Month: July 2020

Women Entrepreneurs Leading the Way

Historically speaking, entrepreneurship has been a male driven enterprise. However, with women empowered to create their own businesses, that is rapidly changing. When looking at overall entrepreneurship in America (small and medium sized businesses) in 2019 “a new report shows that they account for 44 percent of U.S. economic activity, and women founded ventures played a vital role in that growth. It’s important to note there have been several factors on why women have not been key in driving this important aspect of the economy forward in the past, but that has changed. In 2020 women are playing a larger role, starting more businesses, raising more money, and inspiring their younger counterparts to follow in their footsteps.

When you look at the importance of empowering women to launch their own endeavors it becomes obvious that on the global scale, societies who don’t empower women are falling behind and will not be able to catch up, as we see in parts of the Middle East. Even in modern and developed Western societies we have a long way to go. The same goes for funding, where women are severely underrepresented, particularly in raising venture capital from male VCs. Below we’ll highlight some of the reasons why driving women’s entrepreneurship is so important for the advancement of not just business, but of society as a whole and feature some of the role models in this space moving the needle.

The economy and popular culture

We publish content on this site for everyone, regardless of their gender affiliation. The reason we’re looking at the macro perspective is because rebuilding the US economy after COVID-19’s impact is not just about keeping a standard of living but also because entrepreneurship is an American value. While a glass ceiling does still exist in many industries such as in Big Tech, (which is ironic given the values many of the leaders of the industry endorse) women entrepreneurs can create their own opportunities and cultures, based on their views and skills.

According to this CNBC article, in the United States the number of women entrepreneurs is 11 million and “women are currently majority owners of 38% of U.S. small businesses, up from 29% in 2007, with these businesses employing nearly 9 million people and generating more than $1.6 trillion in revenue each year.” While that number needs to grow it’s much better compared to other countries. This is an interesting area as you see more women in political leadership roles in places like Western Europe. Nonetheless, Europe still lags in general entrepreneurship compared to the United States.

In a nod to popular culture, television shows like Shark Tank showcase the range of ideas (along with many bad ideas that are television worthy as well) of what American entrepreneurs are capable of accomplishing. The show is popular because Americans love and understand the importance of the lone cowboy/cowgirl creating the next big idea that reflects many of the values we live by. Lori Greiner, a serial entrepreneur also known as the “Queen of QVC” and one of the infamous Sharks has made a name for herself as a personality on the show alongside well-known male investors such as Daymond John and Mark Cuban.

Greiner, who built her fortune with retail and direct to consumer businesses, made an investment in Scrub Daddy, one of the show’s most successful ventures. It is a testament to the success of women entrepreneurs (and investors) when women like her and real estate entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran are prominently featured on prime-time television.

Empowering the youth

We need role models that Zoomers (Gen Z) can look up to. Half a generation ago names like Bezos or Musk did not mean anything, but now they are the leaders who have built society- changing companies. The biggest challenge–and this is particularly notable in underprivileged areas–is the lack of role models, or heroes, in order to inspire young people of what is possible. Young people need to see others who are like them overcoming the same odds. This is true for women role models as well; if all that young women see are men entrepreneurs succeeding, they will ask themselves if it is indeed possible for women to succeed at the same level. 

When it comes to larger than life personalities, who serve as role models for young women to emulate, Sara Blakely is the leader. Not only is she always showing up in the most authentic way, she is also financially supporting women entrepreneurs, particularly now during the COVID-19 crisis. Young women need someone who is reliable, and who “gets them.” Spanx, the wildly popular line of undergarments that Blakely created, and the story of how she got there are inspiring. In addition, Blakely relates to her audience with her active use of social media to promote a message of resilience with quotes like “ideas, even million-dollar ones, are most vulnerable in their infancy; don’t share them with too many people. However, don’t hide your plan from people who can help you move it forward.” 

Taking leadership roles

Women have different perspectives in business and as such their leadership roles steer the ship of major companies. There are examples of women in politics and increasingly in leadership roles at Fortune 500s, but entrepreneurship plays a unique role in the business world. For the fact it is so hard to build and maintain a successful startup turned company, people who have executive roles in these types of organizations must be particularly gritty and versatile.   

An example of a woman who is leading one of the most successful tech companies in history is Sheryl Sandberg. Her role at Facebook is not without controversy, particularly regarding Facebook’s role in the 2016 US Presidential elections. That is not necessarily a bad thing as the COO of Facebook is being held to the same high standards which her male counterparts in Silicon Valley are. While there has been a backlash against Sandberg and Facebook in general, it is worth taking a step back to think about the society changing company she built alongside Mark Zuckerberg.

