How are small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) tackling new challenges posed by COVID-19 (coronavirus)?
A recent Enterprise Tuesday event discussed how to overcome new obstacles to growth for small- and medium-sized businesses. The talk was chaired by Professor Stelios Kavadias, Academic Director of the Entrepreneurship Centre at Cambridge Judge Business School, which organises the Enterprise Tuesday lecture and networking events.
Guest panellists were Peter Grainger, co-founder of CafePod Coffee; Arash Farboud, Founder and CEO of Arash Motor Company, Arash Technologies and medical equipment firm Unisurge, and Anna Dawson, Energy Product Strategy at satellite data analytics firm Terrabotics.
Common challenges faced by SMEs looking to scale up prior to the pandemic included lack of sufficient funding, an inability to deliver products or services in larger quantities through current operations, and limited access to capable people who can support growth. The impact of COVID-19 on the economy now adds arguably the largest current roadblock to growth.
The Enterprise Tuesday panellists discussed a variety of issues related to SME growth and the pandemic, and here are some edited excerpts:
Be resilient and recognise opportunities
Stelios Kavadias: “Many big and small businesses have put their buying decisions on hold. It is important to find ways to recognise new opportunities, and to be collaborative whilst looking at the ecosystem.”
Anna Dawson: “There’s been a lot more interaction and ability to access either existing clients or even new clients. There is a sense of camaraderie as we’re all going through a global pandemic at the moment.”
Peter Grainger: “It depends on who your customer base was or is and your distribution mechanisms. We’re looking at things in a very different way: it is back to foundational aspects of the business, as hard times means having all the basics in place. Also, interest rates are the lowest they’ve ever been, so from a debt point of view it is one of the best times as you can now access and borrow capital. But to do so you need to sort the basics first.”
Expectations as a business leader post-COVID
Arash Farboud: ”Manufacturing will change; expectations will change in terms of cleanliness; social distancing will start becoming the norm. We are post-war. This is what happened after the Second World War – the experiences during it in terms of innovation, technology and advancement changed our way of working and I think we’re now seeing that categorically.”
Anna Dawson: “Managing risk is going to be top of customers’ agendas. They are going to be thinking continually about risk management – both social and operational.”
Nurturing customer relationships
Anna Dawson: “As a company we have found we have been able to work very efficiently using effective communication in our teams. The lockdown has also given us the opportunity to take stock of the company – our finances, operational practices etc. It has almost been like a spring clean for us.”
Stelios Kavadias: “Turn things around, be adaptive and question the core values. At some level, COVID-19 can be viewed as another bump in the road, maybe a slightly bigger bump, maybe an unexpected bigger bump. What usually kills business is uncertainty, but entrepreneurs are highly adaptable to change.”
Enterprise Tuesday is part of a series organised by the School’s Entrepreneurship Centre. The sessions are held on Tuesdays in November, February and May each year.