Two of the most obvious examples of companies pivoting to meet immediate Covid-19 needs are alcohol producers using their raw materials to make sanitising fluid and the manufacturing sector turning its hand to producing personal protection equipment. But others are already looking ahead to how the procedures and protocols imposed by the pandemic present new business opportunities that will endure long after the novel coronavirus has been subdued.
Emergency lighting specialist Ventilux was quick off the mark with the launch of a temperature scanner on the Irish market. The system’s unique selling proposition is that it can capture data from people on the move so throughput in busy places such as shopping centres is not slowed down. It also works if people are wearing masks, hats or scarves.
The system’s camera, which can be mounted discreetly or more obviously to provide reassurance, takes both a photograph and a thermal image and sends an alert (silently or out loud as preferred) when it detects someone with a raised temperature. It is up to the system’s user to decide how to convey this information to the individual involved. The Ventilux scanner is primarily aimed at areas with high footfalls such as large offices, hospitals, schools, hotels and entertainment venues.
The family-owned company has been in business for 30 years and has well-established contacts in China and the Far East. Having travelled regularly back and forth over the years, its managing director, Ian Walsh, says they had seen temperature scanners in operation in airports and hotels in countries affected by previous public health crises such as Sars.
One of the company’s partners was already producing a temperature scanner for the Far East market and Ventilux saw the opportunity to take the system’s bare bones and customise it for Irish and European use with different software and functionality. Before the lockdown Ventilux employed 60 people but this was reduced to a skeleton staff of four. Now with interest in the scanner gaining momentum, more than 30 people are back at work.
"Our natural liquid handwash, Tru, will still be going long after Covid is in the rear-view mirror," says Dr Maria McGee, founder of Marble Hill natural skincare. Her company caters for people with sensitive skin and McGee accelerated the launch of her company's new liquid soap when it became clear that hand-washing was central to keeping the coronavirus virus at bay.
“We released the handwash early in response to Covid because we knew there was going to be a massive problem with people suffering detergent dermatitis from the heavy use of liquid soaps that contain synthetic detergents, preservatives and fragrances,” says McGee. Marble Hill is also producing a concentrated, allergen-free hand salve that acts as a waterproof barrier with regular use.
Since 2014, the lawyers behind digital platform Trial View have been urging their fellow legal eagles to embrace technology and dispense with paper documentation. But despite the advantages this offered in terms of allowing lawyers to assemble, manage and present trial documents electronically, it was a slow burn.
In 2019, the company got its first real break when several large cases migrated to the platform because of the sheer volume of documentation involved. But the coronavirus outbreak, which has catapulted the legal profession into the world of remote litigation, has been the catalyst for a rise in enquiries from as far afield as the United States and Singapore. The law may have been late to the technology party, but with its advantages now obvious the company's chief technology officer, Frank Brooks, is expecting demand for its service to grow significantly in the months and years ahead.
“Since Covid hit we are seeing a massive uptick in demand for big and small cases because we facilitate virtual remote trials with video-conferencing integration,” he says. “Secondly, in a physical courtroom setting we facilitate social distancing because parties no longer need to pass around hard copies of documents.”
Cork-based payments start-up Trustap is another company that has seen a big jump in business since the crisis began. The company's platform is aimed at buyers and sellers of pretty much anything but its founder, Conor Lyden, was quick to spot a pandemic-created niche that was a perfect fit for his company's service: the motor industry.
“With dealerships closed, the whole selling process was disrupted and dealers had no way to manage the money part of the sales transaction,” he says. “We decided to focus on pitching to the motor industry here, in the UK and the US and fortunately we’ve been able to do the integrations when there was very little activity. There are other verticals that would be an ideal fit for us but for now we are concentrating on the motor trade.”
Trustap is like an escrow for everyday use in that the buyer’s funds are retained until they are happy with their purchase. What makes Trustap different to other payment platforms is that it manages the whole transaction, not just the money part. This means any problems arising are dealt with as they happen rather than through a dispute-resolution process after the event. Trustap launched in mid-2019 and now employs 13 people.
Prior to the pandemic, Waterford-based sub-components manufacturer Keltech was experiencing brisk demand for its fuel tanks and acoustic housings from companies such as Combilift, Caterpillar, Volvo and Liebherr. As the crisis took hold, however, demand fell dramatically and the plant which normally employs 250 people was reduced to 30 per cent capacity to service two customers providing equipment to the front line.
“Given our expertise we felt there had to be a way to do our bit so we approached the HSE. It turned out medical waste bins were very difficult to source so we started making bins and have already produced over 1,000,” says business development manager Séamus Lawlor.
“We then looked at other potential pivots and came up with an idea for a product likely to be in use for the foreseeable future – a free-standing, large-capacity hand-sanitisation unit that can be positioned at an entrance and finished in the company’s colours.”
Lawlor points out that limited capacity is an issue with many of the sanitisers currently in use and they also need regular refilling which can be messy and time-consuming. By contrast, Keltech’s unit has a five-litre tank and is clean and easy to fill.
“So far, we’ve sold around 500 units but we’re only getting going,” says Lawlor. “Judging by the interest we will be producing in the thousands from July and have already been approached by someone wanting to distribute the product in the US.”