Problem-Solving During a Crisis

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Innovators and Entrepreneurs: this is your moment

By Robbie Coon, Bounce program coordinator

A Bounce client recently asked me whether it was a good time to start a business. She was worried that the economic and safety constraints around COVID-19 have led to a situation where it is too risky to be an entrepreneur.  The question, itself, didn’t surprise me, but I couldn’t help wonder how many people are out there thinking the same thing: is now the right time to start a business?

Whether it’s the right time to start a business probably depends on the type of business; e.g., software product vs. restaurant (which I will discuss below). That said, this is a time when you may be (for better or worse) finding yourself with time on your hands to work on an idea that’s been in the back of your brain. Although things are uncertain and many of us are not sleeping very well these days, these are the times when innovators and entrepreneurs thrive.

I’m reminded of the old saying that limitation breeds creativity. This is typically something you hear from songwriters or movie makers, but it is by no means restricted to artists.  Just weeks into social distancing and we can see creativity seep into the outlets of our lives that had, for quite some time, been stagnant. Colleges and high schools are offering courses without needing to step foot into a classroom; dance studios are offering virtual dance lessons; and breweries are making and selling hand sanitizer. I imagine that these easy-to-implement changes will be the first of many innovations driven by our given constraints.

We are all currently operating in what Forbes is calling The Isolation Economy. Some people are working remote for the first time ever and finding themselves facing new challenges and problems created by isolation. This creates opportunity for unique solutions. Others that may not be able to continue working remotely are using this time to plan out a new business or execute an entrepreneurial idea.

At Bounce, like many other businesses, we have temporarily moved all meetings to phone and video calls.  However, this has not slowed our capabilities to assist new and growing companies. As people think of new solutions to problems now being faced, the GROW program and our software accelerator are still open and taking on new clients – we’re here to help.

The software companies in Bounce’s accelerator program have made great strides. This doesn’t come as a big surprise to me, though, as many big-name software companies such as Uber, Venmo and Airbnb all started in the wake of the 2008 housing crisis. Software companies are often able to operate completely remote, and therefore many can operate at 100 percent, even during situations like stay-at-home orders or quarantines, that we find ourselves in now.  For Bounce, the accelerator gives us the opportunity to support them as they navigate through current uncertainties.

The GROW program also continues to make the best of the situation by adjusting class schedules and shifting to distance learning via video conferences.  Though it may be difficult to open a physical restaurant or retail store right now, many participants are putting in the extra effort to hit the ground running once things have settled down.  One client saw this situation as an opportunity, and told us “this pandemic gives us the chance to move forward.”

The passion and dedication of the entrepreneurs I have interacted with over the past month has helped reinvigorate my spirits.  Seeing posts like this from one of our incubator tech companies, emBold, as well as websites like https://supportlocalakron.com/ created by one of our monthly coworkers in the wake of a pandemic, reminds me that we are a community and the value of what that means.

People are coming together to support local businesses, but perhaps even more importantly, people are using their creative skills and technology to provide local hospitals with much needed PPE (personal protective equipment). 3D printers and sewing machines can be used to help with the equipment shortages. For instance, Bounce’s makerspace is currently working with three hospital systems to produce mask covers and we’re in the process of developing face shields and ear protectors.  In fact, we’re in need of people to sew as well as donations of materials and funds. Read our recent blog post about these efforts and contact Rose Saborse at rsaborse@bouncehub.org if you can lend a hand!

So is now a good time to start a business? I think that’s a complicated question, but what I do know is that there are problems that need solved. Who knows what kind of exciting technology, innovation and new type of businesses will emerge. To that, Bounce is still operating with open doors (metaphorically at least) to support entrepreneurs and to see that we get to the other side of this together.