Businesses innovate to deal with COVID-19

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A USC project to benchmark regional innovation is about to provide even greater insights as fallout from COVID-19 compels many Sunshine Coast businesses to operate in new ways.

The national lockdown due to a global pandemic was not even on the radar when USC Business researchers began a follow-up study this year to a 2019 pilot Regional Innovation Benchmark of local firms.

However, Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Dr Retha de Villiers Scheepers said the coronavirus pandemic restrictions now presented her team with a unique opportunity to measure innovation in an unprecedented business landscape.

“We’ve seen a massive shake-up as businesses adapt to the new restrictions, and a considerable transition to online,” Dr de Villiers Scheepers said.

“Many traditional businesses resist this sort of change but now that they don’t have a choice, they are connecting with their customers online in ways they haven’t in the past and in the process have learnt a tremendous amount in a really short time period.”

Dr de Villiers Scheepers and her research team are inviting local businesses to participate in this year’s survey, which forms part of a three-year benchmarking study for the Sunshine Coast Regional Innovation Project Team (SCRIPT).

It is also being expanded to include four other Queensland regions – Moreton Bay, Wide Bay Burnett, North Queensland and Central Queensland – following the success of last year’s pilot project.

The project has received a $75,000 Advance Queensland grant, along with financial support from USC and SCRIPT, to identify measures that both help and hinder innovation in regions.

Dr de Villiers Scheepers said anecdotal evidence suggested many businesses have innovated without realising by changing their daily business activities and the ways they interacted with customers and employees due to the coronavirus.

“Many firms have decided to embrace this new world. Some business owners are discovering a new line of business or are engaging with their target markets in ways that they haven’t before,” Dr de Villiers Scheepers said.

“In the past few weeks, many businesses have had to adopt an online presence, enable their websites for e-commerce, and learn on the go when it comes to creating online platforms and content, even podcasts.

“Others are innovating with staff, with many businesses now having their staff working remotely when they wouldn’t have entertained that possibility before.”

Dr de Villiers Scheepers said this had helped to clear up misconceptions about what business innovation involved.

“New-to-the-firm innovation is not just technological improvements. It can mean doing things differently to improve customer value, such as improving a process, marketing in a new way, or even buying a machine to do things faster.”

Last year’s pilot study of the Sunshine Coast region found that local businesses who prioritised innovation improved their financial performance and increased their sales of new products and services by a minimum of 20 percent.  

“We expect to find that those businesses that were already more geared towards innovation and quick to learn new skills are likely to do better during the pandemic than those that weren’t,” Dr de Villiers Scheepers said.

The study also found about a third of the businesses surveyed collaborated with other firms and organisations to innovate.

“We expect that more businesses are collaborating this year as there are many anecdotal cases of firms who are more-or-less competitors – such as restaurants – banding together to help each other reach their customers,” she said.

“We’ve also seen this groundswell of community support this year which is helping businesses do things differently to what they have done before.”

Businesses can participate in the survey at https://uscmarketing.au1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_cLJMDejBgS7cMhT.

 
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