As the world of business emerges from sheltering to survey the pandemic’s damage, some might not expect to see words like optimism and opportunity. But good entrepreneurs with sharp vision are likely to find both in the rubble, said Joshua Ross, the new director of Entrepreneurship Programs and teaching assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the Daniels College of Business.
Q: How is the pandemic affecting entrepreneurism in Colorado and the U.S.?
A: It’s growing entrepreneurism in Colorado and the United States. And that’s what you want to see, entrepreneurs identifying new opportunities, unmet needs and inefficiencies. The pandemic has brought all of those to light—it has actually magnified problems. Good entrepreneurs have a natural inclination to find and fix problems, to make things better, to make the system better. I think most startups were better positioned from the beginning to survive this crisis than many small- and medium-sized businesses, many of which saw demand fall off a cliff. They weren’t in a financial position to address that. I talked to a friend who recently began working for a startup and he said they had just finished series B funding with money in the bank and that they have runway to execute on their vision.
Q: What’s your advice to those considering entrepreneurial endeavors this year and into 2021? And what opportunities for entrepreneurs do you see arising from the pandemic?
A: I say go for it. Pandemic or no pandemic, there are always problems to solve and needs to be met. But with the pandemic, we’re not going back to the way things were. The pandemic will change the way we work, communicate, travel, congregate and exercise. Look at gyms. Will people go back to gyms? You have people sweating, breathing heavily—it’s easy to transfer germs there. Now look at Peloton, the bike company. When you ride on a Peloton, you can see how many people take the classes. Before the pandemic, I remember seeing that about 5,000 people had taken a class. Yesterday [in early May], 105,000 people had taken a class that was 24 hours old. As for opportunities, I think we’ll see more innovation that capitalizes on 5G [fifth generation cell networks], blockchain technology and artificial intelligence. They all cross so many verticals: from healthcare to financial, from communication to supply chains. I think you’ll see a lot of opportunity to leverage these new technologies. So my advice to entrepreneurs is to look at the inefficiencies based on the way we’ll be living post-coronavirus and address opportunities in these different categories.
Q: What inspiration or lessons can entrepreneurs take from past crises?
A: Look at the companies that emerged soon after the 2008 financial crisis: Groupon, Whatsapp, Venmo, Uber, Instagram. The entrepreneurs who started these companies asked, ‘What’s missing in the marketplace right now?’ Also note that their initial ideas weren’t what they became. They had to pivot to try something different. They didn’t make it on their first try. I’m very optimistic that entrepreneurs will find opportunities. You have to be willing to look for it and validate it. Analyze the risks, identify your target market and confirm there’s a need for what you’re proposing.
Q: Anything else you care to add about entrepreneurism, the pandemic, opportunities, advice, etc.?
A: No one knows what’s going to happen tomorrow, next week or next year. It’s a time of a lot of unknowns. I was telling [one of my classes] that now is the most exciting time to be an entrepreneur. Warren Buffet said on the Berkshire Hathaway earnings call recently that he’d never bet against America. I would add to that: Never bet against American entrepreneurism and the innovation that comes with it.