Could the toughest times inspire the greatest solutions?

By

Stasia Mitchell

EY Global Entrepreneurship Leader

Helping entrepreneurs connect, contribute to their businesses and make the world better. Strong advocate for women-owned companies and women business leaders.

5 minute read 30 Apr 2020

Our entrepreneurial community is rising up to face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in remarkable ways.

Ihave been inspired by the extraordinary stories of the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year™ alumni across the world, who are showing the ambition to make a difference in their communities. Their actions make me hopeful. These entrepreneurs are leading the way to building a better working world, and they provide practical examples that others can follow. These are five things I believe we can learn from them:

1. It helps to be agile to meet changing demands

In a time of uncertainty, agility is a key driver of business continuity. EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year alumni in the field of health care are responding to the pandemic with breath-taking speed. Louis Roy, the President of OPTEL Group and the 2017 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Canada winner, has been swift to tackle the problem of fake COVID-19 test kits and vaccines. OPTEL uses technology to help prevent counterfeiting in pharmaceuticals and medical devices. In just a few weeks, they’ve developed a mobile app to digitally authenticate COVID-19 test kits and vaccines before they are administered to the public. Roy says, “The first step is to react, and you need to be very fast and agile. And then, the second is to look at ‘What do I do to improve my chance of survival?’”

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The first step is to react, and you need to be very fast and agile. And then, the second is to look at ‘What do I do to improve my chance of survival?’
Louis Roy
President of OPTEL Group and the 2018 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Canada winner

In China, the Chairman of Neusoft Corp and Special Alumni Winner, Dr. Liu Jiren, donated two sets of CT scanning machines to frontline hospitals in Wuhan and led his team to develop NeuThor Container CT to screen for novel coronavirus pneumonia in China. It took the company just seven days. “The equipment can quickly diagnose using artificial intelligence (AI) computing, and reduce contact between doctors and patients and avoid cross infections,” says Dr. Liu. Neusoft also launched the intelligent terminal products named “five guardian warriors against the epidemic.” Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Neusoft has been using innovative software and IT technologies to fight against COVID-19.

2. Good communication is vital and so is sharing knowledge

Business owners and employees alike are looking for reassurance and guidance in these unsettling times. Brad Keywell, the Founder and CEO of Uptake and the 2019 EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year winner, is donating his company's AI-enabled maintenance software for free to fleet operators transporting food and medical supplies, to keep supply chains running smoothly during the pandemic.

Simon Rogerson, together with Chris Hulatt, co-founded Octopus Group, and they were the 2018 EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year UK winners. Rogerson has written a diary detailing what life is like for a CEO in the time of COVID-19. It is a useful account of the mistakes he feels he has made and what he thinks he is getting right. Rogerson encourages larger enterprises to connect with smaller ones: “Help them with the technology required to work effectively from home – run webinars for them, give them access to your own IT teams and go the extra mile without being asked.”

3. Making difficult decisions quickly is key to survival

Lockdown restrictions are forcing many businesses to close their doors and furlough employees. However, the capacity to act quickly in any tough situation is vital. Francesca Webster, the CEO and Founder of Brazilian Beauty and an EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Australia finalist, is a great example of this. Webster had to close 21 of her beauty salons and stand down 140 staff. Undeterred, she led the rest of her team to start producing hand sanitizer at her beauty product manufacturing business, Australian Skin Institute, enabling her to keep some of her employees and address the massive product shortage. She hopes to take back more staff as production increases and wants to encourage other business owners to be innovative as well. “When life gives you lemons, what do you do – you make margaritas,” Webster says.

Sean Sheehan is CEO of Wisetek and an EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2013 Ireland finalist. Wisetek specializes in recycling laptops, but the company was operating at only 50% capacity after virus restrictions were put in place. So, Wisetek has repurposed one of its production lines to make life-saving ventilators for hospitals in Ireland, and it is now capable of assembling 50 ventilators a day. “We are very proud to be able to undertake a project like this,” says Sheehan.

4. Entrepreneurs’ passion for purpose makes a better world for us all

By stepping up to help others, entrepreneurs demonstrate both a generosity of spirit and an ambition to make a difference to their communities. Remo Ruffini is the President and CEO of ready-to-wear fashion label Moncler and is the 2018 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Italy winner. He has committed $10.9 million to assist with the construction of a hospital in Milan. The 270,000-square-foot facility will feature more than 400 intensive care units for coronavirus patients. Ruffini has been moved by the plight of a city he loves. “Milan is a city that has given us all an extraordinary time. We cannot and must not abandon it,” he says.

5. It’s always a good time to prioritize the safety and welfare of your team

This pandemic is a reminder that people are the greatest asset to any organization and that business depends on the welfare of its employees. In India, Uday Kotak, the CEO of Kotak Mahindra Bank and the 2014 EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year winner, is going the extra mile to ensure the safety of his staff. Working from home has been encouraged where possible and Uday’s team has offered to reimburse the cost of COVID-19 tests to all 60,000 employees of the bank or any immediate family members who are advised to take it.

(The views of third parties set out in this publication are not necessarily the views of the global EY organization or its member firms. Moreover, they should be seen in the context of the time they were made.)

Summary

In the midst of this global pandemic, we need the energy, passion and determination of entrepreneurs more than ever. Agility, effective communication, quick decision-making, passion for purpose, and a focus on safeguarding their teams drives entrepreneurs to face the challenges posed by COVID-19. These qualities can guide us all through the now, into the next and beyond.

About this article

By

Stasia Mitchell

EY Global Entrepreneurship Leader

Helping entrepreneurs connect, contribute to their businesses and make the world better. Strong advocate for women-owned companies and women business leaders.