How to start a business during the pandemic 

September 17, 2020


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Is there ever a right time to start a business? Regardless of the answer, it may seem like during a global pandemic is most definitely not.

In fact, watching businesses across the world fold, lay off staff and make budget cuts over the last six months is enough to put any budding entrepreneur off perhaps one of the biggest career decisions they will ever make.

Industries that have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic-induced economic downturn include travel and tourism, hospitality, retail and the service sector. But this is not putting off as many entrepreneurs from launching their business ventures during the pandemic as one might think.

In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of applications from employer identification numbers — numerical references assigned to business entities — from March until May 2020 was over 500,000, reported The New York Times. Although this represents a 20% decrease from the previous year, it is proof that launching a business during the COVID-19 pandemic is indeed possible.

And for those considering it, we’ve put together a helpful checklist.

     1. Take the plunge

In the past, periods of economic hardship have paved the way to success for entrepreneurs who are proactively looking for ways to make the most of any opportunity.

The world’s largest pre-seed incubator, Founder Institute, for example, was founded in 2009, during the global financial crisis.

Jonathan Greechan

Founder Institute co-founder Jonathan Greechan.

“When the economy’s bad, it’s a good time to build,” Jonathan Greechan, who co-founded the incubator, told Entrepreneur Magazine in a free on-demand webinar.

“Entrepreneurs are the people who are going to get us out of the pandemic and build the future we want to live in,” his co-founder and Founder Institute CEO Adeo Ressi echoed, in an interview with Crunchbase.

“Many of those businesses are going to be impacted for months, or even years,” Ressi added. “But someone needs to pick up the slack, and it’s startups,” he told Crunchbase.

The Founder Institute is still enrolling applicants — teams and solo founders — for its over 60 programs in cities across the world, many of whom have full-time jobs and are pursuing business ideas as side projects.

     2. Do your research

While now may be a good time to start a business, starting a venture that is poorly planned or unlikely to make it through the pandemic does not make sense.

Putting a business plan together, doing market research, building a team and even naming your startup requires time and planning. But this can be a daunting process for first-time founders who might be struggling to work out where to start.

Budding entrepreneurs that find themselves in this situation may benefit more from a structured course, especially as we find ourselves with extra time on our hands thanks to the shifts to remote working across the world.

While money to pay for these courses might be tight, some — such as the course provided by GRO academy — offers users the opportunity to get started for free. The assessment tool, which features lessons and exercises to complete, provides a personalized 1-page business brief at the end of the course, determining the business’ USP, and offering marketing advice.

     3. Use your common sense and creativity

In a blog post written by seed accelerator Techstars’ Chief Innovation Officer Jenny Lawton, she suggests that now is the time for creative ingenuity from the startup sector.

Techstars LA Class of 2019

Techstars LA Class of 2019. Image courtesy of Techstars Facebook.

No matter how imaginative they are, business ventures that only work during COVID-19 will not make it out onto the other side successfully.

As businesses cut the fat, the ‘new normal’ is beginning to take shape, and this is where money-making opportunities will lie.

“By keeping the creative marketing engine running and by supporting transformative innovation and organizational disruption you increase the chances that your company will come flying out of a down market,” Lawton wrote.

This could mean pivoting on your original business ideas, or switching up your strategy. A good example of a company that has done this during the pandemic is Talview, the AI-powered candidate experience platform for interviewing students, which repurposed its company tool to help educational institutions approach the remote revolution.

     4. Secure funding

Raising a funding round during an economic downturn can be complicated, with less investors willing to take risks, less opportunities to network and less capital available in general.

However, securing pre-seed funding can be simply a matter of using the right tools.

Venture Pole, for example, connects startups to investors using partner accelerators. The tool itself uses AI to automate part of the venture capital process, replacing cumbersome due diligence practices with smart screening and due diligence tools.

Venture Pole also aims to democratize access to venture funding by promoting equal access for female founders and founders of color, who have both been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

     5. Hire wisely

These days, hiring talent via the traditional CV application method or using recruitment agencies can be lengthy, expensive, and it often results in discrimination and bias.

The PitchMe team.

The PitchMe team.

The pandemic has created a rise in ‘career shifters,’ (people changing career paths) as specific industries have suffered economically, forcing workers to look to other sectors for employment.

For these applicants, applying for jobs using the traditional CV method can also be limiting, as they may be transitioning from a certain level of seniority in one industry, to a junior level in another.

For this reason, HR departments might benefit from using candidate marketplace tools such as PitchMe, which creates a smart employee profile by pulling big data from online sources about the applicant.

It then presents the employee’s hard and soft skills to recruiters in a way that matches them to job vacancies more accurately, saving time.

     6. Join a community

Starting your own business can be a daunting and sometimes lonely process. First-time entrepreneurs, in particular, are constantly in need of advice, mentorship, or even just like-minded colleagues to bounce ideas off of.

A good way of solving this, as well as opening doors for future funding opportunities and acceleration, is to apply to become part of an incubator.

For students looking to go down entrepreneurial paths, as well as alumni and faculty staff members, university incubators can provide vital support for a first-time business venture.

The University of Southern California (USC) Marshall Greif Incubator is a great way for entrepreneurs to work on their bootstrapping and pitching ideas, providing a space for them to validate their ideas and form connections. This year, its fall 2020 incubator program is running fully virtual.


Disclosure: This article mentions a client of an Espacio portfolio company. 


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