A group of entrepreneurship executives from the University of New Jersey offered advice to startups and small businesses on how to cope with the challenges posed by the pandemic. The group was brought together on January 8th by James Barrood, former President and CEO of New Jersey Tech Council (New Brunswick) and now advisor to Tech Council Ventures (Summit).
But first, some university entrepreneurship experts thought about where entrepreneurship is today.
While there’s a lot of damage out there, digital businesses appear to have overcome the problems that emerged during the pandemic, said Susan Scherreik, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business.
It is a forked space. “We know 30 percent of small businesses in New Jersey are closed,” she said. But there are some very bright spots. “We have two young alumni, one runs an online specialty retail operation in Hoboken and they are the 17th fastest growing company in New Jersey. Another of our employees runs a medical digital surgery and is the eighth fastest growing company in New Jersey. “
Anne-Marie Maman of Princeton University, executive director of Princeton Entrepreneurship Council, which works with companies in need of venture capital, said, “It has become increasingly difficult to raise venture capital. “Until an entrepreneur reaches a financially viable VC round, those rounds are huge.” Compared to the past, a venture capital round has ranged from $ 3 million to $ 5 million. “Now we’re seeing rounds of $ 100 million. And you must meet many financially viable milestones before you can get funding. “
Dale Caldwell, executive director of the Rothman Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Fairleigh Dickenson University, noted that they have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. He urged the audience to remember that often when a family business closes, the entire family is unemployed. In contrast, many of the big stores have stayed open and run record stores.
Caldwell seeks pandemic equity ownership for family businesses. “They really should give some of this money to local family businesses because it affects them a lot more than the others.” Another idea is to create entrepreneur zones based on the idea of an opportunity zone. “The idea, however, is to give people tax credits for investing in businesses in urban communities.”
How companies survive during the pandemic
Suresh Kumar, director of innovation and entrepreneurship programs at NJIT’s Ying Wu College of Computing, noted that the first thing that entrepreneurs need to do is reassess their business models and “get an idea of where they are. Can you still sell what you previously sold? “During the pandemic? They also need to review their distributors and business models, and review their office space requirements.
He added that many entrepreneurs do not know how to use digital strategies for marketing. Digital marketing has many layers, and entrepreneurs need to understand how to build social media to attract customers. “You need a few key people in the company who really understand how to use social media,” he said that way.
Kumar said at this point, 10 months after the pandemic, companies should focus on attracting and retaining customers. You have to “do whatever it takes” to deliver value and “maybe you deliver a little more and focus on that aspect. You may be able to provide more service or a different delivery channel.
He said that in order to create customer betas you might need to create new structures and possibly give your customer partner some equity to take on the risk.
Caldwell said family businesses that have been on the rise for 100 years should likely send their executives back to school to take courses and bring the company’s operators up to speed.
Many family businesses were left behind in the 2020 disaster for lack of relationships with their bankers and accountants. “You really need to build those relationships,” he added, including about your landlord.
“The advice we give most often is to access your network,” said Maman. “Now is the time to think about who you know who can help you, whether this will help you get started with a client or whether this will help you think through strategy. Give you advice from someone who has been there, has done before; whether it gives you an introduction to a banker or a lawyer; whether it connects you to someone else. Maybe they can’t [help you], but maybe you know someone who can. If you haven’t already, access this network as hard as you can. “
Another key piece of advice is that entrepreneurs need to get back to basics, Maman said. “I think for a while it was easier to swim along without it all collapsing” and without really understanding your strategy and finances, and there’s no room for that. “You really have to be on your base if you want to go out and answer questions about your business.”
Scherreik agreed with the other panelists on social media. She noted that a company’s high public profile will help it recover when things return to normal. For example, an entrepreneur has been supplying pizzas to key employees, and while their company may be hurt, they’ll keep an eye on the name if the pandemic ends.
Entrepreneurs are more focused than ever on daily survival, but they need to take a step back and devote time to long-term planning. You need to review your financial health and see how your income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements compare to a year ago.
Things won’t be the same after 2020, she said. So “make sure you are in tune with your customers” and know what to expect from you in the future.
Before the end of the session, the experts gave the entrepreneurs their best tips when prompted.
- Maman: “What I keep coming back to, both for myself and for the people I speak to, is first things first. “You have to make sure that you do the first things and do them well before you can grow to do other things.”
- Caldwell: Understand that no matter how long you’ve been in business, you don’t know everything. Be hungry to learn because I guarantee there is something on the internet, something that might make you $ 10,000 more than you would have made in the next month. I will guarantee that, but you have to find it. “
- Scherreik: “Put your employees first.” Entrepreneurs and small business owners may have problems: “But we are all experiencing this pandemic and there is a major disease out there. Reach out to your co-workers, make sure they are fine, and make sure their families are fine. “Let them know that if they need more flexibility in their schedules, whatever it is, there is no problem.” Don’t forget this human element. They are your elixir of life and they are human and we must all stick together to keep this up. “
- Kumar: “Three out of every 1,000 people are entrepreneurs.” You have to figure out how to deal with the rest of the 997 people. “The other 997 people will determine your success. They can be customers, investors, suppliers, brand champions, partners, and mentors. “Entrepreneurs need to“ build something like trusting relationships, ”and that wouldn’t just happen online. It has to be done in other ways too. And I think you need to focus on how to do that. There’s a community out there … and if you can involve them constructively, you have a much better chance of success. “
You can find a video of the panel discussion here on YouTube.