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Lockdown Opportunity For Innovative SMEs

Innovative SMEs

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A look at how SMEs have adjusted to business conditions amid Covid-19 

It’s commonly known that entrepreneurs by nature and definition are not idle. In South Africa, the agility and enthusiasm of business owners and SMEs have resulted in real-life examples of innovation over a very challenging lockdown period in South Africa. Where most companies have been left facing a slow-down of normal activity and a depressing forecast for the future, there are those shining examples of businesses that have pivoted to identify a solution or solve a challenge inflicted by the pandemic. Now it’s certainly not business-as-usual, but the positive approach among some in this innovative community is tangible.

A good example is civic engagement platform Govchat – an open government partnership with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.  GovChat was launched in 2018 as the official citizen engagement platform for the government. With the onset of the pandemic, the company secured a partnership with Sassa to enable millions of unemployed citizens access to what is considered to be the largest social security programme on the African continent. 

Charmaine Lambert from Absa’s fintech co-working space WorkInProgress at which Govchat was founded, says that often the pressure to ‘pivot’ in these types of situations can be overwhelming. “Entrepreneurs are highly driven individuals, and when faced with the closing of one door, or the slowing of their primary business, they place immense pressure on themselves to identify the next opportunity or unlock the next big idea.”

Another example is a solution for the issue of free and effective dissemination of information was from mobile data optimisation specialists biNu who swiftly enabled #datafree access to the official coronavirus information website The biNu #datafree platform effectively enables digital inclusion by removing the barrier of cost to accessing the official COVID-19 website, which is beneficial in the spread of facts and preventing the circulation of false information. 

Faced with the end of their international internship opportunities due to the nationwide travel ban, leadership development company DiiVe quickly unveiled a new virtual internship programme enabling global work experience for students looking to improve their business and leadership skills for the post COVID-19 era. Co-founder and Executive Director Elspeth Boynton says that they built the programme in direct response to the current situation and made sure to include a one week course called ‘Thriving in the new normal’ which focuses on tackling fast-paced change, amongst other things.  

Robyn Clay from software consulting company Linktank says that the lockdown has been an opportunity to pay-it-forward by offering free advice around going remote to their primary audience: financial advisers or institutions. “We were able to take our entire business into the cloud in a matter of days, but many companies were not in a position to do this. We took advantage of our experience to help our clients make their own shift to working remotely at a time when they needed it most.”

Lambert says that, while there are many examples of quick thinking and clever turnarounds, it’s clear that the South African small business environment is under immense pressure, across all industries, and faces a long road of rebuild and recovery. “Our members have shown us that the resilience in the entrepreneurial community is immense and encouraging.”

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