How have startups pivoted to respond to Covid-19?

Posting date: 23 June 2020

The Covid-19 outbreak has led to a raft of changes across industries, from home working and virtual business meetings through to social distancing and reorganisation. Beyond the day-to-day of how we’re working, we’ve also seen dramatic changes within some industries as to what we’re working on.

One of the most interesting impacts of Covid-19 has been the response of businesses who are trying to not only survive, but also help in the face of a massive global pandemic. Restaurants have moved to online delivery models, fashion labels are manufacturing face masks and life science organisations worldwide are devoting their efforts entirely to finding a vaccine. This is easier for some than others – changing business models and production plans suit organisations that are agile and free from the restrictions that many established large-scale businesses have in place.


With that in mind, we’re taking a look at how startups have pivoted in response to Covid-19.


What does ‘pivot’ mean?

Anyone who’s worked in technology – and particularly the startup world – will be familiar with the pivot. It’s the term given to a change in approach to test a new business model or product, usually after receiving feedback that the original approach is not effective. It’s common in the startup community where entrepreneurs typically follow a lean methodology where everything is questioned – even the purpose of the organisation. Famous organisations that have pivoted include Nintendo, whose previous products have included instant rice and vacuum cleaners, and Twitter, which was once a service called Odeo that allowed people to find and listen to podcasts.


Which startups have pivoted as a response to Covid-19?

The 2010s saw a huge amount of hype generated over 3D printing, yet the technology has so far seemed somewhat underutilised. Now, however, Covid-19 is presenting new demand for additive manufacturing, thanks largely to the stranglehold China has had on manufacturing personal protective equipment and other products that have been in short supply during the pandemic. When Chinese manufacturing came to a halt during lockdown, startups and other businesses stepped up to use 3D printing to fill the gap, with designs for face shields and medical equipment shared on open source platforms to allow anyone to create these much-needed products. The Middle East and North African market have seen 3D printing startups such as Eon Dental pivot to contribute to the Covid-19 battle, reconfiguring machines and temporarily changing their entire business models. Meanwhile, UAE commodities startup Immensa produces 10,000-12,000 face shields a day to export to Europe, the US and Middle East.


Closer to home, Swiss-based fertility tracking organisation Ava Women is researching whether its fertility tracking device can be used to detect early signs of Covid-19. Another life sciences startup, Warsaw Genomics, has moved away from its genetic testing to now offer Covid-19 tests for distribution within Poland’s hospitals, while delivery network Gophr is now delivering pharma, bio-sample and test kids for health services companies.


The fintech market is not exempt from virus-driven pivots. Examples include US neobank Moven selling its direct consumer offering to focus entirely on developing financial technology for other banks, and British credit rating startup Credit Kudos launching a tool that allows freelancers to verify their earnings to benefit from the British government’s financial support.


 What does this mean for me?

These pivots demonstrated the rapidly changing business landscape we are finding ourselves in, and the need for businesses and workers alike to take a flexible, agile approach to the marketplace. While experience in healthcare and life sciences is naturally in demand in the current climate, so too are digital and technology skills to help startups and other businesses pivot and digitalise their offering.

If you’re in the market for a new role, we’d love to help. We have deep experience in our specialist markets and are paying close attention to the current market conditions. Contact us to start a conversation about your next steps.

How has Covid-19 impacted Dubai?

