The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly influenced the lives of most people on the planet. Rural areas have not been spared from the profound impact the pandemic has on daily activities.

Many rural businesses shut down or changed to accommodate social distancing. New patterns of consumer and worker behaviour and expectations have already emerged. COVID-19 represents a tremendous economic shock and burden, and rural businesses have had to find ways to address health and safety risks while also accommodating an appropriate level of economic activity.

Businesses have historically turned to risk-mitigating technologies to overcome this type of challenge. In this pandemic, that can include technologies, business practices, and strategies that improve customer and employee safety by reducing the risk of contagion.

The best innovations are created in response to specific, urgent, and sizeable problems. In some ways, the COVID-19 crisis has made our most urgent problems and their potential solutions more obvious. As the challenges associated with the coronavirus pandemic mount, there is no shortage of innovative rural entrepreneurs who have stepped up to the challenge.

With “Re-Open Saskatchewan” in full swing, Community Futures (CF) Newsask launched a contest to give away $5,000 to 10 small rural businesses that have been creative and innovative in the current operations of their business.

Through this social media contest, CF Newsask challenged the locals to nominate a business within the Community Futures Newsask region that has taken on new creative ways to conduct business during these unprecedented times.

One of the rural businesses nominated is RJ’s Urban Garden Cafe in Melfort, a CF Newsask client. During the initial lockdown phase of the pandemic response regulations, they sold boxes of frozen produce to free up much-needed freezer space. As Saskatchewan proceeded with plans to reopen, RJ’s Urban Garden Cafe built a new patio to meet social distancing requirements. After reopening, the new patio provided their customers with an exceptional outdoor dining atmosphere while increasing their seating capacity. They also added the convenience of take-out and delivery options after reopening.

Other successful innovations include Lewellin's Clothing and Footwear in Hudson Bay and Your Independent Grocer in Melfort.

Lewellin's Clothing and Footwear were nominated for posting great updates online to enable customers to “pre-browse” and avoid spending more time inside the store. Once they get to the store, customers already know what they want to purchase. Your Independent Grocer was nominated for offering PC Express to its customers. This allowed customers to place orders online and pick up at a later time.

A total of 17 nominations were submitted.