Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

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March 25, 2020 | Tom Ballard

Panelists on national ED webinar predict COVID-19 will spur higher rate of entrepreneurship

“This will create a new wave of entrepreneurs . . . creating a firestorm in our communities,” one of the panelists on a coronavirus-focused webinar for economic developers predicted during yesterday’s event.

About 400 people from around the country were registered for the one-hour discussion that was sponsored by 10 organizations including the Tennessee Economic Development Council. Like so many activities these days, the webinar, organized in a matter of a few days, used Zoom as its delivery platform.

Titled “Ten Impacts of Coronavirus on the Economic Development Profession & Solutions to Mitigate the Challenges,” the content was delivered mostly by Anatalio Ubalde, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of SizeUp, an online business intelligence firm based in San Francisco. He was joined by Horton Hobbs, Vice President for Economic Development at the Greater Springfield (OH) Chamber of Commerce, and Jennifer Graves, Deputy Director for Economic Development in Gilbert, AZ.

It was Hobbs who talked about the entrepreneurial “firestorm” with Graves agreeing, describing it as “a boom in entrepreneurship.” Ubalde added that it will be “a wave of voluntary and involuntary entrepreneurship” as some people are forced to become entrepreneurs.

As one might imagine, the panelists expressed concern about the need for more support for those who decide to start new businesses but are inadequately prepared to do so successfully. That reality caused Ubalde to say that “economic development professionals are going to have to pivot their work.”

The entrepreneurial theme was mostly focused as the Q&A portion of the webinar began with the exception of some advice about two-thirds of the way through the broadcast. At that time, Ubalde urged economic development professionals to work with entrepreneurs and businesses to see how their current work can be transitioned into other ventures.

He used as his example a person who had been doing live art instruction for children ages four to 15, but had been forced to shift to online delivery of the classes due to forced isolation requirements. That reminded us of Knoxville’s Jill Bartine who launched her online yoga business just a few weeks ago as we described in this article.

“Figure out how to do it for businesses in your community that can transition,” Ubalde told the viewers. As part of that type of shifting, he said local economic developers will need to help those businesses get an online presence.

Other suggestions from the panelists included: (1) helping broker relationships in supply chains as the existing chaos in that area accelerates onshoring or nearshoring; (2) recognizing the impact of tourism on their local employment numbers; and (3) adopting new ways to undertake traditional economic development activities like trade missions.

“Technology offers a powerful opportunity and competitive advantage” to communities that use it wisely, Ubalde said. “You need the best solutions if you want the best results.”

In that regard, he noted that economic development is a relationship business, but new technologies – Facebook to Zoom – show there are alternatives to build and sustain relationships.

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