Around the world, countries have been impacted by and responded to Covid-19 in different ways. While Switzerland chose to rely heavily on testing and offered support to businesses, the United Arab Emirates implemented a travel ban, cut interest rates and rolled out a stimulus package. As a travel hub with many expat and temporary workers, Dubai has been presented with unique challenges during the pandemic. Now as individuals and businesses start to recover and now look to the future, what can we expect for the city, and how might the economy recover? Travel plans have changed Dubai came to a standstill in April as the UAE government imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world. Now, the emirate is opening the economy back up, and a significant part of this is travel. As one of the world’s most significant travel hubs, Dubai was heavily impacted by lockdown measures. It's a city reliant on tourism, hospitality and aviation, so the grounding of planes and imposition of strict travel restrictions have had a major effect on the economy. March’s complete halt of passenger flights has contributed to passenger travel through Dubai dropping by a fifth in the first quarter of 2020, though special repatriation flights still operated to ensure travellers and contract workers could return home. The transport and storage sector, which includes aviation, land, air and water transport, made up 18.5% of Dubai’s GDP in 2017 and was its most active economic driver in the first half of 2019, so such a significant halt could be detrimental to the wider economy. However, there is now good news for the aviation and hospitality sectors with the resumption of travel from to and from Dubai by July 7. Airports and national carriers are resuming large-scale operations whilst maintaining strict health and safety measures, which may help to accelerate the predicted economic recovery. We can therefore expect to see more opportunity for investment in the travel and tourism sector over the coming months. Staff consider their options While the UAE did roll out a stimulus package to help its economy in the midst of the pandemic, Dubai hasn’t seen the same level of support that other parts of the world has when it’s come to securing businesses. With no furlough scheme, some employers have been forced to reduce headcount and salaries to ensure survival during and after Covid-19. As the nation is made up largely of expats, many residents are making the decision to return home, and Oxford Economics estimates that the UAE could see 10% of residents leave its shores. However, with job losses and tanking economies an issue worldwide, those in stable industries may choose to stay on in Dubai rather than facing an uncertain future back home. Some nations in the GCC are actively looking to reduce expatriate worker numbers, with Kuwait and Oman looking to fill a higher percentage of key positions with national candidates. As international flights resume and restrictions ease, we anticipate there will be more employment opportunities within the UAE, particularly within the healthcare, distribution and logistics and technology industries. E-commerce is thriving throughout the pandemic, so specialist skillsets in this area will be highly sought after.  Oil and gas take a hit We know that the commodities market has taken a considerable hit in 2020, not just with Covid-19 but with the oil price wars as well. Supply has outweighed demand and we saw storage facilities reach maximum capacity, resulting in a record low oil price that created significant disruption throughout the global industry. However, the past two months have seen the market recover somewhat, and there are predictions that the second half of the year will see oil prices rise back to $50. As lockdowns continue to be lifted around the world and the mobilisation of people and supplies resumes, we hope this sector continues to strengthen and more job opportunities will emerge. Investment shows confidence There are clear signs of opportunity and optimism in the UAE already. One such sign of confidence is the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company announcing a $20.7 billion energy infrastructure deal with global investors, operators and sovereign wealth and investment funds. It’s one of the largest global energy infrastructure transactions and is positive news for the UAE’s gas market – and indeed, clients and jobseekers. Emiratis are optimistic about an economic recovery, according to Mckinsey, and the relaxation of lockdown rules should speed this up. Dubai has maintained its position as among the top three destinations globally for greenfield foreign direct investment, thanks to its ease of doing business, location and security. This should help the city to recover economically, perhaps more quickly than other areas. Flexibility into the future Through this crisis we’ve seen many clients in Dubai and UAE implement remote working, reducing business travel as much as possible and placing projects on hold. We can expect to see some of this continue long into the future, particularly regarding employer flexibility, potentially creating more opportunities for workers who may not otherwise have been able to work full time in an office location. As 22% of UAE employers say working from home has increased their business’ productivity, many organisations may introduce new remote and flexible working policies to allow employees to work from home on a permanent or part time basis. Unnecessary business travel will likely be reduced or eliminated entirely, with a focus on working – and hiring – locally. That’s not to say there won’t be opportunities for global workers to take up lucrative contracts in the UAE, however. For the right candidate, opportunities will remain. Established in 2007, Swisslinx’s Dubai office is focused on banking and finance, oil and gas, and technology. We have a multilingual team of sector experts who are committed to matching the right candidates with the right roles, providing ongoing support before, during and after the recruitment process. View our latest UAE jobs or contact us to talk about how we can help you.

