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Covid-19 experiences of resilience and courage

By Holger Dielenberg

Being a startup incubator, we have witnessed firsthand how many businesses have been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Young entrepreneurs have often invested everything into their business venture and cannot withstand such a sudden and complete wipe out of revenue.

Tales of hardship are everywhere. People are cancelling orders and tightening up on expenses. Outstanding invoices and ‘nice to have’ purchases fall off the table. With borders closed, supply logistics are crippled, and social distancing has torn the heart out of our workforce.

If you’re an emerging product development business, such a complete shutdown of customer orders, supply chains and essential services are like cutting the strings to a marionette.

It has been gut wrenching to see young entrepreneurs lose everything. Cancellation of key sales, raw materials dry up, employees stay home. This has a crushing effect on their emerging business, especially when they haven’t yet had the chance to build a financial buffer into their cash flow. They simply cannot absorb such significant losses to their income or production.

Some small businesses have had their entire revenue wiped out in a week. Within the space of days after stage 3 lockdown was announced, some startups in Space Tank’s community as well as broader industry partners saw their business literally evaporate.

Our position at Space Tank has always been to support emerging product development businesses however we can. We never anticipated that this could mean embracing the raw emotional pain of tenants and members as they shared with us their harrowing stories of loss.

During the four weeks surrounding Stage 3 lockdown laws, and with social distancing and sanitary precautions in place, we have tried to conduct business as usual while an increasing sense of numbing shock overtook our day to day work.

Due to Covid-19, some Space Tank tenants and members gave immediate notice, packed up their studios and moved out. The businesses who needed to leave may not survive the Pandemic.

Space Tank supports small businesses and startups in manufacturing and technology. This ultimately means our incubator supports job security and employment growth. We consider ourselves to be an essential service helping young entrepreneurs stay alive and prosper.

Space Tank remains open during this crisis and we will continue to do whatever we can to make sure as many small businesses and entrepreneurs in our community stay afloat during these tough times.

The most profound thing for me personally has been witnessing the true resilience and kind hearted responses of everyone at Space Tank as we find ways to manage these new challenges. The genuine concern and understanding everyone has shown toward each other during this crisis has truly confirmed Space Tank’s core values. The courage and support has flowed both ways.

I feel proud and humbled yet tired and reflective. Covid-19 has caused me to re-evaluate my position as an individual and as a business. More broadly to re-imagine what Australia could be. This means questioning whether we chase profit at the cost of security? Whether we invest heavily or run lean? Whether we continue offshoring to save a buck while dwindling away our domestic supply chains? Whether we compete or collaborate?

During the Covid-19 restrictions we continue supporting startups and small businesses and we are discovering new ways to do business ourselves. What appeared to be an unprecedented death blow is turning out to be a confirmation of our core business resilience.

As the shock of restrictions wears off, we are also learning that many small businesses have found ways to pivot and pursue opportunities they would not have considered before the crisis. In fact we are seeing new businesses taking up residence at Space Tank during this time of crisis.

Sean and Horn (pictured in banner) have been a tenant at Space Tank for around two years. They run a bespoke CNC machine service and are ramping production to include prototyping and proof of production runs for furniture and product design businesses.

We are as busy as ever. This confirms how Space Tank and other co-working spaces and incubators become even more valuable during a crisis – due to the support they provide.

Our extended networks and grass roots supply chains are showing just how resilient they can be. The reason is simple. When times are tough, it is your trusted network who will band together and support you because you support them. Community + collaboration = supply chain.

The Australian economy has been made embarrassingly aware of what it means to not have a secure domestic supply chain or fundamental grass roots manufacturing networks. Simply look at the Governments knee jerk mass purchasing of Chinese PPE to see how quickly a first world country can come close to disaster.

Covid-19 presents the best reason we will ever get to incentivise our Nation’s onshore capabilities.

We should be focused on building innovation clusters and advanced manufacturing capabilities. with serious Government support for new product and technology development, Australia would quickly become a Global leader in innovation.

When a crisis hits society in the magnitude of the Covid-19 pandemic, when international borders close, logistics grind to a halt, and thousands of small businesses fall to their knees; it is reassuring to know that we can rely on a robust internal domestic supply chain to provide critical solutions. Unfortunately Australia cannot make this claim.

With heavy reliance on Chinese and other Asian imports, Australia has lost its manufacturing sovereignty.

Space Tank and other co-working spaces are demonstrating just how important our grass roots industry networks are. We help businesses prosper during times of hardship.

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