

These lists are not exhaustive, but they give an indication of just how much innovation and resilience can be borne out of a crisis.

Lending a hand

Since 2020, Innovate UK has delivered over £750 million worth of investment and support to businesses as part of its COVID-19 response package, across all regions and sectors of the UK.

This investment has helped to keep research and development very much alive, as it plays such a critical role in boosting economic recovery.

In December 2021, we awarded an additional £5.8 million ‘resilience fund’ package of support to over 100 UK businesses, to ensure innovation can thrive during ongoing economic uncertainty.

Innovation in action

I’d like to shine a spotlight on two exciting R&D projects being supported by our resilience fund.

1. Tenzo: food waste forecasting using artificial intelligence

Tenzo project team

Tenzo project team.
Credit: Tenzo

Tenzo is on a mission to revolutionise the way restaurants and retailers use their data.

The UK hospitality industry generates over one million tonnes of food waste each year, equivalent to approximately £3 billion in cost and over 4.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).

At the same time, UK restaurants yield a meagre 3 to 5% average profit margin, making it one of the least profitable industries in the country. This economic struggle has been dramatically exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.

Through insights and forecasts, Tenzo is helping businesses to reduce food waste and boost profitability, whilst drastically reducing the environmental impact of their operations.

Accurate forecasting algorithms

Tenzo’s project focuses on finding the most accurate forecasting algorithms. It combines them with a user-friendly software interface to ensure frontline workers are empowered to reduce food waste in their day-to-day operations.

By 2024, this tool could reduce:

  • annual UK hospitality food waste by over 38,000 tonnes
  • CO2 by over 175,000 tonnes
  • restaurant costs by over £20 million.

Maury Ueta, Chief of Staff, Tenzo, said:

The pandemic systematically changed the restaurant industry, and we are experiencing an increased demand for our product.

This additional funding is resulting in a higher forecasting accuracy from our machine learning models and a better understanding of our client needs.

2. Entrust: smart electric vehicle charging system for public spaces

Entrust electric vehicle charging (EnSmartEV) system

Entrust electric vehicle charging (EnSmartEV) system.
Credit: Entrust

Electric vehicles are fast becoming the norm as we race towards a cleaner world. However, accessibility to vehicle charging still poses a huge challenge and holds many road users back from making the switch.

Entrust have been developing an innovative smart electric vehicle charging (EnSmartEV) system integrated within a smart microgrid. This can be installed in:

  • residential communities for households without off-street parking
  • commercial communities for the public and employees and visitors of businesses and organisations
  • organisations for fleet charging (such as hospital ambulances and supermarket delivery vehicles).
EnSmartEV system showing multiple EV's being charged simultaneously.

EnSmartEV system showing multiple EV’s being charged simultaneously.
Credit: Entrust

Revolutionary new system

EnSmartEV is a revolutionary new system that utilises a 622kWh battery store for seamless, AC and DC charging of EV’s.

Highly innovative new and patented technology is at the core of the EnSmartEV system. This not only allows for multiple EV’s to be charged simultaneously, but also balances out demands on the grid, thereby reducing grid connection costs.

Stephen Parkinson, Business Director, Entrust Smart Home Microgrid, said:

Cashflow is key in any small company that’s pioneering new and innovative technology. The resilience fund has been a real help in getting our smart EV technology into the marketplace and we are grateful to Innovate UK for all their support.

We have a great platform now to capitalise on the technology by securing orders, growing the business, and contributing to the local economy whilst also helping the UK to move forward and achieve net zero.

Silver linings

COVID-19 has changed the business landscape forever.

The advent of COVID-19 and our innovation ecosystem’s role in response to it has been a defining moment in history. This has helped business leaders to understand the value of innovation in new ways.

Now, more than ever, we are seeing innovation feature as a strategic priority for many organisations.

Innovation capability has been recognised by our UK government through the new UK innovation strategy (PDF, 3MB).

This strategy promises to increase annual public investment in R&D to a record £22 billion. The strategy also sets an ambitious target of raising the total public and private R&D investment to 2.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2027.

Innovate UK will be right here to support our R&D community on this journey.

Get in touch with Innovate UK today to find out more.

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