Current Strategy & Innovation participant, David Barker, explains how the programme enabled him to innovate his business with new products and services during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted all sectors of the economy, forcing many businesses to adapt their business models, including my own business Techcentre. By summer 2020, after five years in business, I knew we had arrived at a crossroad. We could either keep going as we are, in the hope that after the pandemic the world would go back to the old normal, or we could pivot, and head towards the new normal. Whilst wrestling with this challenge, I discovered the Executive Diploma in Strategy and Innovation at Warwick Business School (WBS). I instantly knew this programme would provide the cognitive space, and quality teaching, to help me with my decision.
The course itself is split into four modules – Creating Strategic Advantage, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Strategic Choices and Strategy Execution, all perfectly aligned with the timeline I set myself for Techcentre’s next steps. The first module, Creating Strategic Advantage, helped me understand how best to apply tools such as PESTEL, Customer Value Analysis, the Three Horizons Framework and Bowman’s five key strategy questions. The second module, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, allowed me to build on my own experience in the field with additional academic rigour combined with teachings from industry experts, including Jonathan Westrup, Tim Wray, Christian Stadler, and James Hayton.
After completing the first module and assignment, I was ready to make two critical decisions. Firstly, that Techcentre would not continue in the same way as before, and that we would pivot to innovate new products and services. Secondly, after studying the Virgin case study, I re-imagined Techcentre in a new way. Could we also be a brand that over time innovates lots of new businesses in different sectors, but all tied together by brand values, an innovation process, and how we use technology as an enabler for success?
The next challenge to solve was a difficult one. Which products and services should we launch that would have the highest chances for success and would allow us to build momentum from? I have always believed, when you create any business, you need to truly care about what you are trying to achieve and the people you are trying to help, and not just think about making money. Utilising what I learned on the first and second module, I was able to innovate two new business ideas, the first a contractor umbrella company for technologists, the second, a training business helping to upskill people that are unemployed or underemployed.
For the contractor umbrella, I knew IR35 legislation was coming from April 2021 in the private sector, and that many technologists would be affected, in the same way many were when IR35 was enforced in the public sector in 2017. This pending inflection point was an opportunity to launch Techcentre Umbrella, working with technologists to provide traditional PAYE umbrella services, as well as providing wrap-around support services, including those focussed on physical, financial and mental well-being, and also opening the community of contractors for networking and business development, helping each other with work opportunities.
For the training business, Techcentre Training, I analysed the training market with the tools I learned on the second module and decided to focus initially on providing online training courses. Through developing this service, we now have a suite of CPD accredited, video-based, online courses available, focussed on digital skills for business, soft skills and health and well-being. We also have an exciting business with purpose model, where for every course purchased, we donate a course to help upskill an unemployed person, with the first thirty courses already donated to Poplar Harca, a housing and regeneration community association in Tower Hamlets, London.
Techcentre re-launched only five months after starting the Executive Diploma. This is testimony to how you can take the learnings from the course, and accelerate your strategy, innovation, and product development phase. Excitingly, in the first week of launching Techcentre Umbrella, we were featured in Computer Weekly, demonstrating we have a unique proposition in this market to help technologists (the article can be found here.)
I am fortunate to still have two excellent modules remaining on my Executive Diploma, knowing the learnings from these will also benefit Techcentre as we continue to refine and adapt our services to the markets we are entering. I highly recommend this course for anyone thinking about starting a new business, adapting their current business, or want to be an employee with an innovation mindset to help their business adapt to the changing business environment after Covid-19, and beyond.
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