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How Do You Adapt a Business to a Year That Was Without Precedent?

This is part of BRINK’s leadership series, in which we invited a few CEOs and leaders to reflect on the year that just passed and what lies ahead.

This year marked PreScouter’s 10th anniversary. For nearly a decade, our network of 4,000 experts, lab partners and prototyping firms have been providing companies with expertise and resources not always accessible in-house. Companies have traditionally come to us looking for ways to improve their existing products or processes, develop new products, find new market opportunities and, of course, see what other players in the field are up to. 

Ironically, when the pandemic hit, we became our most important client. 

We needed to use the expertise we always touted to clients to figure out how to shift our own gears. As a CEO, my ambitions were not focused on how we can survive the economic mayhem — but rather how we can thrive in such difficult times.

Shut-Ins Become the New Norm

In March, April and May, the world shut down. Our clients became shut-ins, and it became harder to get their attention. 

Our regular way of doing things didn’t seem to be working anymore. Most people we did manage to talk to were no longer interested in advancing their current projects, but were rather scrambling to figure out what gears they should be shifting towards. Things were looking pretty gloomy, and we were worried that we’d be stuck in this limbo for the rest of the year, if not years.

At that time, there was a lot of talk about “getting back to the office” in the summer, and we knew this wasn’t going to happen. Our experts in epidemiology and infectious diseases predicted that this likely won’t be possible until 2022. 

Even with the recent talk of a vaccine, our experts’ prediction still seems likely. For the pandemic to end, at least 40% of the population needs to be vaccinated, which will be difficult, since some expressed concerns about the safety of the vaccine. Plus, it still isn’t clear how long the effects of the vaccine will last. So, our experts say we are going to continue to be in this pandemic crisis for probably another year, if not longer.

The Bounceback

Clients had a lot of questions about COVID-19 and many times just needed an expert to answer those questions. We started building out a network of experts in the field and on-boarded experts from leading organizations, such as the CDC, Johns Hopkins and Yale. We helped some companies with their reopening plans, supply chain disruptions and new market entries.

However, as we entered the second half of 2020, something that we did not predict happened. 

PreScouter encountered a huge hunger within its clients’ HR and health and safety teams for solutions that can help them manage their pandemic response — specifically around employee testing.

While the workforce did not return to the office over the summer, companies and clients started to get back to work at full speed, but remotely — and to even make up for the slow second quarter of 2020. Since the summer, the level of research activity appears to almost track the stock market. 2020 is now back to being a growth year for PreScouter.

Unexpected Demands

We encountered a huge hunger within our clients’ HR and health and safety teams for solutions that can help them manage their pandemic response — specifically around employee testing.

PreScouter’s client companies run manufacturing facilities. These facilities require workers to be on site in order to run production lines. Having staff away from work because of coronavirus-like symptoms can mean not being able to run production lines, which can be very costly. To what extent is production being shut down because staff members have allergies, or something equally harmless, rather than COVID-19? Testing can help these companies determine if someone really does have COVID-19. 

So, we decided to delve into the area of testing and put together a comprehensive landscape of all of the available testing options. This was back in June, when the industry was struggling with shortages and most options required a significant investment. There was a lot of interest from clients. However, implementing any of these solutions was anything but easy or cheap. We also noticed high demand for something that wasn’t yet ripe: a reliable, affordable and easy-to-deploy testing solution. We decided to take the bold step of becoming the solution. 

Launched in November, PreScouter’s testing solutions — provided under our PreScouter Dx brand — have been helping clients get their manufacturing teams back to work with saliva-based testing kits. However, while we anticipate demand for testing to continue to grow through the winter, we do expect (and hope) for demand to dissipate as the United States and the world gains a better grip on managing the pandemic.

A Better Future?

Decades from now, 2020 may not be seen simply as the year of COVID-19. 

It may also be the year that the world took greater notice of climate change. With cars off the streets and humans stuck indoors, there has been a noticeable positive impact on smog and other short-term impacts of environmental damage. Meanwhile, we have seen horrific wildfires and storms from the ongoing longer-term impact of climate change.

There has been growing scrutiny over the impact of companies on the environment, and clients are placing greater importance on these issues. As we look to 2021 and beyond, we anticipate this to continue. 

It is also clear that there’s been great cultural change. It may never again be necessary for companies to shake hands in person to agree on a multi-million-dollar deal. It may also never again be necessary to have large offices with a space for every employee. In the longer term, furniture makers will need to design sofas that can withstand more wear and tear from more everyday use. The food and beverage industry will need to cater to new at-home lunch needs. Virtual doctor visits are driving demand for inexpensive blood pressure monitors and other diagnostic tools patients can use at home.

As Oscar Auliq-Ice puts it, “Treat challenges as an opportunity to refocus your strategies and open up new horizons.” 

Dino Gane-Palmer

Founder and CEO at PreScouter

Dino Gane-Palmer is the founder and CEO at PreScouter, a scientific advisory firm providIng custom intelligence, on demand, for innovation professionals at corporations through a network of 4000+ experts. Dino has an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and a MEng Computing from Imperial College London.

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