Showing that Millennials and Zoomers can do it

Millennials and now Zoomers (if you’re a student at UConn that’s you) have a bad rap for not taking the initiative and being self-entitled. There are also plenty of bad role models of tech entrepreneurs who exhibit eccentric and wild behavior. A lot of the negativity hurled at the younger generation is typical of how older generations sometimes look at youth. The reality is with the world only getting more unstable, continued ecological and environmental erosion, and the long-term ramifications of the pandemic, Zoomers are inheriting a complex and challenging world.

We like to measure business results, and this may be a controversial and unpopular choice but Kylie Jenner is an example of a Zoomer which parlayed not just fame, but a following on Instagram and Snap to become the youngest self-made billionaire in history. As a society we are living in an era of extreme fame in which we are bombarded every time we scroll through our social media feed. Understanding social, user behavior, and truly knowing your audience, is a key entrepreneurial trait that Jenner exhibited. It’s not about who is the most loathed or revered in the media, but rather using the tools at your disposal.

Diversity 

This is a buzzword these days, but there is merit to this idea. It’s shocking how bad we humans are at decision making, and having a different viewpoint is key in helping us make the right decisions. This has become so important for corporate governance that leading investment banks such as Goldman Sachs are mandating diverse boards. The reality is the world has changed and we need to widen the tent to include women (as well as people of color.) When we look at the landscape of entrepreneurship soon it will be led by those from diverse backgrounds and women.

Who is a better example of this than Oprah: not only did she overcome childhood trauma, her early forays into television were not successful. Before she was the iconic brand that she is today she had to build herself up, without help and without any role models to whom she could aspire. Entertainment is one of the most difficult industries to break into, and to consistently succeed at. Oprah has not only maintained longevity, but she pioneered the idea of a personal brand and has been able to reinvent herself and remain relevant year after year.

For the United States economy to get back on track, it’s not enough for some businesses to get stimulus checks. What we need is a focus on engaging and bringing up women entrepreneurs in order to build this decade’s successful businesses. It is important to highlight the accomplishments of successful women who have been trail blazers in order to inspire the next generation of women entrepreneurs who will help rebuild this country.  

Post COVID-19 Markets

There is a lot of uncertainty in the air these days as no one really knows how the economy will fare here in the United States. We are dealing with the first forced shutdown of whole economies across the globe in order to protect those most at risk from contacting the highly infectious COVID-19 virus. While there are many arguments on the economic shut down with voices for and against, each with their own valid arguments, the reality is that we can’t impact our policy makers until at least November. However, as entrepreneurs we focus on what we can control, and in a wild economy like this it’s not just about surviving, it’s about thriving by identifying opportunities.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a black swan occurrence. The term was made famous by author Nassim Nicholas Taleb and is defined as “an unpredictable event that is beyond what is normally expected of a situation and has potentially severe consequences. Black swan events are characterized by their extreme rarity, their severe impact, and the widespread insistence they were obvious in hindsight.” Unlike the last black swan event, the recession of 2008, we are dealing with both a health crisis and a future economic crisis. Sadly, all the business books and classes in the world can’t help you if you’re in the restaurant or travel business these days. There are, however, some industries that will thrive in the coming months, as well as industries that have yet to be invented that could become a part of our everyday lives overnight.

 

Zooming 9-5

Video communication tools are the most obvious winner in this emerging coronavirus economy. Zoom has become the go-to tool that people are using daily, but Google and Facebook are working to catch-up before Zoom becomes synonymous with online conference calls. This has fundamentally transformed how we communicate, possibly changing the way global business is conducted in the near term.

Like shared working spaces, this company just executed well; like previous workplace pioneer WeWork, Zoom has not only dominated the market but changed how we do business. It’s probably a bit ironic but that is how innovation works as fewer people are going to utilize working spaces and will acclimate to working from home. Over the past few years people were increasingly working at least a few hours a week from home, and COVID-19 may accelerate the idea of a 4-day work week. A study by Microsoft Japan last year noted the results of a shortened workweek: working four days a week, enjoying a three-day weekend — and getting their normal, five-day paycheck. The result, the company says, was a productivity boost of 40%.” That means aside from communication platforms profiting we’ll see more industries focused on working from home such as office supplies, furniture that can be easily assembled (and stored), remote childcare, and online education.  

