The impact of COVID-19 on many Australian businesses has been devastating. Customer bases have collapsed overnight and global supply chains have been put to the test. But some businesses are showing us 'HowToo' pandemic pivot.
From the ashes, some green shoots have emerged. There are some shining examples of Australian businesses pivoting to meet a new gap in the market. Innovative small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups have created new offerings to meet changing customer needs.
SME Connect Director Simon Hanson oversees our strategic programs aimed at supporting SMEs and start-ups to turn their ideas into reality through research and development (R&D).
"COVID-19 has unexpectedly unearthed new opportunities for many businesses across the country," Simon said.
“While COVID-19 turned our world upside down, we also saw many businesses approach us to take advantage of support to develop new products and technologies."
In this series, we showcase three Australian businesses – HowToo, Norris Industries and Wild Wash – that successfully pivoted with our help during COVID-19.
Simon said for companies looking to pivot what they are doing at such short notice, it can be risky.
"Companies not only need support from funding to develop their idea through research. But also connecting with the right researchers with the right expertise," he said.
"We work closely with SMEs and start-ups to connect them with the right researcher," Simon explains.
"Not only from within CSIRO but across Australia’s universities and research organisations. And, if eligible, we can also assist with access to funding to support this research."
HowToo pandemic pivot to online learning
If you are thinking of launching a business, doing it just as a pandemic takes off might not seem like the greatest idea. But for the women behind HowToo it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The platform to help build online training resources launched February 2020.
HowToo co-founder Lisa Vincent said her stomach sank when she first heard about the looming pandemic. But she had no idea their business was about to take off.
“When the pandemic hit, it completely changed the nature of how we work," Lisa said.
"With a lot of people working from home, companies were thrown into delivering online training across a range of sectors. This training might have previously been delivered face-to-face.
“But setting up online training usually involves input from learning science experts to make it as engaging as possible and deliver good learning outcomes. But with little time and not much budget, companies were looking for different alternatives," she said.
Connecting with AI researchers
We connected Lisa with three researchers. A graduate from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), a researcher from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), and a business researcher employed by HowToo to help fast-track ways of integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into their software.
The software helps the user, regardless of their experience in Learning Science – the scientific field behind how humans learn – create an engaging online training resource much more quickly.
The technology uses natural language processing, similar to how targeted messaging works in advertising. It recognises keywords as the user builds their online resource, and makes suggestions along the way pulling from learning science theory. This is to ensure it is displayed in the most engaging way possible and delivers on key learning outcomes.
“All of a sudden, as a result of the pandemic, there were companies with lots of knowledge, but lacking the right skills and resources to translate this into an online training program," Lisa said.
"HowToo basically cuts out the need for someone to engage a learning scientist if they don’t have the time or the resources. For example, we had a local council use it to design a health and safety online training module with minimal costs. The client ended up seeing a completion rate of 100 per cent."
Growing through connection and innovation
"We were also seeing a big skill shortage in the technology sector and the need for people to upskill. So our platform provided the perfect solution to get more people learning," Lisa said.
“The research and funding support from the Entrepreneurs’ Programme was a pivotal moment for us. By incorporating AI into our software, we were able to take our platform to the next level.
"We could create a product that delivered not only an easy experience for the user creating an online learning resource. But also a more engaging experience for the learner."
The business has gone from strength to strength since its launch.
The company accessed further funding and investment from Moelis Financial Group, Jelix Ventures and ALIAVIA Ventures in April 2021.
"We've doubled our team, signed up 13,500 users and we recently expanded to the US," Lisa said.
"And thanks to our growth we’ve been able to retain our graduate researcher and learning scientist through to full-time employment as we further develop the software."
We can help you find opportunities to innovate your business
If you are an SME looking to explore R&D opportunities to grow your business, feel free to reach out to our SME Connect team[Link will open in a new window] and find out how we might be able to support your next project.