It’s difficult to see the positives through the ongoing struggles and stresses of the pandemic, but in terms of business innovation in Cornwall there are many success stories that have been expedited as a result – which is great news and we wanted to celebrate the grit and determination of those businesses we are working with.
There is always a risk in doing anything new, which is why the Acceleration Through Innovation 2 (ATI2) programme exists and offers business support and grant funding, to reduce the associated risks for businesses wanting to pursue an innovation project. As you can imagine, in a pandemic the stakes are even higher and, for those businesses forced to close, available cash flow may have all but dried up.
The ATI2 project has been busy helping businesses throughout Cornwall to realise new ideas and ambitions for growth that may not have happened if it weren’t for Covid-19. We all know the sad side of lockdown, we hear about it every day, but the positives are less widely reported.
Whilst a few of our projects were put on hold, the majority of Cornish businesses we are working with went ahead. Some businesses, such as Blackflag Brewery in Perranporth, had to pivot their existing business model, which relied heavily on wholesale distribution, in order to survive successive lockdowns.
ATI2 were able to assist them with a grant towards a micro-canning line, so that they could can their own beer onsite and sell directly to the consumer as a takeaway product and online, via their new web shop which went live whilst their taproom remained closed.
Their story highlights our first positive to take from the Pandemic, which is that many businesses have been forced to operate with an agile mind-set. The uncertainty surrounding restrictions, although uncomfortable and stressful to navigate, has made those surviving businesses far more resilient and adaptable for whatever lies ahead.
Some businesses even used lockdown as a Launchpad for activities that they always wanted to do but never had the time to, for example Peboryon, the luxury cake makers who’s order book went stale once events all went online.
They spoke at our recent Cornwall Innovation Club after having launched their lockdown business called Black Box Cake, which offers cake by post as well as online baking masterclasses. Their Baking Foundations Boxset has now opened up a global market for them, which is an amazing thing to come out of what could have been a terrible, terrible time.
Our second positive is that lockdown provided some businesses with time and many used it wisely to invest in taking their business online or making those changes and improvements that they’ve always wanted to do but never did because they were too tied up with the everyday running of their business.
Our clients at Waterhaul, who specialise in recycling marine plastic waste into new products, are yet another business that have created a completely new product with (literally) the plastic waste leftover from the pandemic. They are now collaborating with The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust to collect disposable facemasks and recycle them into litter pickers.
ATI2 were able to support Waterhaul’s pioneering venture in a number of ways; initially with consultancy and later on with a grant to develop the design and tooling of the litter picker. Their crowdfunding campaign, which went live on Earth Day (April 22), reached its £5,000 target within just 5 hours and achieved over 1,270 backers who pledged £35,347 for their circular economy litter pickers.
Diversification and exploiting new opportunities for good is our third positive. The pandemic has put many things into perspective for people and there has been a wave of support for those businesses who make social good part of their core proposition.
In terms of manufacturing, Daften Die-Casting in Wadebridge experienced a surge in orders due to the pandemic, a shift to onshoring, Brexit and other external factors and the business is in a rapid phase of growth. They came to ATI2 for support to help speed up their production line and were awarded a grant from the Innovation Fund towards a Robotic Deburring Cell.
Investment in this new machinery has improved both the speed and consistency of production, whilst also reducing the associated health and safety risks of the task, such as Repetitive Strain Injury and Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome. Employee satisfaction and wellness has also increased as those members of staff no longer have to carry out the manual task of sanding and have been retrained and redeployed to do less boring jobs within the business. One such example is upskilling employees to learn how to operate and code the Robotic Deburring Cell itself.
In our experience, those businesses that we’ve been working with, that have continued to innovate, upskill and change, are more competitive and in a better position for doing so – particularly now as the restrictions are lifted and they are free to reap the rewards of the changes they have made over the last 17 months.
In balance, for all the negatives that the pandemic has piled onto businesses over the last year and a bit, we can pick out a healthy amount of positive innovation stories to reassure the good people of Cornwall that there are many businesses that are experiencing growth, creating jobs and doing extraordinary things.