How to create new business opportunities during the coronavirus downturn

14 April 2020

On Friday the 10th of April, we hosted a free webinar that discussed how to create new business opportunities during the coronavirus downturn. The webinar is the second in a series of how to drive innovation excellence in times of a crisis. After covering the basics of driving innovation excellence in economic downturn, we now dived into a more specific topic, about how to create new business opportunities during these times. Programme director of the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship and innovation expert Dr. Ferdinand Jaspers hosted the webinar and shared some insights, inspiration and tools and techniques for innovation professionals.

How do you turn an idea into an opportunity and eventually, a working or operational business, service or product? Innovation professionals will often recognize themselves in entrepreneurs, who are able to create opportunities in times of ambiguity and uncertainty. They all apply the Lemonade Principle (“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”), which refers to the entrepreneurial framework of effectuation. This means using any resource that you have access to, to create value for someone else. Ferdinand mentions that: ‘Instead of worrying about what you don’t have, a positive mindset gives you the chance to make lemonade out of what you do have.’ So ask yourself: What can you leverage to make some lemonade?

Turning this crisis into an opportunity
An example of this principle in action was shared by Linda Nieuwenhuizen, senior manager New Business & Services at insurance company Centraal Beheer. ‘As everyone is facing a lot of challenges during this crisis, our team wondered what can we do instead of what can’t we do? One of the services we offer is sending handymen to people’s homes, but the corona pandemic makes this an irresponsible service for us to continue with. The fears of safety and our reputation forces us to think in terms of challenges. We thought about our values (why we exist as an innovation team) and used this as a guidance to take action, to use our innovative mindset, skills and network to discover what other problems our customers are facing and find a way to solve them.’ Linda and her team noticed that since most people work remotely, one of the main challenges is successfully working from home, trying to balance the demands of work life and home life while coronavirus remains a concern. ‘To help people out with this, we started working on a new idea to support people in creating a comfortable place to work at home. For this we requested the help of our open community, consisting a lot of startups and scale-ups. Together with one of our partners we researched the market need and discovered a great demand for an improved physical workplace for both individuals and larger companies.’

In response to this need, Centraal Beheer Achmea started to offer a psychical workplace. ‘On our website we started a so called ‘fake door test’: we offered our services even before the product was officially launched to see how many people would be interested.’ The number of positive requests convinced the board to continue with the idea. In only three weeks’ time Centraal Beheer Achmea now offers, in collaboration with another partner, the delivery of a comfortable workplace, including hardware and tools that are installed at home (in line with the guidelines of RIVM). ‘It took some courage to realize this idea in such a short amount of time, but it resulted in something that was both successful for our customers and the organisation. It gives a positive boost for our whole organisation to continue working in innovative ways.’


The basic rules of innovation still apply
What the example of Centraal Beheer Achmea illustrates, is that the basic rules of innovation still apply. For instance, we need both outside-in and inside-out thinking and a combination of both approaches. Looking outside is not always a strength of some organisations, but in these times when all of a sudden you experience such radical and rapid changes, it’s really important to do some primary research into what kind of needs exist or have become more prominent for your customers. Then work backwards from that, and test concepts that could help move towards a solution. This outside-in perspective should then be combined with an inside-out view. The interplay of how you can create opportunities comes back to the notion of the available means. What do you particularly have available as an organisation that you can possibly use in whatever kind of opportunity? From an academic perspective we would say that you need to focus on those capabilities and resources that are valuable, rare, inimitable and organized (VRIO).

Curious to find out more? Watch the complete webinar recording here.

Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing more insights on a variety of innovation and leadership topics, via blogs and webinars, all focused on practical skills and tools that help you lead innovation excellence in uncertain times like these. Keep an eye on this webpage to stay tuned.

The next webinar “Innovation Portfolio management in times of disruption“ will take place on April 17 at 10:00 AM. Are you interested to join? Apply here to register for our webinar. The maximum number of participants is limited to 30 for this webinar to ensure a highly interactive environment.

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