News & Views

Startups will need to pivot

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges and changes across the board for people all over the world.  However, it is British start-ups who, perhaps, have felt the tumultuous shifts more than anyone else, at least on a commercial scale.  Those already running businesses are having to pivot or change direction completely to stay afloat, while there is even less impetus available for new businesses to start up in 2021.

There is vocal government support from the UK government regarding small businesses, however, those who may have previously wished to start up a company from their own capital may now be thinking otherwise.  Difficulties finding funding and the threat of the ‘new normal’ have, all told, helped to make things that little bit more difficult for innovators and entrepreneurs.

Gary David Smith, co-founder of Prism UK, believes that there needs to be more done to help energize and inspire our next generation start-up founders.  “There is this idea right now that, given how other start-up founders have traversed the pandemic, all businesspeople need to be ready to change tack at short notice,” he says.

“Flexibility is a must for any small company owner.  However, when you have previously successful business owners having to drastically alter the way they operate considering COVID and financial restrictions, it’s clear to see why so many talented people are feeling downtrodden.”

“I think it’s inspiring that so many of our British innovators have adopted this mindset that they can pivot and change to ride the waves of recovery,” says Smith.  “However, there needs to be extra confidence for our budding entrepreneurs that, regardless of the way the economy is heading, they will still be able to focus on one or two key areas that interest them.”

“Ultimately, I think that while an attitude to pivot is healthy, there needs to be the reassurance that people can actively create their own enterprises without the threat of having to completely change it around in a few months' time. It is likely to be even more exhausting than it already is.”

Smith believes that there needs to be more resources made available – than money alone – to inspire would-be business owners to continue following their dreams.  While capital is promised to some extent in light of COVID restrictions, the Prism co-founder’s argument is that not only should money not be the complete answer, our business operators need more ongoing support to cross the invisible boundaries that exist in the business growth journey.

“The past 12 months have been one long pivot for just about everyone,” says Smith.  “Breweries have started producing hand sanitiser, for example.  Some independent cinemas have set up drive-in movie setups. It’s great to be flexible.”  This is a testament to the calibre of the UK SME scene.

“But this is a very intense climate that new start-up founders are heading into.  Yes – there is still much that is up in the air regarding the coronavirus, and yes, the economy is going to need to take a long time to fully repair the damage.  However, shifting a focus to inspiring our new entrepreneurs to still focus on their goals, and to build their enterprises, shouldn’t be too difficult to arrange.”  According to Economia, the average age of the founder of a successful entrepreneurial start-up is 45 years.

Smith feels that there is too much of a focus on ‘throwing money at the issue’, and insistence that investors will appear on the horizon regardless of how a business is set up, and regardless of the industry they enter into.  “The government could be spending more money on actually giving entrepreneurs the infrastructure they need to inspire new start-ups and encouragement to go on to scale” he says.

“This means giving innovators more than just financial goals to aim for.  It means looking at the long term, sustainable picture.  For example, start-ups are helping to change the way that we help to protect the environment.  They are helping to improve healthcare facilities considering the pandemic.  They are, crucially, helping to make life easier for millions of people.” They are creating employment.

“We need there to be a strong wave of innovation brought about through a want to make the world a better place.  Pivoting and changing lanes is to be expected to some extent.  However, I would love there to be a real drive to inspire innovators to invest in their talents and interests, and to take away this ‘frightening’ idea that they will absolutely have to pivot, come what may.”

Could mentorships be the answer?  Smith believes so.  Through close mentor programs, budding innovators could better prepare for uncertainties that lie ahead, with the right tools and attitudes to pivot successfully should the time or need arise.

Could joined up enterprise support hubs be the answer? Smith believes so.  Through dedicated groups focusing on start-up, growth and scale conundrums, budding innovators could better prepare for uncertainties that lie ahead, with the right tools, mentorship and access to growth programmes and attitudes to pivot successfully should the time or need arise.