The stories of people and businesses who thrived despite Covid-19 and lockdown are stories of pandemic-forced pivots

Last year, in Level 4 lockdown, the team at science education company Nanogirl Labs got together every day for 20 minutes on a team call to share what was going on. Mostly work stuff – things they’d learned about running an organisation during a pandemic.

Then one day staff member Steph Field was chatting about something completely different. She told them her father Chris and his long term partner Wendy, locked down on Waiheke Island, had finally decided to get married. They had realised during those weeks together they didn’t want anything to be different.

It was Covid that had changed their minds. A good thing had come out of the pandemic.

A light went on for Nanogirl Labs co-founder and CEO Joe Davis, husband of Nanogirl Michelle Dickinson. Remember this was at the height of the worst Covid-19 period for New Zealand. People were frightened and stressed.

But here was good news. 

“I thought ‘there must be so many good news stories out there’.” 

Maybe enough stories to write a book.

After the meeting, Davis called his mate David Downs, a former standup comic, NZTE trade representative, Microsoft regional director, cancer survivor and co-founder of The Classic Comedy & Bar.

Downs is also a writer. His book A Mild Touch of The Cancer describes the experience of battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma; earlier books No. 8 Wire (followed by No. 8 Re-wired and No. 8-Recharged) tell stories about Kiwi ingenuity, entrepreneurship and world-beating technology.

David Downs and Joe Davis didn’t have time to write a book during a pandemic… so they did. Photo: Nikki Mandow

On thing both Davis and Downs knew they was that didn’t have time to write a book. They had full time jobs – Downs had just launched SOS Business, a pay-now-redeem-later not-for-profit set up to support cafes and other businesses left suddenly without any revenue but with loyal customers wanting to help.

And yet, within the hour, the pair decided to write a book about Covid good news, and had agreed on a name: Silver Linings: Kiwi success stories in the time of Covid. Twenty four hours later they had a publisher, Penguin Random House.

The power of the pivot

Many of the stories they found centred on businesses that quickly pivoted as Covid shook everything up.

Brewery and bar company Good George turning ethanol destined for vodka into hand sanitiser. Two companies – hatmaker Hills Hats and fashion designer Annah Stretton – pivoting into making cloth masks. In the latter case, the masks turned around the fortunes of her then struggling business.

The book includes stories of businesses taking up the battle against the virus. Cacophony Project, for example, originally designed thermal cameras to track predators and protect wildlife, but redesigned its product to check people’s temperatures. Auckland’s Fort Richard Laboratories started with 60,000 flu testing kits and dramatically scaled up production to produce (so far) close to a million Covid testing kits – the things nurses stick up your nose.

This chapter also reprints Newsroom’s story “The little ventilator that could”, about Christchurch anaesthetist John Hyndman and his Hyvan ventilator.

John Hyndman had struggled to get his simple, affordable ventilator project off the ground. The pandemic changed that. Photo supplied

Another chapter features “New opportunities”. Like 18-year-old Austen Thomas, who was set to start a career in TV in February 2020, but instead designed the Kis Card – a contactless business card, which sends your information through the phone, complete with QR code.  

Then there are “Unexpected upsides”, including the story of recruitment technology company Weirdly, which switched from offering employee search to a UK corporate, to helping the same company find new jobs for the staff it had to make redundant.

On March 26, the anniversary of New Zealand’s first day in Level 4 lockdown, and coincidentally the same day Chris and Wendy got married on Waiheke, the book was launched.

“After a year of the “unnormal”, it’s great to be able to celebrate people that found success and thrived in the time of Covid,” Downs tells Newsroom. “The common messages from these stories are things any business can learn from.”

Silver Linings is published by Penguin Random House, RRP $45

Nikki Mandow was Newsroom's business editor and the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Business Journalist of the Year @NikkiMandow.

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