By Scott Meacham
We are in unprecedented times. Seemingly overnight, the world has changed, possibly forever. We are dealing with a pandemic disease that has no vaccine or cure. The stock market has lost a third of its value. People are being furloughed and laid off. Many hourly workers can’t pay for their groceries, rent or other necessities. There are shortages of medical supplies, cleaning supplies, random food items, and even toilet paper.
We are communicating in a whole new language—COVID-19, WFH, social distancing, shelter-in-place, contact tracing, community spread, self-quarantine. Online services are booming while traditional brick and mortar operations that are not a pharmacy or a grocery store are struggling to survive.
We have gone from an ordered economy to a reality that is replete with uncertainty.
But — and there is a “but” — even though everything publicly is coming to a standstill that doesn’t mean that startups cannot move forward. We can, we will, and we don’t have a choice.
New companies led by intrepid entrepreneurs have always be vital to our state’s innovation economy. That is truer now than ever before. Startups and innovation will be even more important when we come out the other side of this dark time—and we will come out the other side.
At i2E, our mission and commitment to startups has always been heartfelt. In today’s world, we are doubling down to help Oklahoma’s entrepreneurs and innovators survive.
First, we are keeping our staff safe within the protocols established by government and guiding our portfolio companies to do the same. We now communicate through conference calls and iterate on business plans and market research over the Internet. We are working to stay connected and to maintain our human relationships throughout.
A lot of it, we are having to figure out as we go, starting with the basics. We are encouraging every startup to reexamine their business plans and map out scenarios — worst case, best case, and most likely case. Then, we help boost their mental toughness to formulate realistic action plans to survive and even thrive in a post-COVID-19 world.
Eventually equity capital and customer revenue will start flowing again, but until it does startups must conserve cash. We are working with them on government programs that may offer loans, waivers, or other assistance. We are talking with our co-investors about options for interim investments. We are encouraging entrepreneurs to engage with their boards and mentors—for ideas, guidance, and advice.
Talent and diverse teams are at the core of startups’ success. All of us, not just entrepreneurs and startups, need to think about what we can do to address the impact that layoffs and furloughs can have on people from all walks of life. If you are a landlord, can you temporarily reduce rent? If you are a lessor or lender, can you soften payment terms for sixty or ninety days? If you are a service provider, can you provide a few hours of pro bono services?
Yes, offices, schools, and malls are closed. Yes, we are speaking with a whole new vocabulary. This crisis is affecting the economy, our communities, businesses, and families. It’s hard to raise our eyes and hopes for the future but raise them we must.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org