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How has Covid-19 heightened the demand for tech and digital skills?

Since the start of the Information Age, the technology industry has grown year-on-year and this trend has only been escalated by Covid-19. The industry is playing a crucial part in the response to coronavirus – helping the healthcare sector track the virus, aiding banks at a time of heightened cyber threats and supporting companies across the globe take their operations online.   Before the outbreak, Europe’s technology industry achieved an annual investment of $34.3 billion, with $1.7 billion of that capital being invested in Swiss companies, therefore, ranking Switzerland in the top five. 2020 looks set to be a promising year for this industry as companies in every corner of the globe become increasingly reliant of technology professionals.   While we only seem to be in the foothills of Covid-19’s impact on the global workforce there are clear trends emerging and tech and digital skills are proving themselves to be more valuable than ever.     The healthcare sector Covid-19 has seen the healthcare and life sciences sector become more dependent on technology. As the spread of the virus continued to pick up pace, companies and governing bodies turned to the one thing that could be shared faster – information.   New apps designed to track Covid-19 using the Apple and Google Exposure Notification API swiftly entered the scene with the first release in Switzerland. The SwissCovid app has been trialled on a voluntary basis and gained backing from 70% of users. Swiss developers are now looking to roll out the app to the Swiss army and medical professionals. This presents an opportunity for developers to offer their coding skills to fight against the virus – or pick up the basics of coding - but it also signals we’ll see mobile apps as solutions to future global problems and therefore drive up the demand for user experience (UX) skills and cross-platform development.   Meanwhile in the US, technology professionals have been pushing their AI skills to new limits to create innovative data platforms that provide information on the availability of hospital beds.   The growing ecommerce industry Covid-19 has not only heightened the demand for tech and digital skills, it has nurtured our developing technology ecosystems. Ecommerce spending was growing at an unstoppable rate well before coronavirus and since it’s unknown when or if things will return to normal many retailers may choose to take their operations entirely online. This $3,535 billion industry will call for more sophisticated websites and high-level digital infrastructure - a challenge for retailers but an interesting opportunity for web developers, software support specialists and even solution architects.   A call for data scientists In a similar way that ecommerce has taken a larger share of the consumer spending pie, banking institutes have resorted to taking their services online too. This ever-increasing digitalisation is generating more data than ever before and causing a swell in data analytics. Employers were already showing an increased interest in data analytic skills, with data science job postings surging by 256% in the last six years, and this demand shows no signs of slowing down. In response to Covid-19, organisations are going face to face with the increasing digital skills gap and actively fostering a digital culture.   The cloud has become more important than ever For many individuals, the introduction of the cloud was the perfect answer to limited storage space, but for organisations, cloud services have proved an essential piece of the remote working puzzle. Within the tech and digital industry, cloud and infrastructure have asserted their dominance as top skills for employees to list on their CVs.   The rising threat to data security Whilst businesses hail the functionalities of cloud services they must also recognise the added threat that cloud storage poses to their documents and data. Databarracks report in their 2019 Data Health Check that from 2016-2019 the number of data loss cases as a result of cyber attacks had almost increased twofold.   Evidently, cybersecurity was already proving to be a rising star in the digital and tech skills sphere but Covid-19 has offered a fast-track ticket to the top. The pandemic is not only bringing new tech and digital skills into the limelight but it’s magnifying the need for larger digital teams, introducing new roles such as Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and creating a boom in technology recruitment.     How can Swisslinx help you? Prior to Covid-19, digital and technology was establishing itself as one of our key developing markets and this surge in recruitment activity is only set to increase. We recognise the importance of keeping pace with technology drivers and trends, and our deep understanding of the industry enables us to identify talent from both local and international markets. Contact us to find out how we can help you during the time of heightened demand for tech and digital skills.

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