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Innovating Innovation during COVID-19

Rowena Greenwood

Adapting our working style is something that everyone is facing in the light of this pandemic. We are having to modify how we communicate and collaborate with our colleagues and partners at work in an effort to keep things running smoothly. This is no different for the L Marks team!

As one of the newest members of L Marks, I have only had a short experience running innovation programmes full stop, let alone in a remote setting. I help to run the Lloyd’s Lab programme, a 10-week innovation lab with the world’s largest insurance hub. I joined the team for the start of the 4th cohort of the lab. We were busy planning to have 12 innovative startups join the lab, partnering them with mentors from the Lloyd’s of London market to develop and improve their insurtech solutions. The last few months have been challenging and required a flexible mindset when it came to learning about new tools and embracing innovative ways of working. So, I am proud to say that the Lloyd’s Lab ran its first remote pitch day on 2nd April with 24 companies successfully presenting remote pitches. We now have 12 selected startups taking part in an entirely virtual programme. As we are slowly coming out the other side of this pandemic, I am taking a look back at the last few months and how we adapted what we do to make it work for everyone involved.

Adversity breeds Innovation

As I imagine many new remote workers have found, the loss of face-to-face contact has been a key challenge as we engage with our startups teams, their mentors and the other teams in the cohort. The teams are usually based in a lab space and this is something that has proved a challenge to emulate in a fully virtual environment with no face-to-face contact with each other. To mitigate this, we organised weekly Zoom coffee chats, Friday drinks and Slack challenges for constant communication. We have made use of tools like Icebreaker and MIRO to make things more engaging for the startups. This situation is unprecedented, and we are all working through new ways of dealing with it together. This process is iterative, and we take feedback from our startups as to what works and what doesn’t. One team suggested that we make a Monday post with webinar events and Lab activities for the upcoming week to keep everyone in the loop. It is now more important than ever that we remain flexible and open to adapting our way of working. In fact, being in lockdown and being forced to innovate and be creative with our approach to working has been a good thing. It is often said that adversity breeds innovation!

Moving the Goalposts

One of our key challenges has been how to run all of our events virtually. Pitch Day was the first event we had to plan for, scheduled for 2nd April we were planning at a time of major uncertainty while the UK decided whether or not to introduce lockdown. The rules were changing almost daily, it was like trying to shoot with moving goalposts. In a normal setting, Pitch Day is an opportunity for the startup teams to present their ideas to senior leadership for the chance to win a place on the lab. The event format had to allow for 24 startup pitches, live Q&A sessions with interaction with the audience and a voting system. The pandemic has bred all kinds of new companies that offer online event platforms. We evaluated several providers and potential hybrid solutions for a virtual event which created the same outcomes as a face-to-face one. After a rather stressful couple of weeks of manic planning, the virtual Pitch Day ran fairly smoothly. We have since gone on to design and create our very own online events platform that meets all our needs.

The final key challenge that we faced was enabling and facilitating networking in a virtual setting. One key benefit of being part of an accelerator programme like the Lloyd’s Lab is the exposure to the Lloyd’s market and the chance to network and grow connections within the London insurance world. This is so much easier to do when you spontaneously meet people by the coffee machine in the lab or at networking events. To emulate this remotely, we organised a webinar series over the course of the 10-week programme to give each team the chance to present to the wider market. This went some way to exposing the teams to a new group of potential connections and has led to several productive follow up conversations for the teams!

Looking Forward

Whilst running an innovation programme virtually poses many challenges, it has also shown us some advantages to working remotely. Feedback from the teams and mentors has been that virtual meetings are more efficient and easier to schedule. It was suggested that initial meetings with the teams who have a large number of mentors should be done virtually in the future regardless to prevent wasting time getting key dates in everyone’s diary. Additionally, the programme has not actually been that different for the international teams. We have startups from all over the globe so our teams from Israel and the US have experienced the programme as they always would have done, virtually.

Keep Calm and Carry On

In summary, being forced to “keep calm and carry on” with running a 10-week accelerator programme virtually has been a good lesson in remaining adaptable. As I am fairly new to the accelerator game, I found it easier to think creatively about running a programme and events in a different way as I have limited preconceived notions about how a programme should be run in a normal setting! Remote working has prompted us to be flexible to try out new approaches to working and engaging with one another and whilst there have been challenges, feedback from the teams and mentors has been really positive. We will be keeping some remote aspects for future cohorts and across our programmes. We have set the groundwork for the next iteration of how we continue to adapt in a post Covid-19 world.

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