When the world came to a halt in 2020 due to COVID-19, innovation moved forward as normal day to day operations went virtual. Small business incubators like the University of Houston Technology Bridge, The Cannon and The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, have found that, even during a lockdown, new innovations and leading-edge technologies have become easier to create.
“Hardship always leads to innovation. People have to get scrappy and creative. There’s always a lot of good that comes from the bad, ” founder and president of The Cannon, Lawson Gow, said.
Incubators coping with lockdown
Small business incubators provide a wide variety of crucial resources that startups, entrepreneurs, investors and corporate innovators need to succeed.
What did these incubators do to continue to help push their communities toward success when the lockdown went into effect?
The very first thing The Cannon did was set up a 24-hour hotline that businesses could call if they needed help with anything.
“The Cannon Emergency Response Team emerged from these efforts and was on the front lines of doing whatever we could to help people survive and get back on track,” Gow said.
He also said that it was hard to see hundreds of businesses struggling at the beginning of the pandemic. Kerri Smith, the associate managing director of The Rice Alliance said, as an organization built on forging connections that accelerate startup success, The Rice Alliance knew that staying afloat and continuing to offer their programs were crucial aspects of their important work.
“Within a matter of weeks, we organized and hosted our first virtual pitch event for startups innovating in the energy sector. Originally slated to be held at the Offshore Technology Conference but then cancelled, The Rice Alliance Energy Tech Venture Day portion of the OTC event provided a great platform for our startups to get exposure,” Smith said.
The University of Houston Technology Bridge began to connect businesses to the Small Business Development Center, where they could get help with all their preliminary operational tasks. Also, the SBDC helped businesses access the COVID-related funding that the government was offering.
“That seemed to help some of them get through some of the challenging times early on in the pandemic, ” said Chris Taylor, executive director of the UH Office of Technology Transfer and Innovation.
After the lockdown went into effect, just about everything went virtual. At this point social distancing wasn’t even an option unless you were going to the doctor’s office or the grocery store.
As organizations that were made to help and support small businesses, it was important that incubators remained connected to their communities and communicate with them even in a virtual world.
“We provided intentional and comprehensive updates on resources, events and community opportunities through email outreach and social media, and featured success stories of entrepreneurs who participated in our programs,” Smith said.
Through The Cannon’s CERT program, they stayed extremely connected to their community and even built an entire digital platform called Cannon Connect that served and continues to serve their virtual community.
“It’s our own internal LinkedIn for Cannon members inside and outside Cannon spaces. It has educational curriculum, a job board, an equity crowdfunding site, and much more,” Gow said.
Gow said Cannon Connect will be the “lasting legacy of the COVID era.”
This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Cory Thaxton, the author of this piece, is the communications coordinator for The Division of Research.