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COVID Stories – Smart therapy company icho systems looks forward

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We are back with part two of the icho systems story with CEO Steffen! If you missed part one make sure to go and read that right here on the News Portal. In our last instalment, Steffen introduced icho systems and the first impacts that him and his team felt on the business, including how their decision to re-locate their production at very short notice enabled them to continue even during the first lockdown.  

Today the story continues and we find out what 2020 was like for Icho systems, how they diversified their activities and their plans for the future.

How did you diversify your business in response to COVID-19?

In 2020, ichó was introduced in the professional elderly care sector in Germany. Here, ichó makes an important contribution in supporting the social care of nursing home residents and enhances their quality of life.

As we are still very much in the early stages with our product and ichó is in its roll-out stage, diversifying quickly was a big challenge for us. We have used the time to expand our product range for the many requests from the field of disability care and support for children. We had already identified this potential for diversification a while ago, and saw this as a good opportunity to expand the product range with new apps.

We are currently in various pilot testing stages with ichó in new settings. This includes the rehabilitation of stroke patients as well as speech therapy. The first feedback from the pilot phases looks very promising, but Covid also affects these specific use cases quite significantly and all processes run much slower than usual.

At the same time, we have noticed that our online formats for courses and product demonstrations are much more in demand and much better accepted. We are very happy that we had already gained initial experience in this area in 2019 and were thus able to build on it and continue to improve in 2020.

How do you see the future of your company?

I think we are have not seen the last of, nor are we over the Corona peaks, but overall these times have built up our confidence and resilience. We are very excited about the pilot stages of ichó and the upcoming results with people with disabilities and especially with children. We cannot wait to get going again, and for us that just means working with people directly.

I think that the pandemic has made one thing extremely clear: social care for people in need of assistance is not a luxury, but an essential part of life. I think many people have become aware of this through the periods of forced isolation. As humans we function in communities, we need them, for the social exchange and social environment. If we lack this, we fall apart and develop psychological health problems.

At ichó we all feel that we are on the right track to being able to make a big impact and to create an offering to improve the way we serve this demand. Things are slowly getting better thanks to vaccinations, but we are still far from getting back into a reliable planning mode. This modus may be a strength with young start-ups, but we are still very much looking forward to the first trade fairs and conventions being safely open again.

Thank you to Steffen to sharing the icho story with us! To find out more about icho and what they do, be sure to visit their website.  

Do you have a story to tell? Do you know of inspiring entrepreneurs and SMEs that have pivoted and adapted? Get in touch and help us tell their stories right here on the News Portal.

COVID Stories – How a young smart therapy company is coping with market challenges

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Today on the News Portal we are re-introducing you to a familiar face: Steffen Preuß, CEO of icho systems GmbH. We first met Steffen when he represented Germany during Ideas from Europe in 2017, and again when he was the German representative in the Secrets of Success brochure 2018-2019 edition.  

We are catching up with Steffen to see how icho systems GmbH has developed and how he and his company have been navigating the challenges and uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your company?

I am the co-founder and CEO of icho systems GmbH. Our young company develops smart therapy devices for the healthcare market, especially for people with dementia. The ichó therapy ball is our first product, the therapy ball combines different therapy methods with the advantages of digital products in one device. Equipped with state-of-the-art sensor technology, ichó detects all interactions, no matter whether it is caught, thrown, touched, shaken or just held. ichó reacts to these interactions with a colourful light, vibration, sound and music. On this basis, the ichó apps enable various individual training activities, according to the needs of the user.

What is particularly exciting here is the possibility of data logging. Since ichó can measure continuously during the application, the data obtained can provide useful insight into disease progression and developmental progress.  We have already received several awards for this innovation and have been able to succeed in a wide range of competitions. ichó has therefore already been exhibited in the USA and has also been able to gain recognition in Europe through “Ideas from Europe“.

