2020 was one of the most trying years across the world in more than 100 years. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to get very creative. Many “non-essential” businesses had to adapt to the world of virtual offices. Kitchen tables became makeshift cubicles for many. A lot of companies went out of business. And many had to shift focus.
In other words, many Canadian companies had to – in the immortal words of Friends character Ross Gellar – PIVOT!
BC-based 3D printing company, 3DQue, was one business that found itself faced with a monumental shift during COVID-19. It was approached with an opportunity that would alter the fortunes of this young start-up – and even change how it classified itself.
This article outlines the steps that 3DQue took when faced with a new direction and no idea where to start.
Step 1: Commit to a new direction
Things were running smoothly for British Columbia high-school-student-turned-founder-and-chief-innovative-officer Mateo Pekic and his CEO Steph Sharp. 3DQue was earning a solid reputation in the industrial manufacturing space. Then COVID-19 happened.
The federal government approached 3DQue to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) and swabs.
They would have to decide whether to continue along servicing their existing clientele, or take a big risk and enter a new, unfamiliar landscape. It was a hard decision to make but they subscribed to the belief that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
They committed to the new direction and with that, were now operating in the biotech sector.
“At the time, I would not have defined our company as biotech, but things shifted, almost instantly once, the pandemic started,” says Sharp.
Step 2: Research and seek out new resources
Sharp and Pekic had no experience in the biotechnology industry. They had to ensure they complied with the intricate industry regulations. They also had to figure out how to scale up quickly to meet the demand for inventory without the financial resources to do so.
They found the solutions through two valuable resources that only became available to them once they switched industries. LifeSciences BC (LSBC), a not-for-profit industry association that supports and represents the BC life sciences community, guided 3DQue through the compliance challenge. LSBC, through its partnership with BioTalent Canada, helped 3DQue solve the challenge of scaling without the necessary finances.
Step 3: Cultivate youth talent
BioTalent Canada introduced 3DQue to the Student Work Placement Program (SWPP), which proved to be the solution to its scaling dilemma. Up until that point, even though they’d already accepted the challenge, Sharp and Pekic were unsure if the company could meet the demands of the government’s request.
Funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Student Work Placement Program, SWPP is a wage-subsidy program that increases the job readiness of Canadian post-secondary students entering the Canadian bio-economy. The program covers the cost of a student’s co-op placement salary by 75% up to a maximum of $7,500.
Through SWPP, 3DQue hired nine students in the fall – with plans to hire 10 more.
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The only way for 3DQue to meet the government’s demand for PPE inventory was to entrust students with more responsibility than a lot of companies would be comfortable with. But Canada’s youth is talented and can have transformative impacts on an organization if they’re empowered to do so. 3DQue challenged its students to take on bigger more active roles once they acclimated to the company.
The students touched almost every aspect of the organization from R&D, to digital marketing, to the production of a weekly livestream, to the co-ordination of hiring and grants, to bookkeeping.
In just six short weeks, 3DQue was able to develop and launch an innovative new product in addition to meeting the demands of the government’s PPE request. This accomplishment would have been impossible without the contribution from the SWPP students.
“These kids really hit the ground running, with many of our participants able to take on full roles within two to three weeks,” Sharp says. “Without SWPP, we could not have continued to develop our technology and produced PPE.”
There’s no doubt that it can be a scary prospect to pivot direction as an organization. But there are steps a company can take to make the transition easier and success more likely. 3DQue followed the three steps outlined in this article and have thrived as a result.