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How Queensland entrepreneurs are responding to the COVID-19 crisis

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The COVID-19 crisis has thrust many businesses into the unknown – with development halted, revenue streams cut off and many products and services temporarily obsolete.

For the lucky few, the crisis is on their side (think toilet paper and grocery subscriptions, fitness apps and food delivery startups) but for the rest of us, it’s a matter of survival – which means pivoting or persevering.

Queensland Chief Entrepreneur Leanne Kemp says when it comes to changing the direction of business, great founders and startups aren’t seeking permission or waiting to be asked.

“They’re tapping into their imaginations along with their experience as inspired entrepreneurs, innovators and managers to generate bold unconventional responses,” Kemp says.

“As I’ve said, it’s all about how to pivot, persevere and pirouette. One day, this time may be remembered in the hallways of urban myths as the genesis of incredible scientific breakthroughs, unconventional leaders and new economic engines were formed.”

One business that’s jumped on the opportunity to pivot is Triple Eight Race Engineering. Usually occupied with servicing supercars, the Brisbane-based engineering company was quick to put its hand up to help supply for the state’s health sector.

After returning from the Australian Grand Prix that didn't go ahead – the team were approached by Queensland's Manufacturing Minister to create a ventilator prototype.

"Engineering is engineering, so when you're involving a control system, an electrical motor, and circuit board it's not dissimilar to the parts we use on a sophisticated Supercar," team principal Roland Dane told the ABC.

The team successfully created the prototype and is now working with manufacturing partners to take it into production. They’re also looking at variations of the product that could be used in everyday situations.

"We've challenged ourselves again to develop it into something that is far more capable, that fits into the regulatory system in a normal situation in this country," Dane said.

Other businesses have made tweaks to their existing offering, such as those in the food and beverage sector.

City Winery Brisbane has taken its usual eat and drink in-house model to facilitate wine and food tastings at home. James Street’s ever-popular Gerard’s Bistro and South Banks’ Gauge are among the restaurants that are arranging epic multi-course fine dining meals for customers to eat at home.

And Queensland tech startup Bopple is enabling many food and bev businesses to easily switch to home delivery with its online ordering app.

We’ve also seen fitness classes, teaching, dance and performing arts studios move to online models of learning in record speed, and many businesses pivot production to supply consumables such as hand sanitiser, face masks and scrubs for the health sector.

So is all this innovation here to stay?

When it comes to long term solutions, Leanne Kemp says the recovery will be V-shaped, W-shaped, L-shaped, or even a slow uptick ✔️.

“There is a third dimension (a Z-axis) which tells us about the structure of the economy which will drive a truly re-enlivened, robust and regenerative economic response,” Kemp says.

“Most of the current conversations, the economic graphs and projected financial plans ignore this third dimensionality of recovery.

“Consider also that few industries and societies will be left unchanged. When the iPhone first put the internet in our pockets, perhaps we underestimated the rise of smartphone technology. A decade since that first device came onto the market and now it is an indispensable piece of core personal infrastructure.

“What impact will COVID have on digital infrastructure, secured supply chains, personal hygiene and how society interacts both now and decades from now?”

Kemp says we are in a huge long-term experiment right now, toying with new behaviours.

“We might like what we find, we might return to all our old ways, or we might find that new third dimension. An unexpected problem must be met with unexpected efforts. The question remains when the ball bounces, how will it bounce?”

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