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Starting up in a downturn: How innovation will drive our recovery

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With innovation comes hope, and Queensland’s Chief Entrepreneur Leanne Kemp wants Australia to embrace the positive elements of change.

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The travel, business and social restrictions of the pandemic have had a major impact, slashing Australia’s economic growth and employment, however it has not played out uniformly across industries and sectors.

Six months into the outbreak, governments are now focussed on economic recovery, which will likely identify more winners and losers, and Kemp has called for innovation to become part of Australia’s post-pandemic culture.

Kemp said some existing businesses, under pressure, might recognise the need to become more efficient, and ultimately sustainable, while various start-ups would also see opportunities for new models, structures and products. The key was identifying a problem, and a solution, and having the capacity to deliver that solution.

Much depended on timing, of business plans and funding cycles, but Kemp suggested those Australians with an entrepreneurial mindset would prove the most resilient.

“The skillsets of entrepreneurs actually thrive in uncertainty and right now we’re living in a pretty uncertain era and change is upon us,” Kemp told InQueensland.

While some economists have pointed to a U-shaped recovery, or more of an elongated hockey stick shape, Kemp talks of a Z-shaped recovery with advances, and catch-up, before there is a new normal.

For example, much digital transformation had to be fast-tracked in recent months, to accommodate new ways of doing business and communicating. Kemp notes that after years of discussion, telehealth and digital scripts were quickly introduced, just one of the areas of innovation that will change people’s lives, and that will have a flow-on effect.

Some of the hardest-hit businesses have been those unable to continue offering or delivering goods and services online.

Kemp’s comments came as Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and State Development Minister Kate Jones helped launch the start of construction on Amazon’s new warehouse and distribution centre at Lytton in Brisbane.

The “fulfilment centre,” as Amazon calls it, will hold more than 500,000 products when it opens later this year and employ 200 full-time equivalent staff or “associates”. Jones said it would allow Amazon to deliver products to Queensland customers faster and coincided with the “dramatic shift” towards online shopping during periods of home isolation.

“Having Amazon here sends a very clear message to Queensland businesses to get their produce and their goods online,” Jones said.

Kemp said that although many people had become more accustomed to shopping online, traditional retail still had appeal for its social element. She said, however, that major shifts in how people live, work and study – primarily, the role of home base – had yet to settle, and that may impact on consumer behaviour more broadly.

“I think there was a 30 per cent uplift in both Bunnings and Officeworks through the shutdown of COVID,” Kemp said.

“I would never have suggested that Bunnings was an essential service but it does go to show that beyond food we’re spending a lot of time and a lot of money in other spaces upon which we inhabit.”

Kemp said lingering health concerns may also play out differently. For example, the traditional nature of tourism, and packed sites and venues, will need to change, and Queensland may be in a position to open up new frontiers.

“There’s opportunities for us here in Queensland, particularly out in the regions, for that sort of remoteness,” Kemp said.

The Palaszczuk government has sought to buffer the tourism sector. In travelling to the regions this week, Palaszczuk has also heard calls for more small business grants, something the Premier said was under consideration.

“We have to announce more economic recovery soon so watch this space,” the Premier said.

Kemp said the Federal Government needed to support innovation and entrepreneurship, and break down the silos in the public and private sectors. That would bring more innovators and entrepreneurs “out of the shadows” and ultimately deliver broader economic benefits.

“(There is) an opportunity for Australia to really look and see and understand what the future recovery and economic blueprint is for Australia by 2050,” Kemp said.

“It should deliberately have innovation as one of the important limbs of the economy rather than seeing it as an end, a finger or a toe.”

Kemp, appointed to the role in 2018, is an award-winning innovator and global leader. She is the founder and CEO of Everledger.

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