The year 2020 highlighted the need for what must be prioritized globally. COVID-19 forced most businesses to innovate as we all watched disruptions across several industries define what the future would look like.
Unfortunately, the global pandemic still lingers on in 2021 with entrepreneurs and corporations working to find a solution to this challenge that has befallen humanity. Aside from the risks in healthcare, other sectors have their own peculiar issues which presents massive opportunities for entrepreneurs worldwide.
Daniel Solomon, CEO of EROE and Co-Founder at EroeGo describes entrepreneurship as the discovery, evaluation and the exploration of opportunities. For him, times have changed and entrepreneurs are just the modern-day ‘rock stars’ who are changing our world and bringing new technologies to how we do things; from the way information circulates online to the way organisations and small startups are fostering innovation across multiple industries. In the first episode of the Business Transformation Explained Webinar Series for 2021, Daniel hosts Forbes 30 Under 30 Educator and Keynote Speaker Nyla Khan, Urban Monks Founder Nelio Leone, and Managing Director of Microsoft for Startups MEA Roberto Croci as they discuss how entrepreneurs will help rebuild the post COVID world and where the ecosystem is heading in 2021.
Background of Speakers in Entrepreneurship
Nelio is a growth marketing expert who started his career heading the marketing departments of organisations such as L’Oréal and Channel in Paris. After moving to the MENA region, he transferred his skillsets when he joined Tech start up Careem and then Washman before starting his own hacking growth agency Urban Monks.
Nyla on the other hand doesn’t like to be called an entrepreneur as she never wanted to be one, but is happy with being referred to as an educator and more of a researcher. She is the Co-Founder at MIRAI Partners, and also the Founder of Willow Tree Kids and Kids World Nurseries who has been in the social impact space officially for about ten years. Whilst based in the UAE, most of her work is across the globe focusing on bringing next generation education solutions to governments.
Starting his career in consulting, Roberto left what he considered to be a stressful job at the time and founded his own startup in e-commerce and retail. He then joined Google in its early days where he was later transferred to oversee an AdTech startup the organisation acquired. He then moved to Dubai to lead the startups team in Middle East and Africa for Microsoft which he describes as an “exciting role”.
How the challenges of 2020 have affected entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship is a two-way street that involves identifying a challenge as an opportunity and finding a holistic solution to it. This is why Nyla firmly believes that an entrepreneur is someone who is able to study markets and solves the problems in there without necessarily starting a company. This is why she is also of the view that Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of entrepreneurship being essential for the growth of economic development by creating constant disruptions to keep us progressing is practical; and this was brought bare in the challenges that came up in 2020 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In her own words, “the world has become obsessed with the idea of efficiency so much that when you think about it, what we have been suffering from especially for the last ten years has been because we prioritize efficiency and free markets so much that today, we’ve left out a lot of people and haven’t answered the question of allocation. Going forward, entrepreneurship should not only be seen from a social impact perspective but about allocation and how we reach many people”.
How did 2020 change entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship?
The landscape of entrepreneurship massively changed in 2020. It is a well-known fact that for people who want to venture into the ecosystem, there are discouraging factors in expenses such as capital, having a business plan, locating in a physical space and many more. These made entrepreneurship unattractive to many people. Those barriers in Nelio’s view were lowered to a point where everyone can start being an “entrepreneur” from their own office or from their sofa. For him, “there has never been a time like this in human history like this moment when you can actually get a business started so easily. We are facing a hyper competitive market right now in most niches and industries; and I guess for entrepreneurs, getting started is not the problem but how to scale the business profitably. In the past, it was easier to attract Venture Capital to start a successful business unlike now that when you don’t have that path of profitability from day one, then it will be difficult to attract the right capital. Fortunately, we are in a region (MENA) where businesses do not see the impact just yet because we are just at the beginning of the entrepreneurial scene. This is why investors are still very open to take risks even if there is no clear path to profitability from day one. However, in more mature markets, it is not the case.”
Which industries have seen a rise and likely to exceed the expectation of 2020?
According to Roberto, the current trends support the concepts of allocation, scalability and profitability. “The recent situation has accelerated a number of things that probably would have taken longer, in terms of the adoption of technology, just beyond the usual conversation about remote work and the use of video conferencing. It has really accelerated decisions in the highest levels in many organisations on how to be more adaptable and flexible in the way decision making is taken and how technology can be leveraged to make it more agile. Industries like education, healthcare and even logistics have seen acceleration in of adoption of technology solutions that can help automate multi processes, and on the other hand consider the safety and scaling of human. The future should focus on customer experience, understand how consumers, customers and users are behaving. In the new world we know consumers are more efficiency focused, more demanding, more curious and interacting with things in a different way. Millennials also have this sense of purpose and they expect brands to show this in communicating their brand
The role of Customer Experience in all these
People know entrepreneurship drives innovation and always creates products with customers in mind. If customers should be first why do we see the growing status of multinationals for example adopting concepts such as “ship now and validate later?” What is the importance of customer experience in modern day entrepreneurship with this mentality which is double tap?
The differences can be seen in how tech startups for example operate in contrast to larger organisations. With the corporates, the process for example is about creating a marketing plan, validating, launching it and then selling to generate income. Customer experience is not necessarily highlighted in the initial stages. In the tech ecosystem this is completely the opposite: they capture the data earlier on and embed the customer into the product. Not that corporates are wrong for having these processes but this is why it is important to have innovation pockets that help them review these processes because it is going to help them at the end of the day.
Also understanding your audience can be very difficult but rewarding when done right.
Culture of a business or organisation is also important in all these. Culture may encourage experimenting. This will involve putting a product that you assume will work out there and keep validating until it keeps getting better. It is about owning the product and making the right decisions which govern the product you sell. The culture should therefore fit into the organizational purpose.
In addition, most companies get stuck in their own alignment. It is important to create alignment in order to succeed in business such as in operations, deals you have to execute to bring it in revenue and so on. The landscape keeps changing and there are many variables that businesses don’t control. When people are asked to change, there is a new way of scaling things and not all people are eager to go along with the ‘newness’.. A Harvard University research on ambidextrous organizations revealed that they were able to succeed because they are able to explore and exploit new things.
At the end of the day, the measure of success is very important as it can be argued that this concept of customer centricity doesn’t always hold independently without creating and exchanging value
What are some of the industries that will see a high level of interest from entrepreneurs in the years ahead?
When entrepreneurship works well, it is a double win and everyone gets their needs provided. In terms of predictions, Nelio thinks more entrepreneurs will venture into the ClimateTech space. It is Healthcare for Roberto and for Nyla, it is “Education, healthcare and food security because whether Venture Capitalists want to invest in them or not, we cannot get anything if we don’t invest in these basic needs and that is what the pandemic has taught us to address.”
There are many things the society needs especially in these times from healthcare, food security, and environmental sustainability. Stability in distribution especially for drugs is also vital. An estimated 122,000 children in Africa under the age of five for example are dying from the effects of counterfeit drugs, and effective distribution can solve this.
With current challenges in terms of the COVID vaccine distribution, corporations can partner with startups to bring in big ideas that they have to solve the problem by engaging and aligning properly with each other. In Italy for example, pharmacists can administer the vaccine and this is a good middle ground to help with distribution efforts in ensuring that everyone gets the vaccine. Partnership with organisations and the people around us will be able to solve issues only this year but also ahead of us.
These are lessons every entrepreneur and even aspiring ones can learn.