COVID-19 is now an everyday reality for us, a reality that is dynamic, non-discretionary and equitable in its effects for all. On one hand, we are overwhelmed by the power of the physical world around us and fear the slightest of human touch. On the other hand, the virtual world is now the new place for exchange, abundant in its merits though limited by its scope. COVID-19 is redefining our journeys (both inward and outward) and refining our destinations (both individual and collective), while also offering us new beginnings.
This is one of the most powerful moments this century will witness, and it could eventually turn out to be a beginning towards universal course correction. And it will not be an exaggeration to submit that this beginning is driven by an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ – the ability to think fast and differently, act immediately and scale effectively. In this process entrepreneurs themselves are getting filtered - tested and found fit or unfit, their enterprises being conferred a provisional pivot or a permanent shutdown or a badge of worthy protagonist. COVID-19 is posing challenges for an entrepreneur that are abrupt, acute and in many ways pathbreaking. The survivor will probably be someone who learnt to lead the change, extrapolate and take it to a fresh market equilibrium.
With no resistance towards big businesses that are made to acquire maximum share in the market, create maximum profitability for the investors, extract maximum efficiency out of the resources and scale far and wide to become global phenomena, we bring here a case in favour of smaller (not necessarily small) instead of hugely scaled-up businesses.
Smaller businesses are based on principles of optimality instead of maximization, equitable distribution instead of pyramid economy, organic instead of supercharged growth, inbuilt instead of borrowed resilience, a higher multiplier effect on development of an economy as a whole instead of a zero-sum growth. They have agility and flexibility to pivot instead of being asset or/and system heavy with high resistance to any change, power to affect risk-dissemination for the economy especially in times of crisis like COVID-19, instead of concentration of high risk in a few highly-invested companies. Such businesses cumulatively become the backbone of an economy like India, a country that has witnessed structure in chaos, fragmented yet well-distributed supply chains, unorganised yet united sector pieces that have all formed a part of the larger picture that emerges on the COVID-19 canvas for India. This picture is quite stable, sufficient and satisfying, while also willing to welcome constructive changes. These smaller businesses are helping the economy sail through these tough times, from the local kiranas, to neighbourhood community kitchens, to fabrication units making masks. Small is turning out to be exceptionally beautiful and effective.
Women Entrepreneurship and Smaller Enterprises
Many such smaller businesses are owned or/and run by women entrepreneurs. These are not ‘appetite for growth’-starved businesses always, which is an easy job to address. Instead, these are businesses that are crafted to balance the local and global, impact and efficiency, growth and equitability, creativity and commercial viability, sustainability and profitability, and home and business.
We at Startup Oasis support many such women entrepreneurs under the project Her&Nowin Rajasthan, a land known for its ‘marwari genes’, though the landscape for women entrepreneurs here may not be much different from any other state in the country. COVID-19 has shaken up the markets, businesses, revenues, supply-chains, growth trajectory, business-as-usual scenario and projections; but not the intent and determination of these women entrepreneurs to carve the best out of their businesses and themselves as entrepreneurs. This is an opportunity in disguise for the entrepreneurs to learn new skills, adopt technology, take their businesses online, strengthen customer engagement, forge new partnerships, introspect to get a perspective on their business. This is time for some to pivot temporarily if necessary, while for most to focus on preserving and conserving their teams and resources, and also nurturing their families and themselves. It is time for them to shed their inhibitions and take challenges head on and embark on a journey that will only witness a forward movement. COVID-19is indeed proving to be a litmus test for these entrepreneurs with all its uncertainties and volatilities, and our women entrepreneurs are embracing it with open arms.
Women Entrepreneurs’ Day-Out with COVID-19
Few important steps women entrepreneurs are taking to keep pace with challenges posed by COVID-19:
Preserve and Conserve: Survival Dwindling revenue curve and bleak market predictions are a challenge for all businesses, especially if one is into non-essentials. Some sectors are relatively worse hit than others, like travel & tourism, craft & textile, fashion & lifestyle, etc. which are usually discretionary spending for customers. Market conditions may remain unstable, but the teams need to be preserved. And in such a situation, any penny saved is a penny earned. Entrepreneurs are reorganising their resources and restructuring their teams to avoid lay-offs, e.g. - the operations team is now directed towards creating a CRM and analysing customer data. Besides this, entrepreneurs are renegotiating on their fixed expenses to enhance the runway, e.g. - negotiation with the landlords on rent.
Technology and Innovation: Sophistication Entrepreneurs are embracing technology for strengthening their processes and marketing. Technology infusion as a facilitator, was never on such a high priority for these entrepreneurs. All that was seeing procrastination, now seems to have been accepted as a need of the hour. Shifting business online and making innovative use of social media for effective well-targeted customer engagement, e.g. - offering gift cards, initiating ‘pay it forward’ campaigns, etc. are new options that are being explored.
Systems and Strategies: Resilience Building in systems and strategies for long-term resilience, and planning a phase-wise growth is being worked upon, especially getting in place - data discipline, financial modelling, product-range planning, etc. Given the COVID-19 context, some of them are also embracing temporary pivot, e.g. - textile enterprises making masks. Also, the need for positioning the enterprise in the value chain is very well pronounced now. Entrepreneurs are rediscovering their true strengths and re-strategizing– e.g.- moving to a B2C from a B2B model, while also collaborating with fellow entrepreneurs for better forward and backward linkages. Of course, they are ready with Plan A and a Plan B to support the plan A, given the COVID-19 uncertainties.
Women entrepreneurs have always been known for being judicious in their spending, inclusive and collaborative in their approach, persistent with their strategy and efforts, agile and flexible in their appetite for business advisory, and patient to let the seed flourish into a full-bloom business. COVID-19 is letting in fresh perspectives and resilience to these women-led businesses. Undoubtedly, they are on the frontlines with utmost enthusiasm and positivity, be it home or business they assume the frontlines. COVID-19 is bringing women leaders and entrepreneurs to the fore. Postthis revolution, business should never remain business-as-usual, instead become business-for-better.
Author Profile – Pallavi Tak
Dr Pallavi Tak, is passionate about doing unconventional work in the start-up incubation arena, bringing in fresh sectors and inclusion to the space, like craft entrepreneurship, women entrepreneurship, etc. She heads ‘Impact Programs’ at Startup Oasis, CIIE.CO and is known for designing and leading innovative interventions with social-impact at their core, like The Craft Catapult – an acceleration program for the craft sector startups. A post-graduate in Development Economics and PhD in Urban Sustainability, she has a training and incubation experience of over 14 years.
Disclaimer: Views expressed solely belong to the author