Few businesses emerged from Covid-19 lockdown unscathed. Some didn’t survive. Yet a surprising number used the challenges and difficulties they were experiencing to help other companies not only survive the pandemic but be in a better position to thrive once lockdown restrictions are eased.
AI company Nightingale HQ works with organizations to help them integrate AI and automation into their operations to save time, money, and improve efficiency.
The company secured £50,000 in funding from the Innovate UK grant fund, which they used to launch GoSmarter, a set of six AI-powered tools that automate manual tasks and processes, including social listening, robotic process automation (RPA), and invoice processing, etc.
Nightingale HQ founders Steph Locke and Ruth Kearny wanted to help other small businesses that couldn’t otherwise afford this kind of support, and be better prepared to deal with disruption similar to that of COVID19.
“If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that businesses need to be able to adapt as quickly and as efficiently as possible,” says Locke. “Whether it is smart chatbots to deal with customer inquiries, or RPA to handle repetitive tasks and free up staff for more creative works, automation will be the way that organizations do more with less.”
Forging the right partnerships
As they emerge from several months of lockdown into a severely contracted economy, businesses will need to focus on growth. AI platform Findr works as a commercial partnership matchmaker to help them.
The idea was conceived in March this year by CEO Greg Watts out of his desire to automate the multiple, manual steps involved in creating effective commercial partnerships, a process he was familiar with, having been responsible for partnerships at Visa Europe and later for his own growth consultancy.
He was keen to address the fact that around 90% of startups that fail in the first year are unable to form the partnerships they need to survive and thrive before their funding runs out.
“They often struggle to navigate the ecosystem of partners,” he says. “And when they do identify a potential match they must then pinpoint who to target and initiate cold outreach, a process that can take months or years.”
Findr applies AI and machine learning to automate the creation of partnerships based on common criteria, effectively generating warm leads very quickly, eliminating the need for face-to-face interactions and reducing the time and effort required to form these partnerships from months to minutes.
The company has partnered with CrunchBase and several leading retailers and banks and will be launching to the U.K. fintech market in the autumn, with beta signups including a cross-section of fintechs and global corporates.
Enhancing online visibility
Travel tech startup HotelRunner has been helping independent hotels and chains pick their businesses up off the floor by providing a central connection between independent and chain hotels and online travel agencies (OTAs), like Booking.com, to establish a stronger presence online.
The business was founded by former IBM executives Arden Agopyan and Ali Beklen. “We both traveled extensively for work and wanted to stay in places that reflected the local area rather than just a corporate hotel,” says Beklen. “The problem was the travel bookers weren’t finding these hotels because they weren’t online.”
The platform works with over 40,000 hotels helping them to take advantage of the uptick in 90+ day bookings and growing interest in domestic holidays, and navigate the changing climate of air bridges. The company is also helping hotels and OTAs make new direct and more profitable contracts to prepare them for after-COVID.
Managing staff absence
As the government encourages U.K. workers to return to the office, employers’ responsibility for employee health and wellbeing has become more onerous. In a world where businesses must contend with the presence of Covid-19 among their workforce, e-days has built a specialized system to help HR leaders keep staff safe and secure.
Founded by CEO Steve Arnold and CTO Chris Moseley in 2015, e-days is a cloud-based workforce intelligence platform that makes tracking employee absence, including holidays and sickness absence, easier and more accurate for organizations of all sizes.
“You can no longer just text your line manager if you feel sick,” says Arnold. “For example, what if you are displaying Covid-19 symptoms and were in the office with your team the day before?”
And vacation-wise, businesses are facing a new wave of empty offices as everyone tries to squeeze their holidays into August and September. “Paper-based booking systems just aren’t up to scratch,” adds Arnold.
Staff who are unwell can log this information on the e-days platform, and specify their symptoms. If they are consistent with Covid-19, an alert is sent to team members who have been in contact with the employee recently, recommending that they self-isolate. The system can also spot employees at risk of burnout, and automatically schedule GP appointments for unwell staff.
Cutting business costs
When Covid-19 struck and businesses were forced to shut down, Paul Jeffries realized that thousands would still have a list of monthly costs for which they would still have to pay, with limited or no income for the foreseeable future. One of these was business insurance premiums.
“Although many Insurers were under pressure to postpone payments or give a payment holiday, no one was offering it. It seemed you would have to call your insurer and plead your case,” says Jeffries.
rerusni –a play on the spelling of insurer - was set up by Jeffries and a group of experienced business owners from the insurance, IT, and marketing sectors to create a 15-month business insurance policy for all businesses, but primarily for SMEs who would be hardest hit. Policies include premises, contents, public and employee liability cover, as well as directors, officers, and professional indemnity insurance.
“They pay nothing until month four and then have the option to pay interest-free installments,” says Jeffries. “Some insurers are charging up to 24.8% APR interest on monthly installments.”
Initially, the policy was aimed at the hospitality industry, as they were the first to be closed but many other sectors have also applied for the rerusni policy, with a shared goal of taking the pressure off cash-flow until businesses start to see an increase in their revenue.
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