Updated: Jun 5, 2020
Leaders of every company of any shape or size are considering COVID-19s impact on their business, how to cope and how to position themselves for the economic recovery. I am reminded of the “Great Recession” (2008-2009) measures that we took to navigate SolarOne Solutions as a “Greentech” start-up through that crisis and the many lessons gained from it. As a company, we machinated, explored and experimented as far as we could before taking “leaps of faith”. An example of this was launching an “ingredient brand” program designed to cultivate strategic partnerships and alleviate emerging supply chain risks. Ultimately, the Company survived, but far from unscathed. In hindsight, there were several things that we did well and others we did poorly. Each of these experiences can offer insight to startups today.
I won’t elaborate on them in this blog, only to say that successful navigation is about striking a careful balance. Amidst shortages that accompany crises (e.g. testing kits and toilet paper), there is never a paucity of advice to small business leaders. In addition to adapting your operations to the specifics of this crisis (e.g. working remotely, zoom protocol) you will hear things like: “extend your runway”, “reassess your business model”, “leverage your resources” as frequent refrains. These are fine bits of general advice, but there’s so much more in the context and execution of the matter. Every company has its own set of circumstances.
Clearly coping with the near-term changes to the business environment should be the top priority for any start up, but it is far from the only one. It is important to think beyond near term survival. As some examples of a more complex thought process, consider the following added perspectives to the general advice from above:
· Extending the runway may be critical, but runway to where?
· At some level, re-assessing and refining business models should be a continuous process. A crisis usually brings both threats and opportunities to most businesses. They always bring very fresh perspectives to business models that should be explored. Keep in mind that startups frequently face the conundrum between focus and versatility. A “pivot” in business can have “good” or “bad” connotations. It comes down to when they are applied and how they are managed. “Available resources” is just one of three or four other major factors in determining making a “pivot”. Other factors may include the personnel mindset or brand impact.
· It takes a village for start-ups to flourish…and to survive. A start-up’s village should extend well beyond its employees, shareholders and bank-account. The “village” represents the “universe” of resources to expand, reinforce and leverage, particularly in a crisis. The extended village may not offer funding, but it can provide “out of the box” ideas, constructive criticism, time-saving information or in-kind services. Keep in mind that a viable village must be served with a “two way” street.
Most Greentech start-ups face an interesting set of threats/opportunities in this COVI19 crises. Unlike the firms that produce test kits, masks or vaccines, many Greentech startups don’t have a major role to play in the critical path,. However, Greentech companies can move proactively and methodically to play a vital role in the recovery from its economic impact and serve in the critical path of another pending crisis… that of “Climate Change”. The longer the economy is stalled for this current crisis, the more extensive a stimulus package is needed to restart it. Inevitably, an expanding stimulus program will translate into accelerated investments of increasing size and duration into infrastructure projects. I would expect that, like the last time, projects further along in development will take priority over conceptual ones. Companies that apply strategic and imaginative thinking to their entire value chain, from supply to project pipeline, in this new landscape will be well served. Therefore, with creativity, forward-looking outreach and constructive collaboration, “Greentech companies can get a real jump on the opportunity. This advance positioning will offer support to the economy, environment, community resilience and energy transition along all at once. A most compelling narrative to any recovery plan. By illuminating a thoughtful path or pathways beyond the crisis, the effort should also bolster confidence in the Company’s long-term future amongst its stakeholders and the wider “village”.
 There are plenty of exceptions. Consider Biobot Analytics. https://www.businessinsider.com/biobot-mit-covid19-sewers-testing-2020-3  That can also change quickly if medical facilities are simultaneously confronted with power outages or threats to their water source or fuel supply – which no one in their right mind would wish for.