Startup Leaders Offer Tips on How Small Businesses Can Move Forward
How veteran entrepreneurs believe startups should pivot, adapt and look to the future
As Ohio begins to work toward returning to a new normal, startups and small businesses are getting adjusted to how they’ll need to operate in the future. But as they move toward a new future in a world changed by COVID-19, things may not be the same.
How do their products fit into our new world? Does their business model still stack up? Should they consider a pivot?
To move forward, entrepreneurs will have to answer these questions and more in a very uncertain time.
To make sense of some of these new realities, we spoke to leaders of several Ohio business organizations about tips for entrepreneurs as we look toward a new era of small businesses.
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Tom Walker, President & CEO, Rev1 Ventures
Get Real, Fast — Analyze every aspect of your 90-day, 6-month and 12-month business plan. Don’t panic if your best-case scenario today looks a lot like your worst case did in December. If you thought you needed a 12-month runway, it is likely to now be 18 to 24.
Cobble Together a Short-term Stay Alive Plan — For the next few quarters at least, investment capital will decline — but eventually investors will put their money to work. They are evaluating what type of businesses are worth future investment.
Pivot — Inertia, the bane of entrepreneurship and innovation, has been smacked down. Whole industries have already started to change. Supply chains are shifting. Open your mind to opportunity windows that didn’t exist before. Think of the distiller who, because of change in federal regulations, can now make hand-sanitizer or the car manufacturer that is redirecting resources toward building respirators.
Care for Your Team — Communicate. Care. Make a human connection every day.. Entrepreneurs will be forced to make difficult personnel decisions. If your company works with a staffing organization, go to them for advice. If not, seek advice from mentors or your board.
Patrick Longo, President & CEO, HCDC
During this pandemic, we’re encouraging businesses to seek information involving the programs that might benefit them, to connect with business assistance organizations, professional service providers and peers to improve their understanding of the assistance offerings and the marketplace. Plus, we believe this is an excellent time to be in touch with current and past clients and to reconnect with prospects and better understand what is going on in their industry.
This is a great time to foster relationships and have those conversations with individuals that you haven’t been able to get to in the past. People seem to be more open to communicating. Also, consider using this time to test out various sales and marketing channels to determine effectiveness.
Stacey Browning, Managing Director, CincyTech
Over-communicate to those closest to you — your team, customers, prospects, shareholders. Find an authentic voice that balances the present-day reality with how you are thinking through things and looking ahead.
Doug Groh, Managing Director, CincyTech
Understand what your customers are going through and tailor both your message and communication methods accordingly. In some cases, this means communicating that you are here to help and don’t want to impose on their time. In other cases, your customers may have little activity and may be very receptive to innovative new products. The idea of “meeting your customer where they are” is always a sound approach, but it’s even more important during this period.
Russ Donda, Executive in Residence, BioEnterprise
Based on my experience in starting companies and investing in companies over the last 20 years or more, here are my three main recommendations:
Provide a Benefit — If you’re in the healthcare space and your product does not offer a revenue increase or a direct cost savings to that customer, you’re going to be very hard-pressed to make that sale and you’re going to be very hard-pressed to get investor interest. On the other hand, if your product can show that it can increase profit or revenues for an institution, you’re going to stand a much better chance with both investors and customers.
Connect Your Product to New Priorities — Issues like controlling infection are important concepts now — how do we prevent people from being infected? Even if it’s not COVID-19, this issue of infection is on people’s mind. How do we track that kind of infection? How do we track patients and vectors? How do we perform patient assessments?
There are any number of health care-related startups out there that can stake a claim to one of these concepts. I’m working with one right now who can claim, ‘We reduce infections and the chances of infection.’ Even though it’s not related to COVID-19, they’re talking about what’s on people’s minds.
Secure Your Supply Chain — Given this environment, where businesses have had to lay off people or shut down for one reason or another, how have you secured your supply chains as a startup? If you rely on one supplier for important components of your product, that is a high-risk area. Investors are going to be much more comfortable with you having multiple suppliers rather than having all your eggs in one basket.
Pete Blackshaw, CEO, Cintrifuse
The de facto impact of COVID-19 is that every company is now thinking and acting like a startup. They are pivoting strategy at breakneck speed, delivering “more for less” via online virtual tools and taking absolutely nothing for granted. Thinking digitally is no longer a choice, it’s a necessity. At Cintrifuse, we helped build a 3D printer PPE factory in Union Hall in 48 hours. No one would have imagined that even six months ago.
Jessica Sublett, CEO, Bounce Innovation Hub
These are scary times and you have to remember that your team is scared, too. Don’t treat them like they’re disposable or just a line item in your budget. We’re going to come through this thing and you’re going to want your team to have your back when things rev back up.
Alec Simon, startup advisor, MAGNET Iterator program, Bounce Innovation Hub
My best advice is to over-communicate your thoughts and plans. Communicate with your team, communicate with your clients, communicate with your investors, communicate with your mentors, communicate with your friends and communicate with your peers.
Tony Vespoli, Entrepreneur in Residence, Bounce Innovation Hub
This is a time for increased creativity and focus. Actively listening to your customers and prospects will help you in refining your value proposition and helping them get through this. This is a great time to become a trusted advisor to those that mean the most to your business.
Ace Epps, Director of Inclusive Entrepreneurship, Bounce Innovation Hub
This is a time where you can see that non-essential and small businesses are being closed. Entrepreneurs should be thinking about how they can convert their businesses to an online platform so they can generate capital during this transition to a new normal.
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