Schools go online

It’s not just universities who are putting their courses online for upcoming semesters, but a complete revision of the future of education. The coronavirus has accelerated trends that were already underway; instead of a span of years now things change in a matter of weeks. It’s not just classes for college students but for professionals who want to brush up on their skills, as well as entrepreneurs who are looking for that edge. As this Forbes article covers the current situation: “colleges and universities as well as primary and secondary schools have made an enormous shift toward online and virtual courses. While the ability to do this so quickly is impressive, the effects on teaching and learning has been very mixed. Even schools that had a viable online course system in place before the crisis are struggling to adapt to an entirely virtual program.”

This can range from Zoom classes taught in person to high quality courses where the student completes modules like Foundr’s online syllabus. The question will be what role personalized education will play, as some students with learning disabilities may not learn the most effectively using current online methods. There is a feeling that people want more interactive experiences online, and this could translate to augmented and virtual reality. Despite Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus, and VR being “the future”, these verticals never gained the traction they claimed. Maybe now when people need a new way to engage, we’ll see a widespread adoption of these technologies in new and creative ways.

 

The doctor makes house calls – online

One of the reasons so many government officials panicked was their concern the healthcare system would be overwhelmed by the influx of patients suffering from COVID-19. Telemedicine has been a good turnkey solution in that people who may be infected are not infecting their health care providers. Additionally, the ease with which one can go online or send a picture to their doctor is simple. Just as we are becoming accustomed to Zoom calls, we will be used to setting up a telemedicine call with our doctor.

Both private money and grants will go towards the research of ways to combat this virus, including coming up with a vaccine. It would be irresponsible on the part of governments not to prepare for the inevitability of another pandemic, but many savvy entrepreneurs will create solutions to help medical workers that will be relevant when a future pandemic occurs.

Wellness tech

Aside from telemedicine, the health and wellness industry were already on the upswing. Data is being researched how preemption can help one fight the symptoms of COVID-19. Lifestyle choices such as being overweight, and smoking put one more at risk of having serious symptoms. Being at home also impacts this industry as corporate wellness programs at the office are moving online to support a remote workforce. The vertical of wellness is broad and encompasses industries such as fitness, meditation, nutrition, mindfulness, mental health, and as this Medium article states that “according to the Global Wellness Institute is valued at $4.2 trillion.”

What is applicable about this vertical is that many of these technologies used are B2C, personalized, and can be accessed from an app on your smartphone. While wellness was already a hot trend, there is more awareness from people who may have neglected their health in the past. Deteriorating mental health has been one of the issues that has impacted people the most as they are sitting at home and dealing with stress of the unknown.

The local grocer online

This is not a surprising one as people have been afraid to leave their house to even buy groceries. Amazon has been at near capacity and struggling to fulfill its orders. While e-commerce has been around since the mid 1990’s never before have such large swaths of the population had to rely on online shopping to get their basic food needs fulfilled.

E-commerce is a saturated market, so new entrepreneurs entering this space won’t change things much, but the addressable market will change. Consumers who were reluctant to purchase products online in the past will have no choice but to do so now. The trust to pay with a credit card online is not going to play a factor as marketplaces such as Amazon, and platforms such as Shopify have gained customer’s trust. If an entrepreneur was considering launching an e-commerce brand online on Shopify now is the time.

The social distancing economy

What will this look like? This could encompass many verticals such as smart cities tech, drones, online events, AI, etc. What products will we use in the social distancing economy, and how will this impact our policy makers’ decisions? Will we have drones like in China hovering over us reminding us to keep our distance? The question is if this will even last; we could have this kind of economy during the winter, but things could revert to ‘normal’ during the summer months. The real gift that entrepreneurs give to the world is the ability to see around corners and come up with ideas and products we don’t even know we need yet.

Entrepreneurship in this space, and innovation in general are going to be messy. What drives innovation and formulating solutions at present is that people are still getting sick, and those solutions need to help save lives. Additionally, in 6 months’ time as things develop additional verticals connected to social distancing may open as well as society’s norms change (ex, online dating now known as Zoom dating.) The challenge is creating solutions that could live past this phase and maintain longevity, as we will eventually settle into a ‘new normal’.

The reality is that all this is new, and things could change as the situation with the virus unfolds. If anything, these changes in how we conduct our lives and do business are opening the eyes of many entrepreneurs who not only want to capitalize on what is happening to build a profitable business but also solve real dilemmas. In the end, entrepreneurship is about creating an impact, and dealing with the most pressing problems at scale.