Innovation in the covid 19 pandemic: repurposing as innovation strategy

"Turn old into new" - this phrase is used again and again in our everyday lives. But have you ever applied it at the corporate level or even related it to topics such as innovation or innovation management? This article explains how some companies got creative during the peak of the covid 19 pandemic and how they managed to create something new out of existing products, services or premises.

Repurposing as a business innovation strategy in times of crises

An impressive example of a time when companies often had to be flexible and carried out many repurposing innovations is the covid 19 pandemic. When the virus gripped the world, many companies and organizations faced significant challenges: Lockdowns, Corona mandates, and supply shortages were just a few issues that negatively impacted the well-being of companies. But instead of burying their heads in the sand, many of them showed amazing creativity and innovation, largely by using new technologies to repurpose their products, services, premises, or resources, and to open up new business models through their business innovation strategies.

A very well-known example from this period is the transformation of many companies into online businesses. Some restaurants that previously only served food on site suddenly evolved into delivery services, offering digital ordering options or even home cooking packages as part of the innovation. Based on the motto: "Think digital," some gyms likewise began offering online workouts to reach their customers during lockdowns. These rapid adaptations demonstrated not only the resilience of the companies, but also the ability to repurpose a product or a service as an innovation mechanism.

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However, other repurposing cases have so far received less media attention: For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, many companies produced face masks on their own. The German coffee company Melitta used its coffee filters as the basis of the innovation. There were also some beverage manufacturers, such as the Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu brewery, which used the ethanol they normally use to produce their beer during the crisis to respond to the high demand for disinfectants. In some cases, locations were also repurposed- the concert hall in Dortmund, for example, became a covid test station. Due to the covid requirements, hotels were also unable to continue their regular business: For this reason, some hotels, such as the Bedpark Hotel in Hamburg, Germany, chose to help! They took on homeless people, tried to help them with their basic needs and offered them accommodation, especially during the cold winter months.

In this regard, however, it should be mentioned that the above-mentioned examples and business innovations were all implemented in crisis situations and consequently exceptions in the legal field were also made, for example when it came to existing certifications or production standards. In some cases, it was easier to obtain licenses for certain things: The federal government of Germany, especially the Ministry of Health, sometimes even asked companies to take action in the case of shortages, such as masks, and to quickly adapt their productions by innovating. The Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu brewery, for example, was only able to produce disinfectants because of relaxations on the part of the government. These played into the hands of pharmacies as well as pharmaceutical and chemical companies in particular, which were thus able to expand their market with new products. Outside of such crises, the law unfortunately often prevents companies from implementing repurposing as part of their innovation strategy, as certain standards have to be met. In addition, the covid 19 pandemic showed that companies that are generally interested in topics such as innovation and digital transformation clearly had an advantage at this point, as the processes, the technologies and also the certain mindset among employees were often already established in the company and the business strategy.

What conditions encourage repurposing as a mechanism in business innovation strategy?

Experts agree: repurposing as an innovation mechanism can be supported above all by flexibly designed production facilities and by the general flexible design of products and services. Companies that design their production with technologies such as 3D printing and align their strategies as digitally as possible are clearly at an advantage here, as they are able to create basically anything according to society's needs.
The question of resources is also very important when it comes to misappropriation and innovation management: If the company concerned has a healthy innovation culture, if there is a business innovation unit or an innovation manager in the company, if the latest and best technologies are used or if the topic is generally taken into account on a regular basis in the corporate strategy, then it is much easier for companies to innovate in challenging situations such as the covid 19 pandemic.

Alternative business innovation strategies: Example of other industries

In times of the covid 19 pandemic, the innovation strategy of repurposing was often used in order to react as quickly as possible and adapt one's own products or services to the market or potential new customers. This strategy was mostly used because it can be implemented quite quickly and, in many cases, the time for lengthy research and development simply wasn't there. Nevertheless, patience had to be exercised in some areas of innovation, especially in the pharmaceutical sector. This is because, for example in the area of vaccines, product development often takes longer, as products have to be tested extensively before they can be launched. Another example of a different innovation strategy would be the development of the covid warning app in Germany. Although this was also brought to market relatively quickly thanks to the collaboration of several German companies and the government, it had to go through an extensive development phase beforehand. In this case, it was also not possible to use an existing app.

Overall, the examples cited in this article show that innovation does not always have to go hand in hand with radical reinvention. An innovation strategy can also be structured quite differently: By making clever use of existing resources, technologies and competencies, companies can increase their ability to innovate and adapt to changing market conditions, especially in crisis situations, by managing innovation wisely. The covid 19 pandemic has shown that companies that are willing to challenge existing paradigms and repurpose their resources are able to successfully reinvent themselves. In a world of rapid change and constant innovation, the ability to repurpose can mean the difference between adaptability and stagnation. Companies should consider this innovation strategy to realize their full potential and ensure their future viability. After all, the new often lies hidden in the old, and mechanisms such as repurposing allow us to exploit this hidden treasure and thus drive forward issues such as new innovations.

Guided business model innovation with Falcon

Are you planning extensive changes to your business innovation strategy, such as repurposing or realignments in your company? Do you want to develop new business models, enter a new market, drive digitalization initiatives or change general structures in your organization? With Falcon, we ensure that you maintain an overview and that all employees in the company or overall organization know at any time which steps are required from your strategy and concept to the final implementation. By the way, you can find examples of successful business transformations that our customers were able to achieve with the help of Falcon. Read more about our customers' strategies, goals and achievements here.

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