The Disruptors: What local start-ups have learned from Covid-19

Wayne Taylor, founder and CEO of Rehook

Wayne Taylor, founder and CEO of Rehook, says adaptation has been the most important factor during the past 18 months - Credit: Rehook

In partnership with the University of East Anglia and Cambridge Norwich Tech Corridor, The Disruptors series has followed the most ground-breaking start-ups in our region. We explored how local innovators turned their revolutionary ideas into reality – despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.  

UEA pro vice chancellor of research and innovation Professor Fiona Lettice explained why invention and innovation are so valuable to the East of England. 

“For our local economy to thrive and create high-value jobs, we must continue to innovate and become more productive as a region,” she said. “This requires the private, public and education sectors working together on improving skills and attracting talent.  

“Innovation will be key to addressing some of the greatest challenges we face today and The Disruptors series has shone a light on an array of pioneering companies across sectors. It has been a fantastic showcase of what our region has to offer. 

“For example, we have a strong energy sector that is well positioned to support national and global ambitions for future clean growth. We have a strong life-sciences sector, underpinned by Norwich Research Park and UEA’s research strengths, focused on challenges around human, plant and soil health. We have a vibrant agri-tech sector, supporting improved farming productivity while reducing its carbon footprint. And we also have a world-leading digital creative and information and communications technology (ICT) sector.” 

UEA Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Professor Fiona Lettice

UEA Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Professor Fiona Lettice - Credit: Neil Hall/UEA

We asked local innovators from these emerging sectors to sum up in one word what they have learned during the most disruptive period of business in generations. 

Giles Barker, CEO and co-founder of KisanHub, which provides supply chain software to the agri-food sector, emphasised determination: “The determination of our customers, who have been working so hard to make sure that the supermarket shelves are full with the best products possible, and the determination from our team to make sure we are always constantly delivering to those clients and innovating in this difficult time.” 

Giles Barker, CEO and co-founder of KisanHub

Giles Barker, CEO and co-founder of KisanHub - Credit: KisanHub

Simon Saxby, CEO of Leaf Expression Systems, said video conferencing was the most important development: “Leaf Expression System’s lab-based staff have been able to work throughout the pandemic operating Covid-safe protocols. At the same time, all non-lab based staff have been based at home.  

“Video conferencing has enabled us to meet as a full team or as smaller teams depending on the need, while also allowing us to maintain effective communications with all of our stakeholders including clients, the board and our shareholders, as well as win new business during the pandemic.” 

Josh Smith, director of Goodery, a local organic food and delivery service, said relationships were key: “What else is business but a web of relationships that make things work? If you can take care of the relationships, you go a long way to taking care of business.” 

“Adaptation has been so important to us over the past 18 months,” says Wayne Taylor, founder and CEO of Rehook. “The landscape has been changing almost daily, making it really difficult for us to forecast and to plan. We have had to constantly adapt as consumer behaviour evolves and as logistics and supply chains continue to be disrupted. We have had to stay agile and adapt to the ever-changing environment.” 

Callum Coombes, co-founder and CEO at Safepoint

Callum Coombes, co-founder and CEO at Safepoint - Credit: Henry Iddon

While Callum Coombes, co-founder and CEO at Safepoint, a platform that ensures the safety of lone workers and at-risk staff, emphasised the importance of support.  

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“We launched Safepoint right into the Covid-19 pandemic, which was not easy,” Callum says. “And we really wouldn’t be here without the amazing support we have received from friends, family, investors and of course the local business community. Not only have we accepted a lot of support, but we have also tried to give that back throughout the past 18 months by providing Safepoint for free during the UK lockdowns.”  

Prof Rob Field, chief scientific officer at Iceni Diagnostics, agreed that support has been important, but stressed the role of collaboration.  

“In challenging times for small companies, you need support from wherever you can get it, and the spirit of collaboration is central to that,” he says. “We are a biotech company involved in the development of next-generation diagnostics technologies for infectious diseases. The past 18 months have been very challenging for us to keep growing. On the other hand, the need for new diagnostics is clear.  

Prof Rob Field, chief scientific officer at Iceni Diagnostics

Prof Rob Field, chief scientific officer at Iceni Diagnostics - Credit: Simone Dedola / Iceni Diagnostics

“We have only been able to progress through collaboration. The interaction with partners here in Norwich but also across the UK has been central to our ability to continue the development of Covid diagnostic test developments. We really do rely on partners – academic, commercial and clinical – in order to progress.” 

The Disruptors video series is produced in association with the University of East Anglia and the Cambridge Norwich Tech Corridor

Watch episodes of The Disruptors at www.edp24.co.uk/topics/the-disruptors

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