It inspires us as much as ever to see how dementia patients start singing, laughing and dancing again with ichó. It is amazing what abilities can be brought back through the right encouragement and how vitalising this is for all involved. Not only do the residents benefit from this, but also the nursing staff. Relaxed residents and a less stressful environment simplify the work in many ways and enable a fulfilling and collaborative atmosphere with each other.

What was the first impact of COVID-19 on you and your business?

The ichó therapy ball was launched at the beginning of April 2020, but we experienced the first effects of Covid much earlier. We were just in the final stages of serial production at the end of 2019 when the first suppliers began to experience difficulties with delivery, which is why we transferred all ichó production to our offices at relatively short notice. This turned out to be the right decision, as we went into the first lockdown only two weeks later.

By transferring our production, we were at least able to maintain our serial production, even if only to a limited extent, and to produce the first ichós. This helped us to successively supply all pre-order ichós over the course of the next few months, even if only in stages.

The thing we immediately experienced was, obviously, the access to the market and to the customer. All the fairs and conferences we had planned for 2020 were cancelled, but what was particularly difficult was the closed care facilities and having no access, due to people in need of care naturally being part of a particularly high risk group for infection.

This put us in a difficult and complex situation, as our product and what it offers applies not only to the end recipients but also to all volunteer caregivers or relatives. With the lockdowns the need for social care increased enormously, especially for people suffering from dementia.

These were and are still very difficult times for all those in need of care.

To find out what came next for Steffen and the ichó systems team, and to learn more about the experience make sure to come back to the News Portal for the next part of our interview with Steffen.

Have you read our other COVID Stories featuring Catherine Lorent, a Belgian seamstress who helped out by making masks and hospital gowns, or the e-heath solutions developed in the Netherlands or COVID specific hackathons in Greece and Turkey? Read more right here on the Portal.

COVID Stories – Hacking for health

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Here on the Promoting Enterprise News Portal we have been bringing you stories from the pandemic, with a particular focus on news and information from which you, our Promoting Enterprise community, can benefit most.

Previous examples have included features on the E-health at home COVID-19 initiative in the Netherlands, which supports healthcare providers in implementing e-health applications to ensure continuity of care, or on Catherine Lorent, a Belgian seamstress who started with acts of solidarity and then innovated and received national aid to keep her business going. In this latest instalment we take a look at two initiatives – one in Greece and one in Turkey – that target the development of applications and solutions to help businesses and people weather the coronavirus storm.

The Antivirus Crowdhackathon in Greece and the Coronathon Türkiye Initiative both have in common the fact that they aim to generate ideas and solutions that will help entrepreneurs to tackle problems related to COVID-19 and to continue to thrive in spite of the restrictions put in place to halt the spread of the pandemic.

Antivirus Crowdhackathon

Antivirus Crowdhackathon is a remote innovation marathon targeting the development of applications to tackle the pandemic. The first of its kind in Greece, the hackathon promotes a new remote approach to innovation through the use of new technologies in order to contribute to solutions that address the impact of the pandemic. In this way, the initiative hopes to generate new innovative applications within health, business, education and the cultural sector, to help the Greek business and social ecosystems to adapt in an increasingly digital era.

The first cycle of the innovation marathon was held on April 2-5, 2020 and generated ideas for a home health recording platform that identifies the most serious cases and automatically informs medical staff, along with a community awareness platform dedicated to collecting, exchanging and statistically analysing information from citizens about the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Meanwhile, solutions from the second cycle, on 21-24 May, included a community-driven ordering and delivery platform from grocery stores aimed at the elderly, among other solutions.

Read more about the innovation marathon here.

Coronathon Türkiye Initiative

At a time of great uncertainty, the main goal of the Coronathon Türkiye Initiative is to help entrepreneurs tackle problems related to COVID-19 and its spread. Through its online platform, the initiative attracts entrepreneurs with innovative business models and social projects and helps them access resources and develop their ideas. The initiative provides an online forum where business models and social projects can access assets such as raw materials, human resources, mentoring and investment support.

