I saved a supplement from the Wall Street Journal from February 2009 titled, “So, You Want To Be an Entrepreneur”. I’m not exactly sure why I saved it, but I think it was because it seemed so hopeful at a time when the Great Recession was crushing my home state of Michigan. It came to mind this morning as I remembered one of the key questions it posed for wannabe entrepreneurs: Are you comfortable with ambiguity?
Entrepreneurs are getting a double dose of ambiguity and uncertainty these days. We’re all facing uncharted territory, business challenges, and uncertain fallout from and future of COVID-19. And we’re all in this together.
It’s in our entrepreneurial DNA to shift from being fear-focused around the uncertainty to action-oriented around a future that’s hopeful. We need to keep asking: What is our best path forward? How can we be sustainable and relevant? There are no easy answers, but customers do and will need help from entrepreneurs, whether it’s new products, services, or ways to live with the new normal.
Already, an article by Haley Bohon, founder and CEO at SkillPop, about transitioning her in-person training business to online is spreading among NC IDEA ecosystem partners and followers.
Skillpop hosts pop-up style, in-person classes taught by local experts. Haley started the business out of her home in Charlotte in 2015 with $3,000 and a website. Four years later, she was hosting over 150 classes each month in Charlotte, Atlanta, Raleigh, Greenville, and Nashville with a team of three full-time and 30+ part-time working on one simple mission: to make in-person learning accessible.
Faced with the looming COVID-19 crisis in early March, Haley asked, “what will it take to keep this company I love in business?” Answer: Move our expert-led classes online. Within days, she developed a plan to launch online classes. Within a week of that decision, she was cancelling in-person classes and hoping to gradually transition to the new online platform by the end of the month. But the evolving situation pushed her to move more quickly and she launched SkillPop Anywhere on March 18. She’s full steam ahead pivoting a completely in-person business to the online space by onboarding teachers, figuring out tech, running trial classes and selling tickets.
We’re doing the same thing here at the CIE. Having successfully launched 1M Cups in February, we were off to a great start with weekly in-person community-building events. Earlier this month, we were in full momentum with the Chancellor’s High School Innovation Competition and planning a Youth Entrepreneurship Summit for hundreds of students. We had just announced the four finalist ventures for the NC Bioneer Challenge – and were ready to match them with teams of mentor.
We don’t have to stop, but we do have to evolve. We’re growing the online portion of the High School Competition, we have teams of mentors working via Zoom with our Bioneer finalists, and we’re taking 1M Cups online beginning April 1. We have a new virtual program on Fridays to keep entrepreneurs connected as they figure out viable paths forward. You can learn more at www.uncw.edu/cie.
Diane Durance, MPA, is director of UNC Wilmington's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). The CIE is a resource for the start-up and early-stage business community to help diversify the local economy with innovative solutions. For more information, visit www.uncw.edu/cie.
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