Dr. Apoorva Ranjan Sharma, Co-Founder and Managing Director, 9Unicorns

Dr. Apoorva Ranjan Sharma is a seasoned veteran in the startup sector and a serial investor. He is a seasoned veteran in the startup sector and a serial Investor. He is a globally acclaimed angel Investor, speaker and previously been a speaker at RISE Conference Hong Kong, Web Summit Lisbon, TiE Global SF and many more. He is also co-founder & President of Venture Catalysts – Asia’ first integrated incubator and No. 1 Early Stage Investor in 2017, 2018 & 2019, and globally 7th largest as rated by Crunchbase. He is one of the most iconic figures in India to foster development of startup ecosystems across Tier 2 and 3 cities in India as featured by Forbes magazine.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly and radically put a halt on business activities across the globe. Every organization, irrespective of its size, has felt the impact of the deadly contagion. The pandemic has also posed a myriad of unprecedented challenges for startups, most of which operate on razor-thin margins. These challenges include cash flow interruption, labour and supply chain disruptions, production shutdowns, lack of infrastructure to maintain the safety guidelines, and changing consumption patterns. While some sectors such as retail, aviation and travel have taken the worst hit, startups in other areas too are facing a prolonged period of uncertainty.

However, as proven by history, a time of crisis is also a time of opportunity. As the world prepares for the ‘new normal’, there is a chance for startups to take the lead and pave the way for incredible innovation. When compared to large businesses, startups are better positioned to reinvent their business models as they are small in size, financially agile and have scrappy teams. For instance, when corporate giants scrambled to cope with the global financial crisis of 2008-09, many startups emerged with novel ideas that would later take the entire world by storm. Some of the biggest Unicorns were born around that time – WhatsApp, Instagram, Slack, Airbnb and Uber, to name just a few. While nature, as well as the severity of the current economic downturn, are believed to disrupt at a much larger scale, today’s challenging market scenarios can create a foundation for a better tomorrow for entrepreneurs and startups.

Addressing the near-term challenges

The coronavirus crisis, and the social distancing measures put in place to rein in the outbreak, has produced a wide range of previously unknown necessities. Besides essentials and PPE kits, there is an increased demand for products that can tackle the challenges plaguing the public healthcare systems, such as lack of testing equipment and ventilators. This is where HealthTech startups come into the picture, offering technology-led, innovative solutions like contact tracing apps, low-cost ventilators and ultraviolet disinfection robots.

Not just in the healthcare segment, many startups have stepped up to tackle the supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic. They are leveraging modern technology to create hyperlocal models of delivery to ensure a smooth supply of groceries and daily essentials during the lockdown. This has not only helped keep the economy moving but has also created livelihood opportunities for the poor on a micro-level.

Bagging new opportunities

The consensus is that the COVID-19 pandemic is a turning point for startups operating in sectors like EdTech, online grocery delivery, telemedicine and e-pharmacy, cloud computing, gaming, and home entertainment, among others – much similar to the way demonetization paved the way for large-scale adoption of digital payments and FinTech in India. Startups across the abovementioned sectors have already witnessed a spike in user demand, and they are likely to emerge from the current crisis stronger and gain larger market share. This is because even after the crisis subsides, social distancing measures will continue to be imposed, and virtual products/services will be prioritized for the unforeseeable future.

Entrepreneurs are not new to challenges. Building up a company from scratch, hiring the right employees, and turning it profitable – their responsibilities are far higher than a salaried employee. While the COVID-19 outbreak may have caught them off-guard, it has also created enormous tailwinds for entrepreneurs with innovative ideas; entrepreneurs who aim to address large-scale, real-life problems. Of course, the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic will persist long after the virus is contained. Still, it is essential to remember that some of the world’s biggest companies were built during recessions. The current crisis is unlikely to be an exception.

As Charles Dickens once said – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, we might look back at this event as a time when a new set of startups sprung into action and offered innovations.

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