All of this is done online, so the safety of all parties involved is ensured. The initiative also raises awareness of the problems caused by COVID-19 and holds online hackathons to address these problems. Coronathon Türkiye also supports other organisations and intuitions working on COVID-19 solutions through announcements, experience and resource sharing, and providing direct support through webinars and mentoring.

Read more about the initiative here.

Be sure to come back to the News Portal, and follow us on Twitter & Facebook to stay up to date with the latest measures and new support granted under the Commission Temporary Framework or to learn about other initiatives in response to COVID-19.

COVID Stories – E-health solutions and mask manufacturing

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Here on the Promoting Enterprise News Portal we want to bring you stories from the pandemic, in particular the information that you, our Promoting Enterprise community, can benefit most from.

Previously we have brought you stories and examples like that of Catherine Lorent, a Belgian seamstress who started with acts of solidarity and then innovated and received national aid to keep her business going. We have also looked at tips on how to support small businesses as a consumer, measures for SMEs when the effects of the pandemic started to be felt, the ongoing support granted under the Commission Temporary Framework, and other Commission funded coronavirus projects.

Today on Promoting Enterprise we are looking at some initiatives that were launched in response to the pandemic in order to mobilise the brightest minds, bring innovators together with those in need of solutions and, most importantly, find solutions to ongoing issues caused by COVID-19. Read through the featured initiatives below and be sure to visit their websites to learn more about their work.

E-health at home COVID-19, The Netherlands

The COVID-19 outbreak has meant that healthcare providers have had to make an extra effort to care for people with vulnerable health conditions living at home. In the new situation of social distancing, it was necessary for the health providers to adjust or extend their care for this vulnerable group.

In order to support health care providers during the COVID-19 crisis, a temporary emergency fund was made available by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. This fund, executed by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), supports health care providers in purchasing or leasing and implementing e-health applications to ensure continuity of care, in this case remote care or telecare. The 23 million-euro fund was opened twice between 26 March and 8 May and attracted more than 1700 applicants of which 460 were funded.

Find out more about the scheme here.

Corradino Correction Facility, Malta

Prisoners at the Corradino Correction Facility in Malta are helping to combat the outbreak of COVID-19 by producing masks and other personal protective equipment. These masks are being used by officers and residents of the facility and by other government entities. The Minister for Home Affairs, National Security and Law Enforcement in Malta expressed his gratitude for the initiative, and highlighted the importance of showing unity and solidarity. The administration of the facility said that despite the fact that prisoners have made mistakes in the past, they are now supporting society during such a difficult moment for the country.

Be sure to come back to the News Portal, and follow us on Twitter to stay up to date with the latest measures and new support granted under the Commission Temporary Framework or to learn about other initiatives in response to COVID-19.

Acts of solidarity – How a Belgian seamstress supported the medical sector and general public

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We are back with part two of the first of our ‘COVID Stories’ which look at how companies and people have been affected by the current pandemic and how they have adapted to their new business environments.

In this interview Catherine Lorent, a Belgian micro SME owner who has used her sewing business to aid the medical sector and general public tells us what happened next and where she is now. If you haven’t already, catch up with part one of her story here. In her last interview Catherine explained how she started making masks and hospital blouses for the medical sector, and her experience in learning how to make masks and being able to source the correct fabric.

Today Catherine is telling us more about the business, the need to diversify, direct impacts due to COVID, expanding her new products to the general public and where she sees her business in future.

How have you diversified your business in response to COVID-19?

I started with the call for masks and blouses for the hospital staff, but once the demand from hospitals began to decrease (due to the arrival of medical grade masks), I found myself becoming less busy and not having as much work again, which was worrying. I looked into making other Personal Protective Equipment, specifically the plastic visors for the hospital staff as I knew there was a shortage, but unfortunately I was unable to source the correct materials.

