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3 steps Houston entrepreneurs need to take to find opportunity during a crisis

Tomorrow, August 21, is World Entrepreneurs' Day, and it comes during a trying time for entrepreneurs everywhere. Here are three tips for business leaders operating during the pandemic. Photo via Getty Images

As company leaders approach the fourth quarter of 2020 and plan for 2021, many accept the fact that Houston's business landscape may look a bit different moving forward. Instead of the pandemic becoming a paralyzing force, new and eager business owners are committed to incorporating creative solutions.

These innovators have found ways to focus efforts to better serve customers in the transitioning economic landscape. The shift opens the door to new opportunity, and while the business outlook continues to evolve, some argue that times of crisis provide just as much, if not more, opportunity for entrepreneurs to find their footing. The past has shown that organizations can grow when faced with adversity and their resiliency in the earliest stages helps create a sturdy foundation.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, twenty percent of small businesses fail within the first year, and by the tenth year, only about a third of businesses have survived. While these numbers may be intimidating to a new business owner, the measurements have proven consistent over time. This means success rates are less dependent upon the state of the economy and more dependent upon the creativity and drive of the entrepreneur leading the efforts.

Times of uncertainty and economic change bring focus to new obstacles, expose weaknesses in business structure and highlight the need for innovation. Strategic entrepreneurs can capitalize on these opportunities by introducing solutions that respond to the current reality consumers face. In honor of World Entrepreneurs' Day on August 21, below are steps to consider when launching a business during a time of crisis.

Plan for current conditions

It is always important for new business owners to plan for the future and be flexible enough to adjust them to the current environment. If a five-year plan is based on the premise of business returning to its pre-COVID-19 scale, the entrepreneur will likely face substantial challenges in the future.

Business plans should incorporate solutions to areas of weakness that have been brought to light by recent events. It may also be helpful to seek customer feedback early in the company's lifecycle to ensure audience opinion serves as a cornerstone in ongoing strategic development. Understanding if the business's premise will drive value and benefit consumers, even in difficult times, can help the organization prepare for future crises.

Identify gaps

In many ways, the pandemic identified business strategies that may no longer be relevant and provided insight into the economy's future. New entrepreneurs hold the advantage of witnessing what worked, what did not and applying the new knowledge to their plan.

The importance of flexibility, adaptable services, a strong digital brand presence and solid SEO practices all proved critical to a business's ability to remain both relevant and successful this year. When starting a company in times of economic uncertainty, identifying ways to bridge gaps and capitalize on windows of opportunity can help establish a competitive edge early on.

Seek out support

It is no surprise that, especially in the early stages, running a startup may be overwhelming. It is key for small business owners to feel comfortable asking for help and to seek out support early on. Consider joining business networks and local industry alliances to learn from others. Particularly in times of crisis and uncertainty, it can be beneficial to learn from seasoned professionals, as well as peers, and to welcome support from others who have found success during trying times.

Business support can be advantageous as well. While outsourcing may appear costly, the value of industry experts to assist with marketing strategy development, human resources and benefits, or financial management can be highly beneficial, especially in the development phase.

The early stages of an organization can make or break the success of a company, and though many questions surround the state of business during times of uncertainty, the entrepreneurial opportunity is still available for small business growth and success.

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Jill Chapman is a senior performance consultant with Houston-based Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

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Building Houston

 
 

Mike Francis, co-founder of NanoTech, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his plans to fireproof California. Photo courtesy of NanoTech

A few years ago, Mike Francis caught a video of a man's hand coated in some sort of material and placed over a fire. Nothing was happening to the man's hand — the coating completely protected it — but something was happening in Francis's brain, and a year ago he founded Nanotech Inc.

Based in Houston, NanoTech' is focused on reducing energy waste by proper insulation within the construction industry — a half inch of NanoTech's material is the equivalent of 30 inches of fiberglass. However, perhaps more important to Francis is the life-saving capability the product provides in terms of fireproofing.

"We're working with all of the major players in the state of California to not only fireproof the utility infrastructure, but eventually homes and businesses," Francis says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our goal, if we're looking into the future, is to fireproof that state — and we're working with the right people and companies to make it happen."

To the best of his knowledge, Francis says NanoTech is the only company this far along working on this goal. Millions of utility poles go up in flames as the forest fires sweep through the state, and coating them with NanoTech could help prevent this damage.

Of course, as the company grows, Francis is lucky to have the support and the funds behind him and his team. Earlier this year, Halliburton selected NanoTech as the inaugural member of Halliburton Labs. For the past few months, NanoTech has been based in the labs, receiving hands-on support, and NanoTech will join the year-long inaugural cohort of 15 or so companies in 2021.

NanoTech also has a new member to its support system — and $5 million — following the close of its seed round led by Austin-based Ecliptic Capital. Francis says he was looking for an investor to bring new expertise the company doesn't have yet, and Ecliptic will be crucial to growing globally.

"Those first investors, especially in your seed round, are critical to your growth," says Francis. "We're so excited to be partnering with Ecliptic — we just trusted them."

Francis shares more about fundraising during a pandemic and what being based at Halliburton has meant for his company's growth. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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