CW teamed up with IC Resources to run an interactive workshop to brainstorm support and best practice for start-ups, scale-ups and SMEs in the current lockdown landscape

The event kicked off with two inspiring talks from experienced entrepreneurs who shared their thoughts and experiences as we begin to emerge from our home offices / Zoom bubbles. Sir Hossein Yassaie, renowned tech entrepreneur and investor, highlighted the importance of getting back to basics: acknowledge the crisis; consider the worst-case scenarios, act quickly and understand that everyone is in the same boat. Hossein stressed the importance of team, communication, family time and of course touchless tech!

Vin Lingathoti, Partner at Cambridge Innovation Capital

Vin tapped into his experience of funding early stage companies in fields such as AI and advanced materials. Of the 30 odd companies he invested in, some had been impacted by Covid-19 forcing re-forecasting and effecting the bottom line on cost structure. Vin stressed the importance of extending the runway. In his portfolio, six of seven Future Fund applications have been successful.

Following the two speakers, the delegates dividing into smaller groups to discuss three different areas.

Operations and execution

Peter Whale of Vision Formers and Sam Dods from Koru explored the topic. Everyone in the group knew businesses that had a great vision, product, team etc. but fell over on execution. How to scale the business to serve 10x or 100x more customers? Deep due diligence is required on whether customer delivery can be scaled profitably, especially verses competing offerings. If your competitor can address customer needs more quickly than you, you may lose out – however good your product/service is! Partnership and collaboration are key, as is developing channel partners. But beware long supply chains and their attendant fragility!

A cautionary tale was the company that NRE’d itself into oblivion. The company spent 3 years breaking even on the back of NREs….at the end of the process they had a collection of bespoke products with no wider market fit. The CEO learned his lesson and started a new product company with one specific market in mind – 6 years on the company is profitable and growing.

Funding and finance

Tanja Goudarzi Pour at Value Horizons led a group looking F&F. As investors focus on existing portfolios and scale back new investments, there is a need to look geographically wider for funding (China was specifically mentioned). More investment by government-sponsored investors brings confidence to less due diligence heavy, more risk-adverse investors, investing on the back of it. The Future Fund was seen as positive for some but not all early stage companies pre-revenue which consider it a scary thought if no cash visibility to pay back. Everyone agreed it is important to take decisions despite the current climate and not sit on the fence and wait forever – move on, don’t be afraid and procrastinate!

Tofiq Qureshi and Chris Buchanon of Innvotec saw a positive in that founders have been forced to understand finances better. The perceived additional risks of Covid / slowdown means that founders have to be patient and build relationships. The unexpected benefit of lockdown was that investors were more accessible so initial introductions were easier!

Strategy and planning

A number of groups elected to explore different aspects of this theme, led by Freddie Talberg, at EMSOL, Ludo Chapman of The Innovation Practice and Richard Ord from The Silicon Eye. Many companies have pivoted quickly and successfully to the new world of working from home. The theme of ‘over communicate’ is a double-edged sword – there is danger of people switching off when EVERYONE is over communicating.

There was a specific case study about employee effectiveness. Though employees were encouraged to communicate, some were ‘stuck in a rut’ at home. Something that would take 5 minutes to recognise in an office can take weeks to identify when communication is email and weekly ‘reviews’. After Month 1 of lockdown the company implemented a low email / high person to person communication policy when dealing with staff well-being. Tip: how to communicate with customers or staff whilst avoiding Zoom overload – there is an antique device called a phone that an ideal solution!

The overall consensus was that COVID has demonstrated the value of some home working, but the value of physical networking (such as within incubators or workplaces) must not be underestimated. Lack of face to face engagement has also impacted customer interaction.

One comment was that execs felt a need to fill their diary with conference calls, thus losing thinking time (‘beach time’). Tip – schedule fake meetings! Another tip was to use tools to prototype such as Marvel and Figma – it’s important for the investors to see and believe in what you are doing.

Hope for the best but plan for the worst, and don’t be scared to change your business model.

In summary, the overwhelming feeling from the event was how important interactive workshops like this are to reconnect, engage and share ideas. Our experience of Covid means new ways of working which will impact the acceleration of the fourth industrial revolution. What will be the emerging technologies be? What will be the impact of 5G? Whilst we may have left with more questions than answers, the feeling of togetherness was priceless.