Here is why startups in the post-Covid world need to reinvent themselves

The pandemic will redefine the way businesses are conducted in a post-Covid world, much like the Great Depression and the dotcom bubble had done in the past. While startups across HEIs were at the frontlines, fighting the Covid challenge with rapid innovations such as PPEs, ventilators, drones, face masks, to mention a few, the road to recovery will be long, calling for the need to recreate the next generation of businesses.

Agrees Anil Wali, managing director, FITT, IIT Delhi, “Barring startups directly impacting the healthcare space, the other startups will have to re-orient their solutions to align with the new business environment. Even the healthcare/med-tech startups should learn from the deficiencies in public health systems (laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic) to be able to work on current pain points and envision future scenarios for timely interventions.”

Since the ‘new normal’ is going to change the look and life of people with drastically different requirements, startups would need to do some forward planning. “While many have successfully produced PPEs and ventilators, they must have a sense the futuristic needs and plan production for the same while working in tandem with technical institutions for design and development,” says Virendra Kumar Tewari, director, IIT Kharagpur.

If in the past, many of the startups were at the innovation frontlines, it was their agility and entrepreneurial spirit that helped them thrive. “In most cases, the startups are dependent on a single product or service. If the demand for that product or service crashes because of the health emergency, then they must innovate or perish. Most startups innovated to stay relevant,” says A Thillai Rajan, Department of Management Studies, IIT-Madras.

In the post-COVID world, many of these ventures might have to rebuild themselves or consider pivoting to an offering that would be more in demand. “Pivoting might require new skills sets and areas of expertise. Liquidity is going to be tight for existing startups, as investors try and assess the sustainability of the venture. New ventures that start from ground zero, are likely to have a better chance of getting investment while existing startups should do some belt tightening and focus on reducing their burn rate, to increase the length of the runway,” Rajan adds.

In most cases, it is their ability to boot-strap, raise resources and be relevant in the value chain,” says Wali, that would drive startup success. “Such ventures must seek institutional support like in academia to fill the gaps in knowledge, talent or business strategies. They would need to innovate both at technology and business levels. Many of them may have to create real/product technologies rather than bank only on virtual technologies that have limitations.”

As for functioning in a resource-constrained environment, frugal innovations seem to be doing as well as hi-tech innovations in recent times. “Our rural people have been innovating for ages and technical institutions have aligned with them through national mission projects. Many of the innovations related to COVID-19 healthcare are of a nature which we otherwise have been overlooking for decades. The scope is huge, be it in healthcare, education or clean energy,” Tewari says.

At the end, it is the customer who decides the success or failure of a technology, and as long as startups– no matter how frugal in approach–do not compromise on functionality or quality, they will continue to find takers.


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