Jim Biggs describes how KEC, local entrepreneurs are coping with COVID-19 impact

(EDITOR’S NOTE: We asked Jim Biggs, Executive Director of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center {KEC}, how things were going in terms of operations and for the start-ups that depended on KEC’s services. Here is what he told us in his own words.)

I guess what we’ve been seeing/hearing from companies breaks down into three categories:

  • The need for information, and ironically, total information overload. Things are changing so rapidly, and so much is being pushed out in terms of updates, webinars, newsletters, websites – folks are just trying to absorb as much as possible, and understand how it relates to or impacts them; but also feeling a bit overwhelmed.
  • Impact on their businesses. Pretty much all are reporting that things are slowing down; obviously, for some, it’s been much more substantial. Folks we know who do event planning, retail sales, restaurants; those are the most obvious. But then you have the secondary impacts – PR firms who mostly serve the services industry, for example, who are also feeling the pinch. The second part of that is trying to figure out how, if they can, to operate remotely, which doesn’t come naturally to all. What tools do they use? What systems do they put in place to support remote workers, and keep them accountable? It’s all new territory for most. The third part is whether they can even continue to work – some businesses just can’t support that – which leads to the question of layoffs, which is never easy, but when you’re looking at substantially all of your employees, so much harder. This is true even for companies that can work remotely, by the way – with the slowdown in business, many have to decide if they can continue with as many employees, and at what salary, even when they all can work from home. Lastly, as mentioned above, there’s all sorts of new regulations/funding/etc. that may be relevant, and making sure you’re up to speed and in compliance is a real challenge.
  • Inevitably, the above has led to a third challenge – physical and mental wellbeing is being sorely tested. People are anxious, stressed, tired, isolated – basically all the things that we know are destructive to quality of life. Compound that with things like kids being home, possible exposure to the virus, etc., and it’s a pretty toxic mix.

That said, you’ve seen inspiring signs of resilience. Some of the profiles you’ve shared (Mac’s wife {Jill Bartine article here} for one, or Songboarding.com’s COVID song) are great examples of entrepreneurs doing what they do best – responding to problems. You’ve seen people really step-up as well – being willing to volunteer as mentors; creating webinars to help explain what’s going on; doing what they can to try and help. So, it’s not all doom and gloom.

So far, our experiment in serving entrepreneurs virtually seems to be going well. We did the second day of our two-day Etsy Masterclass via Zoom, and everyone seemed eager and engaged even though it ran to eight hours! We’re also doing Co.Starters on Zoom; 11 entrepreneurs in the current class who meet for three hours each Thursday night – Catherine Porth Cahill (who started “Let Her Speak” and also recently did Business Development for Jian {Huang} at Survature) is the new instructor, and she’s fantastic. We’ve also started virtual office hours for me and for our mentors – that’s just getting rolling, we’ll see what the interest is there. We might even experiment with a Lunchpool mentoring event – like mentor “speed dating” kind of experience – but that’s still just a thought at this point.

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