The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus (a.k.a. COVID-19) a global health emergency on January 30, 2019. Since then, it has radically reshaped our world. Massive changes have been encouraged within society as previously beloved cultural and economic institutions were compelled to temporarily shutter amid a highly infectious and stealth contagion.
While many eagerly follow the news for the latest findings, few pay close attention to how COVID-19 is disrupting the disruptors themselves. Industries have taken a hard hit in recent months. Here’s a look at how COVID-19 is disrupting the disruptors and how they’re reacting to the pandemic among us.
Startup accelerators are concerned
Startups and the accelerators designed to help them grow and go-to-market are generally not poised to endure sizable losses and downturns over a long period. Many startups simply lack the capital and established consumer base to endure lengthy pandemic-induced slow-to-no-sales periods. They’re the first to close up shop when the economy constricts. Meanwhile, accelerators find themselves deprived of revenue once startups feel the burn.
Accelerators like Y Combinator, a U.S.-based seed money startup accelerator, are finding it necessary to pivot in ways that may diminish short-term benefits such as access to mentors, other founders, and potential investors. “As outbreaks of Covid-19 force schools and businesses to temporarily shut down, YC is grappling with the possibility that it may have to run its summer batch entirely online,” according to Wired.
This means that highly coveted YC connections are likely to be few and far between in the coming months. The loss of networking opportunities will be profound as entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors who would usually rub shoulders with one another are now socially distanced.
Supply chains are destined for restructuring
No industry is immune from the supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19 –– especially those which are labor-intensive. A quick review of the most vulnerable industries reveals how warehouse and transit companies have had to reshape operations in the face of growing digitization and are now forced to evolve yet again.
As employees and local communities succumb to the disease, supply chains (especially those with connections to China) will continue to bear a large brunt of the pandemic. As a result, many companies have adopted operational measures to ensure the health and safety of their employees. These new standards directly impact transportation, logistics, and consumers. The shift is felt among customers as companies experience operational delays in terms of order processing, shipping, increased call center volume and extended wait times.
Alternative manufacturing hubs like South Korea were not immune to the impact of COVID-19, though their mitigation strategies have garnered international recognition for efforts to #flattenthecurve.
Coworking is in turmoil
The coworking model hasn’t been around to witness an economic shock quite like this one. Many coworking spaces have closed their doors to members and working from home is the new normal for many. Coworking operations were simply unprepared for this seismic shift in work culture.
“To weather this uncertain storm, coworking operators are under pressure to reevaluate their operations and come up with new business models, sanitation practices, and flexible solutions for their members as quickly as possible.” Meanwhile, the need for social distancing practices in the foreseeable future is a wakeup call to coworking companies that have experienced immense strain on financial resources.
Companies like WeWork brace for a seismic work culture shift
For example, there is now widespread speculation about whether COVID-19 will be the end of WeWork as it adds to the stress of a struggling company formerly beleaguered with negative press and poor employee relations.
To add to a list of growing issues, WeWork skirted a New York State mandate in late march for all non-essential businesses to shut their doors, by claiming it is an essential business. The decision to remain open despite the widespread outbreak has drawn member and public scrutiny.
“I am just really shocked and offended and worried for people that WeWork is refusing to close,” said Jill Raney of consulting firm Practice Makes Progress. Their decision to remain open is “not in line with fundamental public health requirements,” Raney said. “If WeWork cared about the businesses and well-being of its members, it would close.”
WeWork has required members to continue paying membership fees, “even as guidelines from public health officials discourage working in communal settings and” nonessential workers are urged to stay at home. The company does allow members to terminate their contracts early, but it requires a 30-day notice.
WeWork once lauded as a welcome disruptive force to work culture, may find themselves in even hotter water amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The rise of coworking may have prevented an increase in London office prices and rents those across the globe, but as COVID-19 hits commercial real estate and companies fall behind on rent, the future is uncertain.
AI is inherently disruptive and built for the challenge
Not all disruptive industries are upended by the spread of COVID-19. Indeed, some novel advancements have aided the pandemic response in a meaningful way.
Consider the role of the big data and AI in COVID-19 response and you’ll witness how disruptors are best equipped to manage disruption. Some of the world’s leading scientists are tapping into the power of AI to better track the spread of COVID-19, according to The New York Times.
Companies like C3.ai, an artificial intelligence company in Redwood City, Calif., said their public-private consortium, C3.ai Digital Transformation Institute, a new research consortium comprised of top universities and companies, “would spend $367 million in its initial five years, aiming its first awards at finding ways to slow the new coronavirus that is sweeping the globe.”
Artificial intelligence will be deployed in a number of ways to speed up the development of treatment options and help epidemiologists track new outbreaks in real-time.
The widespread impact of a global pandemic requires innovators to grapple with disruptions that upend existing practices. Along the way, they will ignite new ideas and consumer movements. Some disruptors are rising to the call as they navigate the new normal and show the world rapid innovation and leadership, while others may find COVID-19 brings about the end of an empire.
Simon Crompton is a freelance journalist and entrepreneur, who spends the majority of his time blogging about business startups and consulting on web development. He has launched multiple online companies. He is also a dedicated follower of fashion, and has written for the Financial Times and GQ.
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