June 23, 2020
Neil Kane is an educator in the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and co-author of The Innovator’s Secret Formula.
Despite the many challenges in today’s world, from social unrest to a global pandemic to economic catastrophe for many and the uncertainty that entails, it is still a great time to start a business.
The world is undergoing unimaginable adjustments, and savvy entrepreneurs know that disruption creates the fertile soil from which new companies bloom. The opportunities for entrepreneurs to marshal the necessary resources to form an organization that “makes meaning” and is a catalyst for positive change — the very definition of entrepreneurship — have never been more profound. And the prospects are abundant!
The pandemic has greatly enhanced the need for new solutions, especially in education, and accelerated the speed with which they will be adopted. The resulting stay-at-home orders have forced the digitization of businesses with an unprecedented sense of urgency. There is no better example of this than when in March teaching became completely remote — suddenly and without much warning — forcing us to embrace and learn new tools and modalities. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that “we’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”
The resources needed to run a business today are easily obtainable. Rents are negotiable, labor is plentiful, purchasing terms and conditions are flexible and some raw materials are available at historically low prices — as are interest rates. There is a record amount of cash waiting on the sidelines ready to be invested in solutions to today’s problems. In early 2009, the company I co-founded, Advanced Diamond Technologies, needed to raise a new round of venture capital. At the height of the great recession, it was the worst time in the history of the venture capital industry to raise money. I was not only nervous, but I doubted my ability and feared our business would fail.
The current recession will eventually end, but the new normal will not be the same as the old normal. Some industries will irrevocably suffer though they may not entirely disappear (movie theaters and fitness studios come to mind). They will need to reinvent themselves and take a hard look at what value they offer in light of new social behaviors (an aversion to large gatherings) and alternatives (I bought a Peloton Bike and subsequently cancelled my health club membership).
The new normal will create new markets and multi-billion-dollar industries literally overnight. Who might have thought that manufacturing personal protective equipment, or making collaboration software, would become scorching hot markets?
Moreover, while the world waits for an effective Covid-19 vaccine, new technologies are enabling solutions that seemed like science fiction as recently as five years ago. Artificial intelligence is touching all sectors of the economy from health care to logistics and will have profound implications on many of our jobs as well as society as a whole.
Cloud computing is making it possible for us to remain socially distant yet collaborate effectively — something that would have been impossible as recently as 10 years ago. Digital payments are enabling a cashless society that may blunt the oversight role of central banks. Telemedicine is embryonic but will grow rapidly and there’s no turning back. Commercial space travel is dawning. New paradigm, anyone?
One of the maxims I teach is, “Investors don’t fund businesses, they fund people.” Despite the despairing economic circumstances and cloudy skies, enormous opportunities have emerged. Once you open your eyes to them, you will see them everywhere. So, if you have an entrepreneurial mindset — and you see an unmet need or a chance to solve a problem, summon your inner entrepreneur and go for it!