Entrepreneurs rising to the coronavirus challenge
All images used with permission.
The word ‘unprecedented’ has been thrown around a lot in recent times, perhaps nowhere more so than in Australia.
Our Black Summer bushfires were unprecedented because they burnt vast areas of land across the continent, shrouding cities in smoke and impacting thousands of businesses.
Just as we began to recover from the fires, we were hit with a global health crisis — also unprecedented in several ways — taking many lives and bringing the economy to a juddering halt.
On an international scale, the pandemic has had a huge impact on business, with the hospitality and tourism industries among the hardest hit.
“Many entrepreneurs in these industries have really struggled with the virus outbreak — it’s been extremely challenging,” says Dr Hormoz Ahmadi, Senior Lecturer in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at ACU’s Peter Faber Business School.
But there have also been examples of business people rising to that challenge.
One characteristic that is common amongst innovative entrepreneurs is their ability to solve problems.
“People who cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset see it as their role to identify the opportunities embedded within a problem, and to exploit those opportunities,” Dr Ahmadi says.
“Based on my observations, understanding and research, many entrepreneurs have quickly turned the problems of this crisis into positives.”
That doesn’t mean seeking to profit from the pandemic; rather, it’s using entrepreneurial creativity, resourcefulness and business savvy for the benefit of society.
In recent times, a new wave of entrepreneurship has emerged, prompting the creation of businesses with a positive impact. These are the principles of the Peter Faber Business School, which promotes the belief that “good business” advances community wellbeing.
Countless examples of this have sprung up in response to the pandemic: small companies teaming up with bigger ones to produce much-needed ventilators for hospitals; craft brewers and distillers stepping in to address the shortage of hand sanitiser; start-ups launching appeals to provide healthcare workers with free car spaces.
“The contribution of entrepreneurs has been immense, not only in Australia, but on a global scale,” says Dr Ahmadi, whose research has explored the role of entrepreneurs in knowledge creation.
“These business people have performed the role of social entrepreneur, and shown that it’s not just about making money, it’s also about contributing to community wellbeing.”
For those in the tech industry, the pandemic has been a double-edged sword.
Consumers in home isolation have increasingly engaged in online shopping, and as a result, businesses that operate online have thrived.
For his current research project, Dr Ahmadi is investigating the experiences of entrepreneurs seeking cost-efficient strategies to sell their products and services online.
“Even before the bushfires and coronavirus outbreak in Australia, many in this new generation of entrepreneurs saw the benefit of moving into the digital space,” he says.
“For those who had already made that move, this crisis has served as a great opportunity to better show themselves to the public, and they’ve seen their businesses thrive.”
Once again, a thriving business in the time of coronavirus doesn’t necessarily mean a more profitable one.
“These business people are now performing a more important role as a social entrepreneur,” says Dr Ahmadi, “not as a typical profit-making entrepreneur.”
On a larger scale, some tech firms have benefitted from the pandemic, as housebound consumers turned to streaming services, social media and video conferencing apps to stay connected and entertained.
Dr Ahmadi says this will have a positive long-term effect, as people become more comfortable using technology in ways that improve their lives.
“In Australia, people in their 60s, 70s and 80s are on the whole not very tech-savvy,” he says. “They are not optimistic about technological developments, and they’re often very fearful and reluctant to adopt new technologies.”
The pandemic has forced many of these sceptical consumers to face their fears and take the leap into tech.
“It’s shown that the technologies made by digital entrepreneurs are there to enhance people’s lives, and they are there to help us.”
Dr Ahmadi says the virus has also brought attention to the role digital entrepreneurs play in making user-friendly products and services that promote comfort in the consumer.
“One of the things I’ve been working on in my classes since I’ve started this academic journey is prompting students to put themselves in the position of the customer they want to use their product,” he says. “That means developing products that are as simple, accessible and enjoyable as possible, especially for those who aren’t so tech-savvy.”
If there is a bright spark that has come from this crisis, it’s the spirit of co-operation and innovation that it’s prompted amongst entrepreneurs, experts and elected officials.
The supercharged nature of the pandemic has highlighted the importance of sharing ideas and information, and of being able to work with others. While it may be possible to unearth an idea on your own, bringing it to fruition almost always requires partnership.
“Many entrepreneurs are innovators who have come up with an excellent, state-of-the-art idea, but the reality is that they lack resources to make it come to reality,” Dr Ahmadi says.
“When it comes to the implementation of that idea, you cannot move forward without collaboration. If it’s a complex technological product, you need to identify the pieces, you need to get them from different suppliers, and that means establishing trust between businesses. If you can work together to build that trust, it’s a win-win.”
In the case of coronavirus, solutions to the problems posed by the virus will involve collaboration between business people, philanthropic organisations and governments.
“Many of the ideas implemented by governments through this crisis will have been initiated by start-ups and entrepreneurs, and that requires an exchange of knowledge and resources,” Dr Ahmadi says.
“Now more than ever, we need close collaboration to develop the ideas and the technology and the products that will fight this virus, and that will facilitate people’s lives through this crisis.”
In both his teaching and his research, Dr Ahmadi draws from his own experience as an entrepreneur in Iran, where global trade sanctions forced savvy businesspeople to localise products.
“The experience in Iran is another example of entrepreneurs exploiting an opportunity embedded within a problem, taking advantage of it and benefitting from it,” he says.
“But just like the entrepreneurs who have risen to the challenges that have come from the pandemic, at the core of it is a belief you need to serve your people, and you need to serve your community and society as a whole.”
Dr Hormoz Ahmadi is a Senior Lecturer in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at ACU’s Peter Faber Business School. His research focuses on entrepreneurial marketing, product and brand innovation and customer-firm relationships. He was an entrepreneur, sales engineer and marketing manager before joining academia.
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