While small businesses are becoming increasingly purpose-driven, it looks like businesses are also becoming increasingly digital, and embracing agile business models that allow them to quickly adapt to new environments.
Throughout human history, crises have been pivotal in developing our societies.
Pandemics have helped advance health-care systems, wars have fuelled technological innovations and the global financial crisis helped advance tech companies. The present coronavirus pandemic will arguably not be an exception; entrepreneurs can be expected to rise to the challenge.
The pandemic has accelerated the process of digital transformation across almost all sectors. As the world slowly but steadily shifts to the recovery stage, we have also seen that the pandemic has brought on changes to consumer behaviour that is likely to stay for good. The question then becomes how we can empower entrepreneurs to leverage digital tools and innovations while navigating the pandemic.
Entrepreneurs help bolster economic development, create jobs, and invent products or services that can make the world a better place.
Being a successful entrepreneur requires outside-the-box thinking and larger-than-life ideas. Anyone can come up with a new idea, but building a successful business around it is the entrepreneurial challenge. The entrepreneurial mindset is unique in that one must be creative, communicative, and highly motivated to succeed, yet open to risk and failure.
The global pandemic and associated policies restricting people’s movements have caused major disruptions to many businesses. We’ve already observed major shifts in business practices. Working from home is the new norm, while many personal meetings and conferences have been replaced by video meetings and other virtual forms of communication.
Many firms have initially responded to the crisis not only by cutting costs but by engaging in new entrepreneurial activities.
Around the world, we see many examples of resourceful responses to the crisis with companies changing their strategy to produce hand sanitizers, protective gear, gowns and other supplies for hospitals, staff retrained to help out in hospitals, ventilators and life-saving medical devices, the list goes on.
The crisis created opportunities for businesses to become more innovative. Facing external pressures, some business leaders are stepping out of their routines and comfort zones to become creative problem-solvers. Along the way, they rediscovered their entrepreneurial spirit.
Beyond existing firms, some sectors of the economy are likely to grow. New technologies can offer numerous opportunities as the crisis transforms the products or services they can offer. Service businesses in particular are likely to see a lot of innovation in how services are created, packaged and sold.
Recent trends in China offer a glimpse of what is feasible for businesses. For example, online shopping and entertainment received a major boost during the coronavirus shutdown via online platforms like Alibaba, WeChat and their associated ecosystems.
In the health-care sector, health-related smartphone apps are proliferating. Artificial intelligence is helping hospital emergency rooms, while virtual reality has moved from an entertainment tool to a valuable resource for technical training and maintenance.
Companies that become competent and move quickly in these areas during the crisis will have a strategic advantage over their competitors in the post-pandemic economy.
These five key tech-subsectors are likely to benefit the most, both passively and actively – from COVID19:
1. Health tech
As an emerging discipline that combines big data analysis and AI with methods from biology, medicine and statistics to understand and predict the spread of a virus, digital epidemiology, a health tech development, has seen an unprecedented number of new applications in recent months.
2. Autonomous vehicles – drones
Drones have been another protagonist of governments’ responses to the COVID-19 crisis. Used to spray disinfectants and pesticides, or to transport both medical samples and normal deliveries, they help to significantly reduce human contact, speed up the process, and perhaps even be more efficient.
3. Delivery and mobility platforms
Gig economy platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo have often been at the forefront of Europe’s regulatory debates over the past few years, especially in terms of their business model and categorisation of workers. Uber and its new peer-to-peer delivery service, Uber Connect, is but one of many examples.
4. Immersive tech
Among the regulatory challenges traditionally faced by immersive technologies are content regulation, including health and safety concerns, data management and protection, and questions around the protection of IP rights and liability obligations. While these issues are likely to remain the subject of future legislative proposals, the COVID-19 crisis might help regulators see these technologies under a different light.
The spike in contactless and mobile payments, branchless banking and crowdfunding platforms are some examples of how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted the fintech sector. The same could be said for the opposite: a number of financial companies and start-ups have been rolling out new tools and/or open banking technologies to support self-employed workers, sell vouchers to customers, and provide supplementary credit cards to give friends and family to use on people’s behalf while isolating.
The digital economy represents a departure from the traditional zero-sum-game business model with its focus on shared value creation.
The digital services that people relied on during the outbreak like online marketplaces, cashless payment, contactless delivery and live streaming will almost certainly become ubiquitous now. In building an ecosystem, entrepreneurs need to adopt a platform approach that can enable multiple players to solve issues together.
The ability to build new systems from the ground up could accelerate the rise of SMEs and entrepreneurs from emerging markets and put them in a more advantageous position in economic recovery post-COVID-19. This presents enormous opportunities for entrepreneurs across these markets.
The benefits of the digital economy will also see mass entrepreneurship spur on social mobility, and there will be greater economic participation from marginalized populations.
SMEs are the backbone of any society for job creation and economic contribution. They are the pathfinders during the journey to economic recovery. Those among them who can pivot their venture and team to adopt digital technologies and enable their customers, partners and the local community will have the best opportunity to survive and thrive in the long term.
Finally, it’s clear the post-pandemic future will be different. What’s happened during the crisis will have a lasting impact on society. Current signs of entrepreneurial initiative and goodwill give us some cause for optimism. The future I envision post-COVID is one where people and businesses are prepared and enabled through technology.
Whether it is to continue business operations or maintain access to essential needs, the digital economy will play a crucial role in all aspects of our lives. This is the brave new world we will have to create together, and now is the time to empower and work with entrepreneurs to help build it.
As Brian A. Wong – Vice President, Alibaba quoted by saying:
“SMEs are the backbone of any society for job creation and economic contribution. They are the pathfinders during the journey to economic recovery.”