The key difference between survivors and warriors is how each reacts in times of adversity and instability.
When the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak started a few months back, many global companies and startups felt the pain of business slowing down and markets shutting in the effort of curbing the spread of the disease. According to a recent survey from Genome, which included 1070 startups across 50 countries in March 2020, tech startups are most vulnerable to losing their funds and going out of business.
Luckily, tech startups are well prepared to work remotely, and therefore the pandemic has so far had a limited effect on their day-to-day operations. As a way to adapt to the global economic slowdown, enterprises large and small cut costs quickly (‘shedding the weight’) and optimized agile behavior across the board: teams having to collaborate on all projects, back to back zoom calls, reducing profit margins and innovating new ways to monetize their products especially with market consumption patterns shifting towards digital products and services.
This is not to say that it’s ‘business as usual’ for tech startups, but they have proven once again that they are resilient and capable of mitigating risks effectively.
Last week, all MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition semifinalists of the 13th edition received a high-impact intensive training program remotely, which was designed and executed in close collaboration with the team at King Abdullah University of Technology and Science. The remote training sessions, under the tutelage of KAUST industry experts and mentors, directly addressed some of the concerns facing entrepreneurs in the MENA. You can meet the Ideas Track Semifinalists here, and Startups Track Semifinalists here
Besides beyond the first time the semifinalists ‘meet’ each other, the remote training session discussed digital transformation in today’s world and ways that startups could adapt to changes in the market, and design for adaptability and long-term preparedness.
Also, the participants gained immensely from the candid conversations held with the mentors and trainers, who dedicated their time to answer all the semifinalists’ questions and provided practical examples to simplify complex ideas. Specifically, the mentorship sessions offered the semifinalists a unique perspective on how a team could make the best of the current paradigm shift in markets and business.
One lesson learned from the virtual Bootcamp training was that becoming fully digital is no longer optional. Also, some of the entrepreneurs' feedback highlighted the importance of aligning offering with market needs even when it requires changing the offering completely from initial business. Furthermore, a key lesson learned was 'differentiation from the beginning' and keep redefining the business value proposition with a flexible mindset.
The virtual training bootcamp will hopefully set the course to many entrepreneurship and tech-related initiatives around the MENA - particularly as digital meetings continue to emulate real-life experiences and preserve the core values of such programs: networking and long-term partnerships.
Afterwards, all semifinalist teams will pitch to a different set of judges, depending on track and relevancy. The judges will diligently review each application and ask critical questions to the founders, particularly about fundraising, growth strategies, exit strategies, and more. Also, the judges will evaluate each startup, idea, and social enterprise based on MIT Enterprise Forum’s long-standing judging criteria: team, innovation, scalability, and financial sustainability.