Innovation in Times of Crisis

Innovation in Times of Crisis

By Alejandra Guzman

Click aqui para español- >Innovación en tiempo de crisis

The COVID-19 global pandemic has triggered an unprecedented crisis that has tested us in every single imaginable way. Around the world and in the US, we have experienced lockdowns and other strategies to slow the spread of the virus. Nonessential businesses have shuttered, and many people have lost their jobs. Others have implemented remote working and thousands of schools have closed leaving parents to home-school. Critical protective equipment for healthcare professionals and other essential workers has been short in supply. Considering all of this, innovation has emerged. Companies had to adapt quickly to change and redesign their products or services, or even create new ones to respond to the emerging demands.

We have seen innovations and pivoting in just about every industry, from fashion to food and beverage. Airbnb announced a new global initiative to house hundreds of thousands of healthcare professionals, relief workers, and first responders around the world. American automotive manufacturers are now supplying ventilators and masks. Ford is assembling plastic face shields and is leveraging its 3D-printing capability to produce medical equipment parts. They are also collaborating with 3M on a respirator mask design that leverages the shelf parts from both companies. Brook Brothers is converting three of its factories into a producer of medical supplies, and like these, there are many other examples around the world.

Although New Orleans became one of the hotspots of infection, we quickly embraced a new way of thinking and doing. Members of the New Orleans Hospitality Industry found a way to address emerging needs. QED Hospitality which handles food and beverage services for multiple hotels, bars and cafes, shut down due to the health crisis, but soon after they created QED Services, and began coaching patients to use computer applications for telemedicine and familiarizing them with the process. QED Hospitality shifted about half of their employees to work on QED Services. Numerous craft distilleries around the city have been adding hand sanitizer to their local supply helping them stay afloat. Seven Three Distilling Co., Nola Brewing Company, Urban South Beer, Lula Restaurant and Distillery, and Sazerac House are some examples. The latter gave away cases of 190 proof grain alcohol, that can be used to eliminate germs on certain surfaces. They have prioritized their gifts to Louisiana-based first responders, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and healthcare providers. Good Wood Nola, a local company that specializes in the design and fabrication of custom furniture and architectural fabrication is now pivoting to produce face masks and other personal protection equipment. Other small businesses have found creative ways to support our community. Synergy Design Group, a company specializing in exhibit design for trade shows, events, and branded interiors, responded to the crisis by switching their materials, resources, and personnel to create COVID-19 response items, such as modular wall systems, medical pods, and face shields. The popular multichannel retail store Fleurty Girl that sells items inspired by New Orleans, announced via social media that they were donating materials to produce masks. “Apparently, our Fleurty Girl reusable bags are the proper material to make a droplet cover for N95 PPE masks. We have donated bags to help local makers make masks covers for frontline workers and for those with immune issues.”

Innovation in New Orleans has also emerged in the non-profit and public sectors where teams are coming up with support programs and showing their leadership by donating time, money, or equipment to the cause.

At a State level, LED released a guaranteed loan that is intended to support small businesses in the State of Louisiana. The Louisiana Loan Portfolio Guarantee Program, or LPGP, is a partnership of Louisiana Economic Development (LED), which will provide a loan guaranty fund; the Louisiana Bankers Association (LBA), whose participating members will offer the loans; and the Louisiana Public Facilities Authority (LPFA), which will administer the program. The Guarantee Fund will go up to fifty million where LED will guarantee up to 20% of the fund. Loans go up to $100,000 to Louisiana small businesses with less than one hundred employees impacted by the COVID 19 Crisis. Other attractive characteristics of this program include a fixed rate of 3.5% and the first six months will bear no interest and no payment will be due for the first six months of the loan.

At a local level, the New Orleans Business Alliance, the public-private partnership that focuses on economic development, released the Gig Economy Relief Fund to support local workers affected by the COVID 19. The organization committed the first $100,000 to the fund with the goal of increasing assets to a minimum of $500,000. Within its first week, the fund reached its half-million-dollar goal thanks to major donations from Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson, Baptist Community Ministries, Gulf Coast Bank, and more. 

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana quickly assembled a group of bilingual volunteers to translate essential information coming from a wide range of organizations including government agencies, economic development organizations, and schools. Through this service, they have been able to assure that the Hispanic Community receives timely and accurate information to respond to the crisis. They have also set a series of weekly webinars to keep the community informed.

In New Orleans we are all united by a common purpose, seeing the system differently, unfreezing our organizations, and acting quickly with a new sense of urgency. This is a mindset that triggers innovation and results. I’m confident that this community mindset will help us address challenges that have been affecting us long before COVID-19, and as a result, will make us stronger in the long-term.  

Alejandra Guzman


Economic Development/Desarrollo Economico



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