Innovation and collaboration: the flip side of the crisis


We’re facing a pandemic that has reset the world, but that has also highlighted our society’s interconnected nature, to remind us that when there is a challenge, its solution may just be collective effort. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made more evident the need to strengthen the bonds that unite us as human beings, building solid networks that can cope with the change we are facing.

For many people, this health emergency’s impact on the economy brings about great challenges, especially for small businesses and entrepreneurs who are directly touched by this situation. According to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), eight out of ten entrepreneurs in the world have been strongly affected by the COVID-19 crisis: half of the entrepreneurs who had not yet started their business have interrupted the process, and 53% of those who were already selling, have stopped.

The new reality for these budding companies has meant a call to action to promote solutions that can guarantee their survival over time. For this reason, the City of Knowledge Foundation’s Innovation Center quickly worked to adapt its programs and co-create new initiatives in partnership with other organizations, trying to protect Panamanian entrepreneurs. In this respect, the Innovation Center plays a key role within the City of Knowledge, an innovative community that drives social change through humanism, science and business.

Entrepreneurship and innovation are, now more than ever, strategic vehicles to accelerate economic and social reinvention. “Physical distance was not an obstacle to maintaining the essence of our innovation community. From the Innovation Center, thousands of people behind their screens joined to continue co-creating and participate in spaces to generate solutions and collaboration. This demonstrates the spirit of innovation and adaptation to change of the people who are part of our community,” explains Alejandro Carbonell, Director of the Innovation Center.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Innovation Center restructured its action plan and began to carry out of a series of initiatives. Among the most prominent are: the Covid-19 Challenge; the “My Business Plan” program in partnership with AMPYME; the electronic commerce platform “I buy in the City of Knowledge”; the weekly virtual events called “At Three PM, Without Stress”; and finally, an agreement with the Ministry of Culture to train more than 1,200 entrepreneurs from the creative and cultural industries in order to enhance their capabilities and help them grow their businesses.

The Covid-19 Challenge

The flip side of a crisis may just be opportunity. In this sense, some companies from different sectors have been able to boost their businesses in the midst of the economic contraction. Thus, during the first months of confinement, the Innovation Center opened the space for new companies to provide solutions through the Covid19 Challenge, a call aimed, in its initial stage, at people who offered creative solutions to face the crisis generated by the coronavirus in the country.

The first challenge was the creation of face mask prototypes that the City of Knowledge Foundation later purchased, to donate to health personnel in Panama. “These types of calls are key for the country and for the development of small businesses. The most important thing is to encourage people to be motivated to create. The call helped me promote my idea, by way of the required deadline; that is, I already had the face masks in development, but not with the speed at which this program challenged me to do it. Once I created the product and presented it, I was able to market it to other private companies, and there I began to increase my sales,” says Adrián López, CEO of Studio Factory of LS3D S.A., winner of the challenge’s Phase 1.

The second phase of the call was focused on finding solutions for a post-COVID world. At this stage, two new companies: SIA and FluyApp won; so they had the opportunity to connect with the ecosystem of Innovation Center’s member entrepreneurs.

SIA developed a marking system with facial recognition so that company personnel entering offices could avoid manipulating surfaces by using their fingerprint as a recognition method. “The initiatives of the City of Knowledge’s Innovation Center to promote innovation and digital transformation are crucial to adapt to this new reality due to the pandemic. Winning the challenge helped us achieve new international commercial relationships, ” adds Christian García, SIA’s CEO. This company was also the winner of the CAPATEC and IDB contest, as one of the best technologies in the logistics and financial sector, with their proposal for a contactless assistance registry, allowing companies to avoid errors in the payments of their collaborators, while helping to avoid the contagion of COVID-19.

Fluyapp participated with its mobile app for requesting shifts and book appointments through a smartphone, looking to alleviate the conglomeration of people due to the long lines that some procedures imply.

“With COVID-19, it seems the world was put on pause, but in reality it has been an acceleration… Whoever was not ready to respond to the challenges it has implied for humanity, is falling behind. In that sense, our proposal brings real life closer to science fiction films, where everything is automated and optimized by the facilities that technology gives us. We saw a great opportunity at this crossroads, to offer solutions through our apps and today, we are talking with leading companies in the country that have given us feedback on the service we offer.  Who better than them to validate our idea? They are aware of what is going to happen in the world, always with a view that goes one step further.” says Juan Andrés Girón, Fluyapp’s CTO.

My Business Plan (“Mi Plan de Negocio”)

The Opportunity Bank (Banca de Oportunidades) was created to mitigate the pandemic’s impact among new entrepreneurs’ businesses. The program is part of a governmental plan that aims to finance and support Panamanian micro-enterprises. Those who decide to apply to this program must meet a series of prerequisites in which they clearly define their business plan.

This is how the e-learning platform came to be, co-created by Innovation Center and AMPYME, in order to generate skills in entrepreneurs that may allow them to refine their business idea. “It is an online business management program that has modules of up to 42 hours of free training. It is based on a methodology that facilitates enhancing the business mentality, defining a clear purpose and building the business model, based on high standards of sustainability and profitability, ” says Carbonell.

At 3 o clock, no stress (“A las 3:00, Sin Estrés”)

Driven by the need to connect, albeit virtually, this webinar-type event has gathered almost 4,000 people so far. It’s a space that gives voice to entrepreneurship experts, who openly share their experience and provide feedback to anyone on the road to creating their own company.

I buy at the City of Knowledge (“Yo Compro en Ciudad del Saber”)

This e-commerce platform was born in response to the rise of online markets in order to provide a place for collaborative online transactions.  It was founded by Logic Studio, experts in software development. The objective is to give visibility to local companies and ventures created by entrepreneurs that are part of Canal de Empresarias and the City of Knowledge Foundation’s Urban Market.

Taking Panamanian creative and cultural industries to the next level

In the midst of the pandemic, the Ministry of Culture and the Innovation Center signed an agreement that will benefit the country’s creative and cultural ventures. As a result of this agreement, more than 1,200 entrepreneurs in the industry will strengthen their skills in cultural heritage and digital culture. “This is a project that began before the pandemic, and was consolidated in times of confinement; it’s very strategic for the country, taking into account that this is one of the industries most affected by the crisis, so uniting forces will allow us to generate high-impact value for this group of entrepreneurs,” says Carbonell.

In times of confinement, entrepreneurship and innovation are a silent revolution that bets on the reinvention of our interaction dynamics. Promoting business creation also means nurturing our collective resilience, accelerating the reconstruction of social, cultural and economic capital, as well as creating  politically active, more empathetic and resilient citizens.

In this scenario, we are called to act with creativity, empathy, to care for the community and to embark on continuous learning, all of which invites us to question our own biases and inspire others to do the same, leveraging co-creative processes that may allow us to build a more resilient, sustainable and inclusive Panama.

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