It was at this point that the government guidelines for citizen mask-wearing began to become clearer, and I started receiving orders from the general public, the spokesperson for the Belgian Prime Minister and the office of the Secretary General of the European Commission. These orders led to my business slowly picking up again, and saw a slow transition from providing fabric masks only for the hospitals to taking private clients. I have been lucky as I have not had to inject personal funds into my business and have been supported by the government bridge scheme for entrepreneurs.  

Diversification also happened with the way I get my products to my clients, which was a big problem during COVID specifically. There were times when it took up to 3 weeks for some of my clients to receive their masks in the post, which was simply not quick enough. To solve this, my son and I reached out to some cyclists to set up a delivery work, which now works to get the products to clients in a more reasonable timeframe. I cover the costs of the cyclists but some of them are volunteers that wanted to help me however they could.

What other effects has COVID-19 had on you and your business?

There is definitely a change in perception of my skills and industry. Prior to the beginning of this pandemic I did not feel as valued, and I think that in general my sector and my profession were not valued as much as they were a few decades ago. In general I think that manual labour is sometimes seen as ‘easy’, and that anyone can do it. The need for fabric masks highlighted our specific skillsets, and as a result people’s mentality has changed and I feel like my work is more appreciated.

With this appreciation I hope that there is another mentality shift towards valuing quality clothes, and investing in good pieces and repairing them over time to make them last. If a higher quality of clothes becomes the standard, then the value of repairing and tailoring them should also increase.

How do you see the future of your business?

I hope that I will not have to make so many masks! To date, I have made around 1600 in total. It is a product that I will continue to offer as there is a demand and a need, but I’m hoping that I will not have to make as many as I was producing at the beginning of the lockdown period. I’ve experimented with a few different models of masks now that it is a steady product that I offer, and I’m thinking about coming out with a summer collection!

I also hope that the outpouring of support for small businesses will continue and that people will value the SMEs in their community and take their business to them. It is important to champion entrepreneurs, and I think that one of the results of this pandemic is that people have discovered small businesses and want to support them however they can. In my case I was very moved by all the people wanting to offer their help to make me a website, help out with my social media, volunteer to help my business, and just showing their support for me and my work. Hopefully this kind of attitude continues in future.

It will also be great to see my clients again, and hopefully gain some new ones! The bigger contracts should also come back so that is something to look forward to as well. Overall I will continue to diversify my products, and perhaps transition my business back into a hobby in the future, we will just have to wait and see.

Don’t forget to go and follow L’Or en 4 on Instagram and Facebook to learn more about Catherine and her story.

Have you got a COVID Story like Catherine’s to tell? Do you know an SME owner that has adapted to COVID-19 and wants to share their story? We would love to hear about it and feature it right here on the News Portal. Contact us at: promotingenterprise@gopacom.eu

SME Week Newsletter 2020: Issue #4

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Welcome to the June edition of the SME Week Newsletter.

Over the past months, Promoting Enterprise has been working to bring you the latest COVID related policy updates, exciting developments from the EEPA 2020 competition and news from the world of SMEs.

In this issue, we wanted to bring you something more and share stories, from SMEs, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders about their transformation, adaptation, and initiatives during the pandemic. We believe you and your network will find their stories inspiring.

We also want to hear YOUR stories, how are you overcoming these challenging times? Share your news and updates to be featured in an upcoming issue or on the Promoting Enterprise News Portal.

Read more >>

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    • COVID Stories – Smart therapy company icho systems looks forward March 9, 2021
      We are back with part two of the icho systems story with CEO Steffen! If you missed part one make sure to go and read that right here on the News Portal. In our last instalment, Steffen introduced icho systems and the first impacts that him and his team felt on the business, including how […]
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      Today on the News Portal we are re-introducing you to a familiar face: Steffen Preuß, CEO of icho systems GmbH. We first met Steffen when he represented Germany during Ideas from Europe in 2017, and again when he was the German representative in the Secrets of Success brochure 2018-2019 edition.   We are catching up […]
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