Martin Vander Weyer

Uncertainty is also an opportunity

Uncertainty is also an opportunity
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The Spectator’s Economic Innovator of the Year Awards 2020, sponsored by Julius Baer, are open for entries. Innovation will be vital in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and in the recovery phase that follows. We’re looking for entrepreneurs in every sector and region of the UK whose products are changing markets and have the potential for global success. We’re especially keen to identify ventures that are making valuable social impacts during the current crisis.

We’re also fascinated to know how entrepreneur-led businesses are coping with the lockdown. Here are two such stories — of The Floow and ReBound, respectively the North East and Midlands regional winners of our 2019 Awards.

Entrepreneurs are optimists by nature. They’re also intensely focused on perfecting their products, so more able than most of us to tune out the noise around them — much of which, in today’s troubled world, could otherwise be very disturbing.

So it was no surprise to find Dr Sam Chapman in strikingly calm mode on the phone. Sam is co-founder of The Floow, a Sheffield-based venture that applies big-data analysis to car insurance, with the aim of reducing risks for insurers and premiums for good drivers. ‘We’re a digital business so we’re able to carry on day-to-day, more or less as normal,’ he told me. ‘Our 120 staff are all working from home, but we’re looking towards ramping up again in September.

‘In the meantime, the crisis is certainly impacting what we do, part of which is monitoring driver behaviour through phone apps and on board “black boxes” — and encouraging high-risk drivers to drive safer. Currently there are far fewer cars on the road and most journeys fall into the category of “essential”, so it’s not appropriate for us to be calling drivers and coaching them on safer driving, as we’d normally do.

‘But what we can do is provide valuable data to government about vehicle movements, to help monitor the effectiveness of the lockdown and levels of economic activity. The world is full of uncertainties — but as entrepreneurs and data scientists we look at every uncertainty as an opportunity. And we’re happy to do our bit to help.’

It’s a similar story for Graham Best, co-founder of Telford-based ReBound, which provides returns logistics for online retailers, with 500 clients around the world generating 35 million returns per year. People are still shopping online, he says, but in new patterns that show up in ReBound’s huge volumes of real-world data.

‘There’s a downturn but it’s balanced by new customers. Some fashion brand sales are down 30 per cent but gymwear and some shoe brands are doing well, and electrical and DIY are going through the roof.

‘Overall, in the light of what’s going on out there, I’d say business is quite stable. Early on, we were having a crisis conference call every morning: we had to protect the company and the cash; the Spanish postal service stopped overnight; air freight capacity suddenly reduced so we had to look at sea freight instead, and so on.

‘But we’ve got our feet underneath this and I’ve been gobsmacked how good my team [of around 50] is at working from home. We don’t have massive overheads, we can change and grow again as the market dictates. It’s all about what the data’s telling us.’

Two uplifting stories of ventures that are adapting to new circumstances and looking to the future with optimism. If that describes your business too, we hope you’ll enter our Awards.

The entry form and terms and conditions for the 2020 Economic Innovator of the Year Awards are at www.spectator.co.uk/innovator. The closing date for entries is 1 July 2020.