Entrepreneurs are typically good at acting fast, spotting opportunities and responding to a dynamic market, so it comes as no surprise that many are responding to the ongoing COVID-19 situation by taking decisive action. As they try to determine the impact of the crisis, they’ve had to react quickly to safeguard employees and the future viability of the business they’ve spent years building.
Entrepreneurs are a crucial part of the UK economy, and will be key to our economic recovery as we emerge from this crisis. As they consider business priorities and planning against a backdrop of challenging circumstances, we have seen inspiring examples among our UK EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ alumni, across different sectors and regions, pivoting the focus of their business to adapt to the current climate.
Following the rapid shortage of hand sanitisers at the start of COVID-19, a number of our entrepreneur alumni have shifted their production to meet this demand, showing innovation and flexibility. The Isle of Harris Distillery founders, and James Watt of Brewdog are just a couple of examples of where entrepreneurs have adapted their production line, to help meet a national need at a difficult time.
As the country rallies behind the NHS, some of our entrepreneurs have been finding ways to redirect their business to help support the national effort – from accommodation, scrubs, care packages and more. Merilee Karr, founder of UnderTheDoormat and EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women alumni, has set up NHS Homes, a website which puts health staff in touch with landlords willing to offer properties for free or next to nothing. Meanwhile many like Alan and Juliet Barratt of sports nutrition brand Grenade are sending out free care packages to front line NHS heroes.
There are a number of creative and positive steps businesses are taking to contribute to the COVID-19 collective response, showcasing the dynamism and social purpose which sits at the heart of our entrepreneurial businesses.
From a medical perspective, Dr Deborah O’Neil, CEO of NovaBiotics, the clinical stage antimicrobial drug discovery company, has been working to rapidly repurpose an experimental drug for COVID-19 trials, working closely with the NHS. Critically our 2018 winner Gordon Sanghera of Oxford Nanopore is working with public health laboratories and researchers around the world to support the current COVID-19 pandemic. This includes rapid sequencing of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The team at Fuyang City CDC, who were the first to sequence 99.5% of the #SARSCoV2 genome did so using Oxford Nanopore’s MinION Mk1C genome sequencing kit.
In a completely different vein, Simon and Kim Morrish from Ground Control, a commercial grounds maintenance contractor, have been raising funds for the creation of a ‘Tranquillity Garden’ at NHS Nightingale in London to give staff a space to get fresh air and recharge whilst on shift. Meanwhile, the team at BBOXX are working with the World Health Organisation to train BBOXX call centre staff so they can provide accurate information on the virus to their customers.
The response from our Entrepreneur Of The Year alumni is inspiring, but not surprising. While UK businesses may not have had to face a situation like this in living memory, the extent to which these businesses have been able to contribute to the national effort is a product of their regular approach to challenges in business and society: a can do attitude and focus on action. Of course, there are many more fantastic examples than those we’ve mentioned here, and no one should underestimate the financial and market pressures on all businesses at this time. But I believe that, as we emerge from this time of crisis, the energy and drive of our entrepreneurs will be at the heart of the UK’s recovery.
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