Opportunity and Technology, a Boon to Business

NASA rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars
NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity

In the business world, the ability to take advantage of an opportunity and use technology to improve efficiency are two key factors in growth and success.

Sometimes, it is the advancement in technology that creates opportunity. Before NASA’s rover Opportunity landed on Mars, the invention of steam engine technology provided the opportunity to change transportation and develop factory automation, both of which ushered in the industrial age.

On occasion, opportunity is the driving force behind the advancement of technology. But opportunity is not always easy to recognize, and many times arrives as something negative.

The COVID-19 pandemic could be called the COVID-19 Opportunity. Amidst all of the tragic deaths and economic fallout, there was an opportunity to expand technologies that had been lying in wait—messenger RNA (mRNA). Unlike conventional vaccines that inject a dead virus into the body to build antibodies, the COVID-19 is the first vaccine to use mRNA technology.

In the 1990s, Katalin Karikó, a Hungarian-born scientist, had the idea of harnessing the power of mRNA to fight disease. However, Karikó was unable to get funding for her research as it was thought to be too far-fetched for government grants, corporate funding, or support from her own colleagues. Her incredible story of a nearly 30-year struggle to bring this technology to fruition is well worth the read.

In the natural world, the body relies on millions of tiny proteins to keep itself alive and healthy, and it uses mRNA to tell cells which proteins to make. If you could design your own synthetic mRNA, you could, in theory, hijack that process and create any protein you might desire — antibodies to vaccinate against infection, enzymes to reverse a rare disease, or growth agents to mend damaged heart tissue. The one problem that needed solving was how to stop the body from attacking and destroying the synthetic mRNA before doing its job. And, worse, the resulting biological havoc might stir up an immune response that could make the therapy a health risk for some patients.

By 2009, Kariko’s original idea was advanced by another scientist who solved the immune system resistance problem and used the technology to reprogram adult cells to act like embryonic stem cells. Within a couple of years after this breakthrough, the biotechnology company Moderna was formed, but it was not until the 2019 COVID pandemic that it was able to shine.

A Glimpse into the Future

For the Grocery Industry, the COVID-19 Opportunity also turned another negative into a positive for technology.

Before the pandemic, just 5% of grocery orders were purchased online, but that percentage has doubled in just one year. “We had not expected to see 10% to 12% penetration until 2025,” said Steve Hornyak, chief commercial officer for Fabric (formerly ConnonSense Robotics). According to industry estimates, in four years, the share of online orders will double again, to around 20%. Data shows that if you order online once and then twice—you’re probably hooked; it is expected that people will continue to shop this way after the threat of a pandemic.

As a result of online grocery orders, grocery stores are looking at ways to speed up the process of filling those orders and reduce the cost of labor. The answer is robots.

Grocery store chains are looking for large vacant spaces to build grocery fulfillment centers— a possible real estate boon for shopping center owners with large spaces that anchor tenants have abandoned over the last dozen years.

In an interview on NPR’s Marketplace, Hornyak described the fulfillment centers as “Dark buildings filled with stacks of bins, some 80 rows long and 12 levels high. Gliding among the bins are 20 short, squat robots that look like those Roomba automated vacuums, which are the ones that climb up and down and sideways in the aisles and grab the totes. And then you’ve got the ground robots, hundreds of tiny, little conveyor systems, fulfilling orders, you know, like ants.”

These automated fulfillment centers can fill 1,000 orders a day—ten times what a regular store can fill.

However, John Lert, whose company, Alert Innovation, makes robots for retail firms, explained that parts of the supermarket of tomorrow could stay the same.

“Some of us like to go to the store, especially to pick our produce. But the boring experience in the center aisles—once I’ve decided I want a box of Post Raisin Bran, I don’t go looking for the very best-looking box. Automate that,” Lert said.

Jordan Berke of Tomorrow Retail Consulting observed, “there will be grocery jobs in the future. It’s just hard to know exactly what they’ll look like because all the big chains are investing in robots.” He predicts that in a couple of years, many of us will be getting our groceries delivered in 30 minutes.

Life Changed

The COVID-19 opportunity also advanced other technologies, such as teleconferencing, remote working, and distance learning. Each of these had been in its infancy, waiting for an opportunity to shine, and like grocery deliveries, leapfrogged five or more years ahead of predicted adoption rates.

At Business Finance Corporation (BFC), we believe in being prepared to take advantage of opportunity, and that means having the cash available when it is needed. The key to becoming prepared is to establish a working relationship with someone that can help you get that cash. For established customers, BFC can turn accounts receivables into cash within 24 to 48 hours. Call 702-947-3800 or visit https://bfc.vegas/ for a free, no-obligation consultation.

Your Partner in Success,

David Cabral