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May 27, 2020

Strategy 101 For Startups

Sponsored Content provided by Heather McWhorter - Director, UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

In the face of uncertainty, it’s difficult to offer startups useful advice. And, yet, that’s our goal at the CIE. It’s tempting to fall back on ‘hang in there’, we’ll know more soon. But when is soon? Sometime this summer? In the fall? Second quarter 2021?

You’ve probably seen predictions about entrepreneurship drawn from the past. What happened to startups after the 1918 Flu Pandemic, coming out of the Great Depression, and during the Great Recession – will history repeat itself?

A review of the articles that came my way last week, point to dizzying array of contradictions. Entrepreneurship will spike; entrepreneurship will plummet. New innovative businesses will thrive. Startups need three-year cash runway to survive (an actual headline!). Venture capitalists are poised to invest in new ventures. Investors are shoring up existing portfolios.

Okay, my head is spinning. How can we sort this out?

It’s time to turn to leaders in strategic thinking – particularly those that focus on finding the opportunity in uncertainty. David Haviland, founder of Phimation, is one of those strategic thinkers. In his new publication, Winning the Uncertainty Strategic Plan Workbook, Dave points out that surviving uncertainty takes some thought, but is mostly about reacting to what is right in front of you. Winning during uncertainty calls for deep analysis of complex issues and making key decisions under pressure.

Here are the steps: frame your situation, decide your focus, and turn insight into action.

Dave points out that times of upheaval are “moving days,” when it is easier for companies to gain or lose ground. Uncertainty levels the playing field and the traditional advantages benefitting entrenched companies are reduced. A local tech entrepreneur noticed, for example, that many of her friends are suddenly switching jobs and leveraging opportunities created by a new openness to remote workers.

What’s happening today is likely mirroring what became apparent after the Great Depression. Certain activities, innovations, and societal changes accelerate during hard times. For example, Dave points out the following areas that all grew throughout the Great Depression and led to new business opportunities: automobile miles driven, radio advertising, and frozen food sales.

Some obvious parallels in today’s world: telemedicine, online meetings and classrooms, shop from home, and delivery services. These were all trending before 2020 and are now integral to our daily life and growing. According to one article, online education has advanced in two months to where it was previously predicted in would be in five years.

Some entrepreneurs are grasping the opportunities presented by these trends, even as they’re struggling through this crisis. They’ve moved their services online, added delivery options, adjusted their product mix, and even moved their innovations to new industries. A local tech startup, for example, is evolving its technology from video games to medical applications.
     
It’s not easy to know the right time to move from implementing survival tactics to thinking ‘what’s our best path forward’. That’s where judgment and strategy come in. The need to evaluate opportunities is sooner than many entrepreneurs realize. Contact the CIE for a consultation on your strategic plans.
 
Diane Durance, MPA, is director of UNC Wilmington's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). The CIE is a resource for the start-up and early-stage business community to help diversify the local economy with innovative solutions. For more information, visit www.uncw.edu/cie.

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