To understand more about the impact of COVID-19 on our clients and the local Brighton community, we have decided to ask them a number of questions.
To kick things off we have spoken with Martin Howe, CEO of Teq4, a company which specialises in technology for Theme Parks and Attractions. He’s also, in just 3 weeks, set-up Human 2.0 to help with the immediate and longer term demand for PPE, not just for health services, but to get us back to work and back together too!
- When did COVID-19 affect your business and was it immediate or gradual?
- We design and build attractions for theme parks and museums. We’re part-way through delivering a large project in Russia, and we had a team on the ground there in March. We were reading stories of increased restrictions so we decided on the 17th March to bring our team home straight away. It was a big decision because we knew it would impact the project, but also an easy one; we didn’t want our team to be stranded in Russia while their families were in lockdown. It turned out to be a good one in hindsight.
- How did you communicate this impact with your team and clients?
- Quickly! We’re a small team and an agile one. So we deliberately remind ourselves of the benefits of that, the main one is our ability to sprint at problems. We can move and react quickly to rapid changes. I must admit, this has challenged us though!
- What decisions have you had to take in respect of your business?
- Firstly to keep communicating with customers. Before the lock down we would travel internationally regularly. Now that we can’t we’ve set-up home studios, with green screens, better cameras and microphones so that we can keep presenting professionally. In fact it’s proving to be really successful, we’re going to keep that up going forward. After that it’s all about managing cash, keeping the runway as long as possible, stopping all non-essential spend.
- Have you accessed or will you be accessing any of the Government support schemes and grants?
- Yes, we’ve just had our CBLIS loan approved by our bank. It took longer than I had anticipated to get through the process, but they provided us with a dedicated manager who coached us through the process. We were fortunate though as we had a reasonably strong justification. It’s concerning that there will be so many companies who don’t have the same prospects; retail springs to mind. I fear there will be huge damage to sectors of the market.
- Do you think the Government support goes far enough?
- No yet. I think there’s even more that can be done. Speed is their biggest challenge. I don’t doubt their efforts but there are so many things to fix immediately. What’s obvious is the lack of preparedness, which is more a factor of our government system than any particular group. But that’s a bigger subject! Getting businesses back to work must be the next priority and we’re trying to help with that.
- What effect will this pandemic have on your business in the long term?
- In the immediate term we’ve pivoted to the wholesale of PPE!. By fortuitous coincidence, the owner of a Chinese Factory who I know well, making technology parts for us, has set-up a high quality facility for production of face masks, both medical grade and disposable. We’ve set-up a new company Human 2.0 www.human2dotzero.com to wholesale distribution of these masks. We have the capacity to sustainably distribute many millions of both types. Last week these medical masks passed Government checks for regulations and we’re now with the Cabinet Office buy team. We’re prioritising NHS and care homes. Rather than just trying to get in from the top down, we’ve just launched a ‘Donate2Care’ plan where anyone can go to our website and buy medical masks to donate to their local care providers. We’ll handle all the logistics from there. We’re also launching a Safely Back2work program where businesses can bulk-buy masks and after that a Safely Back2gether program for businesses that need disposable masks for their guests such as Theme Parks, Cinemas, Hotels, Airports, etc.
- Do you have a crisis management plan now in place?
- I think so! For Human 2.0 we have logistics is place, warehousing, shipping etc. We’re hoping to secure dedicated cargo flights next week. We’re appointing distributors, etc. It’s hectic but I think we’re on a good path. For Teq4 it will be a longer process. We’re still getting new business, which is remarkable, but mostly for design work. The attractions market is pausing for a re-think. We’re also pivoting there too. We have an engineering process that we call ‘Designing and Building with Certainty’. Some of the technology we use to quickly and efficiently build precise systems for people like Disney are immediately transferable to any construction site; we believe that construction will need to be done more efficiently and more precisely going forward. All of these delayed constructions sites would benefit from our help to get going again safely (think Human 2.0) and more efficiently (fewer people, fewer mistakes, faster). We can see the opportunities, we’re now working as fast as we can to go after them.
- What decisions are being made now for when you are able to get back up and running?
- Because we can move lightening fast I think we’ve already covered the most urgent ones. We have cash secured, we have a new business with high demand and we are ready to offer existing technologies to new markets. I think we’ve done really well in just three weeks but we can’t be complacent – there’s a lot to do.
- How do you think the business landscape will change in Brighton?
- I had to go into the office yesterday (wearing a mask of course!) to pick up some paperwork that had been sitting there for 3 weeks. It was heart-breaking to see the thriving City that I once lived in so lifeless on a Saturday morning. There are rays of hope though. Brighton is a beautifully diverse community of creative and talented people. I believe that we’re already seeing the start of a trend to ‘buy-local’. Not just local supermarkets, but local on a country scale. America will move increasingly to ‘Buy-America’ and I think we’ll see that on a Worldwide scale; where people can buy products and services from their own country, they will. Brighton needs to wave its big colourful Brighton flag announcing that it’s Back to Business, Safely. By launching a campaign to bring people back to the UK sea-side rather than having to jump on a flight for holidays, I think Brighton’s tourist sector is strongly poised to capitalise from the bounce-back. As I’m writing this I’m already thinking our Safely Back2gether program is ideally suited to this and there are others ways we can help too. Count me in and drop me a line at email@example.com if you have ideas or want to discuss.
- What tips can you give other businesses currently going through the crisis?
- Be fast. Think Quickly. Move quickly. Quicker than ever before.
Author, Martin Howe, Director of Teq4
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