Time for smart startups to step up

First published 14 May 2020

Key learnings from past epidemics and financial crises indicate innovative entrepreneurs will have a pivotal role to play in economic recovery post COVID-19, says QUT Executive Director of Entrepreneurship Professor Rowena Barrett. 

Some of these learnings were included in the International Labour Organization (ILO) March 2020 report COVID-19 and the world of work: Impact and policy responses.

“Entrepreneurs and startups are definitely going to be important to help get economies moving again,” Professor Barrett said.

Professor Rowena Barrett

“We’ve seen the loss of jobs across many sectors because of the pandemic. As the ILO report identified, self-employment is a fundamental focus for recovery, and policies that support skills development and entrepreneurship can cushion the impact of unemployment.

“Historically during economic downturns, we have seen opportunities created for individuals and businesses to become more innovative, to pivot to solve problems – essentially using their entrepreneurial skills.

“In the past months we’ve seen many examples of that, as companies switch to online service delivery and alter production outputs, such as distilleries manufacturing hand sanitizers.

“This is a good time to develop skills as an entrepreneur and to explore how you might turn an idea into a startup enterprise. Those entrepreneurial skills are also key to recovery for all businesses.” 

Professor Barrett said the value of entrepreneurship continues to be recognised by investors in Australia and around the world. Funding deals are still being done, particularly in ventures that will deliver value in the post-COVID world, whether that’s in health, community, mobility, transport or the environment.

QUT Entrepreneurship has continued online with its learning programs, including the Spark Program which provides an introduction to entrepreneurship and the Next Level Masterclass: Develop a Business Idea into a Startup. It has also worked to keep students and entrepreneurs connected via a virtual Coffee Room and fortnightly Community Coffee catchups, and offering online one-on-one mentoring, monthly Open Pitch Nights and weekly Lunch and Learn sessions. 

 

“We’ve found that people have been really engaged online,” Professor Barrett said. “The restrictions and new way of working has given many in the entrepreneurial community a fresh focus.”

One of those is QUT IT student and co-founder of the startup Pizza Roulette, Greyden Scott. Pizza Roulette is an online game played live, with winners around Australia delivered a pizza to their door.

“With people spending time isolating at home, we’ve had more people sign up and we’ve almost doubled the number of pizzas delivered each week. Usually we would send out about 70 to 100 a week, but that’s risen to an average about 170 a week,” Greyden said.

“We’ve also had feedback that it’s helped people feel connected while they’re at home and that they can have a bit of fun.

“Having a bit of fun, a bit of a joke, was how we came up with the game idea in the first place.

“But we’ve taken this opportunity with enforced time on our hands due to restrictions to adjust our thinking, our work ethic, reframe our business and work on new ideas. We’ve worked with the QUT Entrepreneurship team to get feedback and also encourage others to have a go.

QUT IT student Greyden Scott, co-founder of startup Pizza Roulette.

 

“We’ve done a product experiment with another type of fast food retailer, we’ve hired two QUT students to look at our graphic design and our social media, and we’ve been able to increase the hours of another QUT IT student we hired before the restrictions for the launch of a new format of our app.

“While it’s been a challenge studying online, particularly as I am final year, and working on the business, it’s been a really productive time.”

 

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