“We started noticing some disruption as early as February,” Fahmi Al Shawwa, the company’s chief executive, told Zawya. “Our company works mostly with international clients in the oil and gas sector; we have about 16 engineers who are super-qualified and manufacture complex parts for this sector. In early February, one of our biggest accounts, a refinery in Kuwait, was affected after a spike in cases, which led to their closure.” Other international business also began to drop. “As a small company, we had to react quickly.”
Immensa quickly joined taskforces in Europe to get the lay of the land in key international markets. “It gave us a preview of what was to come,” Al Shawwa said. “Clients were slowing down and we, as a team, literally hunkered down and thought, ‘What should we do?’”
It was a trip to the dentist that led him to a solution.
“My dentist was fixing my teeth and was complaining he couldn’t get his hands on face masks, and those that were available were being sold at twice the price.”
The team created a prototype within 72 hours and reached out to anyone who might need a face mask. To their surprise, they were soon overwhelmed. We didn’t realise the extent of the shortage. We thought it would keep us ticking over, but we couldn’t keep up with demand.”
Initially, just a portion of the factories’ equipment was allocated to manufacturing the face masks, but when the team realised the business potential, with demand coming from as far as the United States, they went from making about 800 masks a day to more than 3,000.
“For all other SMEs, I would advise that first and foremost; as a small company you have to be agile,” Al Shawwa said. “[Second,] you have to survive and find a way to keep your team engaged. Telling a group of young, dynamic people in a startup to wait it out and stay at home is frustrating. Our team worked 24/7 on this new idea and, while they were used to super complex projects involving turbines and engines, they worked through the night on plastic face sheets to channel their adrenaline.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF COLLABORATION
Collaborating with other businesses who are in the same quandary can do much more for you than trying to take out the competition can.
Natasha Hatherall-Shawe, the founder and CEO of TishTash Marketing and PR, lost approximately 70 percent of her company clients almost overnight.
“We were left owed millions of dirhams [and] I’d no idea if we’d get paid, and definitely not any time soon. I have a team reliant on me for a pay cheque.”
She joined forces with a fellow founder of an SME marketing and communications agency, Chloe Ragg of Fox & Hound Digital Communications, to create The SME Rise Collective, a new cluster of professionals that will support SMEs across the UAE by shaking up the traditional PR and marketing model.
“During this time, whilst worried for my own business, I also really wanted to do something for the SME community, a group I am part of and so passionate about,” said Hatherall-Shawe.
“The SME Rise Collective is a platform that offers individuals and companies in the community the chance to come together and buy packages from local marketing and communications agencies that will be used to sponsor and support other local SMEs in a ‘pay it forward’ kind of way.”
And Hatherall-Shawe has good reason to be optimistic. “It’s only a week into [it], but in this short time, amazing things are already starting to happen. Already, The Collective has covered two agencies’ salaries for three months and will be supporting two SMEs with their marketing for three months. […] I believe wholeheartedly that if ever there was a time for ‘out of the box’ thinking, it is now.”