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Coming together, apart – an innovation ecosystem during the Coronavirus uptake

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by Startacus Admin

Tzvete Doncheva, innovation ecosystems builder shares her thoughts on how we can all come together (while apart) to face the COVID-19 challenges...

pexels 3861964"Country-wide lockdown in three of Europe’s largest economies. Travel restrictions imposed in over half of the Old Continent’s states in the race to curb the COVID-19 spread. Europe declared as the ‘epicentre’ of the global coronavirus pandemic.

The poison of Coronavirus directly targets the values our European community stands for – unity, solidarity and freedom of movement. Fragmenting societies. Erecting borders. There is an overwhelming divide in the approaches taken by governments and individuals. Insecurity creeps in to fill the void and manifests itself in less than sensible actions. The stockpiling of toilet paper is one example. Irrational social reactions often have a very rational root. Fear. Of the unknown and of losing control.

What follows is a feeling of discomfort. Toilet paper doesn’t only satisfy a bodily function. According to experts, it gives a feeling of control in a situation where most of our abilities are restricted. On a psychological level, it is a solution to remain ‘clear’ from a virus with no known medical treatment when we are given no clear directions from authorities.

My experience in ecosystem building in the industry funding the innovations of the future (venture capital) and background (ex-journalist!) led me to write this piece, urging us to collaborate to minimise the health and economic effects COVID-19 will have on our global community.

Please sign the #StopTheSpreadUK commitment here so we can reduce the risk together.

1. Awareness – Information is power. Understand what the virus is, its symptoms, ways to prevent and treat it. When and where to get tested. The World Health Organisation’s Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19) is a good place to start:

2. Mentality – The responsibility ultimately falls on each of us. It is necessary to take preventive measures to limit the spread of Coronavirus. The time to #Stayhome is now. I am not qualified to give medical advice, hear it from a doctor:

“The aim of social-distancing is to stop the SARS CoV 2 transmission. To prevent Coronavirus from spreading exponentially. In a very short amount of time, a lot of people will fall ill from the same disease. It will then have a follow-on effect to those around them – ‘exponential growth’. A small portion of the infected (those with chronic heart or liver problems) could develop a severe pneumonia.” The real challenge?

“When too many people, suffering the same disease, need the same urgent care at the same time. This is when the health system may give in. All hospitals, medical centres and doctors (regardless of their expertise) should quickly regroup and work as intensive care units.” – Dr Doncho Donchev, Chief of Ward in ENT Clinic, Military Medical Academy

Protect yourself, those around you and be mindful of the most vulnerable.

At present, there is no cure for COVID-19. This is where innovation (and the power of an ecosystem!) should be channelled.

"HealthTech, medtech start-ups with innovative solutions to help tackle Coronavirus?

The European Commission would like to hear from you!

Apply for funding by 18 March

3. Leadership – The times call for a strong, coordinated action. Sequoia Capital is one of the leading venture capital firms in the world. A position yet again affirmed by its quick reaction as COVID-19 was just unfolding in the US last week. The VC sent a memo to its portfolio companies urging them to take the necessary steps to minimize the Coronavirus economic impact to their employees and businesses.

A London-based investor who wishes to remain anonymous advises to be mindful of liquidity. “Ensure your portfolio companies have enough funds to ride through a prolonged period of uncertainty and trading shortfall.”

What should startups do?

“Manage your cost base to preserve cash and look for external funding (government, banks, equity investors)”.

Another helpful resource (and a great example of leadership!) comes from London-based early stage VC Playfair Capital. Chris Smith, partner at the firm, summarises the fund’s response to COVID-19 here.

pexels 1174775Bronny Wilson, regional head UK and Ireland at Equiem, a tenant experience platform, says the company has already implemented work from home measures in the UK and is adapting engagement plans and programming to support clients.

“The priority for many of our clients right now is on keeping people informed. We are also exploring new ways to engage the building communities online, now that more people will be working remotely it’s more important than ever to ensure they stay connected to their building community and have access to updates. We’re helping our clients to communicate to their tenants the measures being taken such as increased cleaning schedules, reduced services and changes to process. People want reassurance their landlord is taking all the right steps.”

Now is the opportunity for leaders to inspire. To build trust, show unity and solidarity.
“The world has suffered and survived more deadly pandemics. Coronavirus too, shall pass. With globalisation and advanced technologies, we follow the updates in real time. In the long-term it will strengthen the internal capabilities of countries and equip them with better skills to overcome future pandemics.” – added Dr Doncho Donchev

To innovate, together

“Necessity is the mother of all inventions. This forced separation will hopefully provide the right incentives for companies (big and small alike) to digitize most of their operations. Research shows that by 2030 more than half of the workforce will work remotely at least for half of their week. So why not use this ‘forced’ opportunity to move faster towards it while ensuring that everyone is reminded of the importance of mental and physical health as well as upcoming deadlines. Hopefully we will come out of this stronger and more united."

says Gaia Arzilli, Innovations & Partnerships Lead at HB Reavis, international workspace provider

Finally, I am putting my thoughts on a (virtual) paper as I feel unease on a personal level too.

Working in venture capital, an industry supporting innovation and economic growth, I can recognise the implications the global health crisis will bring. To start-ups, investors, service providers. Having a family in one country and a base in another, I am worried about my freedom of movement being restricted. I am terrified of not being able to go home. Many people are facing the same dilemma of whether to uproot their lives for the foreseeable few months.

Growing up in a medical family, is to put it very bluntly bitter-sweet. As a human, I appreciate and am proud of the great impact my father’s work as a doctor has. But as his daughter, I am selfish. I would like him to be safe. I would like for the necessary measures to be taken so the medical system is not stretched to capacity. So, it can withhold. The concept of ‘social-distancing’ is the opposite of being an ecosystem – builder, physically bringing the key stakeholders in the built world together. But worry will not help. Not to me, not to you, your business or your country. What is needed is an adequate, timely and uniform response.

As Charles Darwin did indeed put it the ones who survive are “are not the strongest or the most intelligent, but the most adaptable to change.” Countries, Tzvete Donchevabusinesses and us as individuals will need to learn how to adapt to the changing circumstances. And we can all go through it – together, even when apart.

Please sign the commitment to #StayHome to #StopTheSpreadUK today.

Individual action at scale creates waves. And it can make a difference.

Tzvete Doncheva
 is an ecosystem builder in the areas of PropTech, Mobility and Smart Cities. She is working in venture capital (leading PropTech VC Round Hill Ventures) and also consults businesses on innovation management and event strategy.


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Published on: 16th March 2020

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