COVID-19: Fearful time or unique opportunity? Tips to help startups during lockdown

COVID-19: Fearful time or unique opportunity? Tips to help startups during lockdown

It’s no surprise that with the lockdown effects of COVID-19, physical agtech events have been ground to a halt. The solution? Taking advantage of our online community.

Content that would normally be exclusive to a ticketed event is now live on demand. We can watch our favourite keynotes in the comfort of our own homes; its never been easier to connect with the agtech ecosystem.

But what if you’re a startup? This could be a fearful time or a unique opportunity. To capitalise on the latter, we called on three of Australia’s innovators and champions for entrepreneurship to share their tips on how our agtech startups can maximise on the online community during this time.

Managing Director of AgriStart, Dr. Natasha Ayers says her company has had to adapt and change their normal way of doing business.

“We were certainly shocked when lockdown hit. We had just kicked off our Harvest 2020 Accelerator Program, we had our launch and everyone was generally excited for the innovation to come but shortly after we had to shut down the physical aspects of the program and turn everything online. We normally have a residential camp for our startups, connect them with mentors and have valuable networking time but now this is all on Zoom,” said Dr. Ayers.

Dr. Ayers notes that there has been real advantages to taking their physical masterclasses digital, as they are able to gain high-quality speakers who normally wouldn’t be able to physically attend the event.

With investment in the agtech sector potentially grounding to a real halt right now, Natasha offers advice to startups still looking to raise capital.

“Get yourself in a position to raise capital at a later date, polish your pitch decks, and work on connecting and gaining customers as sales revenue is the best capital you can get,” said Dr. Ayers.

AgriStart’s tips to startups:

  • Don’t hibernate: adapt and innovate
  • Use the time to engage with your customers: people have more time on their hands to give feedback so focus on getting customer validation for any new ideas or products
  • Use the opportunity to work on your strategic plan over several horizons e.g. the next six months, the next two years, the next five years

Julia Waite, Head of Operations at the Food and Agtech Accelerator, SproutX was in the midst of recruitment offers to startups for this year’s Accelerator Program when lockdown hit.

“We’ve had to delay our launch as long as possible. Although we have been able to launch some online content, we don’t want to compromise on the valuable face-to-face meetings for our cohort,” said Ms Waite.

Like AgriStart, Ms Waite says that the positive in this is being able to expose their startups to opportunities that might not have happened otherwise.

“This virtual revolution brought on by the lockdown has opened up some cool opportunities. We are able to have international guests and speakers online who might not have normally attended our face-to-face meetings,” said Ms Waite.

Ms Waite says startups should look anywhere where they can drop overheads, analyse their cash flow and try to weather the storm as best as possible. Startups who are still looking at the possibility of raising capital may consider reducing their round by 25%, given the current environment.

Chris Romano, Co-Director at SproutX shares his tips for startups:

  • Connect with a wide range of free online learning forums to manage uncertainty through this period. Take a webinar on managing cash flow, understanding relief packages or a skill set you’ve under-invested in like marketing or design
  • Consider publishing some self-created content on your startups’ website or Linkedin. It could be a customer case study, founder interview, a look at a new product. Build up a bank of content to push out now, and well after restrictions
  • Call customers and show some genuine care and empathy for their situation. There should be no motive other than understanding, but you may gather some useful insight on their experience and they’ll no doubt remember the gesture when things bounce back!
  • If you have the luxury of a little cash flow runway, use this time for a full retro on your startup. Sales will be less demanding of your time, so capitalise on the opportunity to get stuck into development, product and process improvements.

Another positive initiative has been created from a collaboration between the Charles Sturt Innovation Hubs and NSW Department of Industry – The Founders Collective.

The Facebook Group is a collection of digital content aiming to connect, share, educate and support founders as they navigate through this uncertain time.

The team at the Charles Sturt University Innovation Hubs share their tips on how startups can maximise on this downtime:

  • Pull together your online community – who are your most loyal customers/fans? Speak to them in your unique voice. Ramp up your efforts to build that community of customers. Provide something of value to them so they want to keep coming back for more. Share your story, give them some behind the scenes insights, how you’re dealing with COVID, share something that inspired you – you get the picture.
  • Is there a brand new problem that has come up because of COVID-19 that your business could possibly solve? Think botanical gin companies making hand sanitiser, stage construction companies moving quickly into stand-up desks, Burberry making surgery gowns. What new COVID-y problem can your business solve? We bet there’s something!
  • Take care of yourself! Without you the whole ship is going down. Do what you need to do so you can think straight, think clearly and make good decisions to navigate through these tough times. You’ve got this!
  • Find your people – is there an online group or community you can join where you can support one another, share tips and expertise?
  • Ask for help. Struggling to understand something? Not sure what decision to make? Struggling to get out of bed in the morning? Reach out to a trusted someone and tell them what’s going on for you. Often, whilst they may not have the answer, just by talking it through, you’ll come up with it yourself.

If you would like to join The Founders Collective, please visit the Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/238698493933629/

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