The Warrington team adapted breathing machines normally used for sleep apnoea, a disorder that stops breathing during sleep, which became known as “black boxes”. These have been so successful that Warrington hospital continues to have the lowest number of COVID-19 related deaths in the northwest of England – half that of some local hospitals. A classic example of ‘recombinant innovation’ in a time of need without delay, it also demonstrates that small innovations made locally by people just ‘doing their job’ can make a huge difference to people’s lives.
Big and small businesses quickly shifted their services and operating model this year not just to survive the pandemic but to create a beneficial impact for their local communities and society at large.
When the pandemic hit, consumer appliance firm Arçelik, which owns the Beko and Grundy brands, joined forces with some of the biggest names in technology and aviation to undertake the mass production of life-saving mechanical ventilators. In a remarkable case of cross-industry collaboration for innovation, 120 engineers, including 60 from Arçelik and others from BioSys, Baykar Technologies and Aselsan, got together to use the rapid prototyping facilities at Arçelik Garage, an open innovation centre in Istanbul, to design and test the initial prototype on a strict two week deadline.
Arçelik completed production of 5,000 life saving mechanical ventilators in June, with more than half sent to 18 countries including some of the hardest hit countries, such as Brazil, Somalia and Nigeria. The collective expertise in the design, industrialisation and localisation of the ventilator is given to the Turkish Ministry of Industry and Technology on a not-for-profit basis.
‘Part of the solution’
Arçelik CEO Hakan Bulgurlu says: “We’re proud to have played a role in this project, which shows what can be achieved when we come together for the greater good. We want to be part of the solution; working collectively with businesses and governments to fight COVID-19 globally and shape a more sustainable future.”
Meanwhile, on a smaller scale, San Francisco-based restaurant wholesale app Cheetah pivoted to sell to consumers after the pandemic and lockdowns cut 80% of its revenues almost overnight. Demonstrating true innovative thinking in adversity, Cheetah saw the opportunity not only to pivot to survive, but also to support its local community. By creating a consumer version of its app, it enabled customers to order from its wholesale suppliers and collect orders the next day at designated pick-up points in a completely contactless process.
The system leveraged Cheetah’s infrastructure to solve numerous pain points in a post-COVID world: it helps local grocery stores overcome possible supply shortages through access to a separate supply chain; enables more food ordering transactions with fewer employees than door-to-door delivery, and saves customers time by avoiding speculative shopping trips and queues to enter stores – and reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Cheetah is also supporting restaurants by removing its delivery fees on supplies for those that remain open; little wonder that in April this year it closed a $36 million Series B round, bringing total funding to more than $66 million since its 2015 inception.
From coal to code
Two of the finalists were chosen for innovation in adversity that had nothing to do with the pandemic. Bit Source is an unusual software services company located in one of the poorest areas of the US, in the Appalachian region of Eastern Kentucky. A region once powered by the coal industry, it has been in decline for many years as a result of anti-coal policies and the shutdown of the mines that employed most of the local population.
How, wondered two former coalminers in Pikeville, could they create employment and reboot the local economy in this bleak scenario? Having considered “just about everything – wind farms, solar farms, hog farms – you name it” – Rusty Justice and Lynn Parrish set up Bit Source, a software services company that turns former miners into coders and sells software products to companies. Along the way they had to overcome challenges seemingly the size of the surrounding mountains themselves: a scarcity of IT skills, poor high-speed internet access and difficulty in accessing funds and projects.