A panel of New Jersey university entrepreneurship leaders gave advice to startups and small businesses on how to survive the challenges brought on by the pandemic. The group was brought together on January 8 by James Barrood, former president and CEO of the New Jersey Tech Council (New Brunswick) and now an adviser to Tech Council Ventures (Summit).
But, first, several of the university entrepreneurship experts reflected on where entrepreneurship stands today.
While there is a lot of hurt out there, digital businesses seem to have overcome the issues that arose during the pandemic, said Susan Scherreik, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, at Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business.
It’s a bifurcated space. “We know that 30 percent of small businesses have closed in New Jersey,” she said. But there are some very bright spots. “We have two young alumni, one runs a retail specialty online operation in Hoboken, and they’re the 17th-fastest growing business in New Jersey. Another one of our alums runs a medical digital operation, and they’re the eighth-fastest growing business in New Jersey.”
Princeton University’s Anne-Marie Maman, executive director of the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council, who works with companies in need of venture capital, said “It’s gotten harder and harder” to get venture capital. “By the time an entrepreneur gets to a fundable VC round, those rounds are huge.” Compared with before, a venture capital round used to be between $3 million and $5 million. “Now we’re seeing rounds of $100 million. And you have a lot of fundable milestones to hit before you get funding.”
Speaking about family businesses, Dale Caldwell, executive director of Fairleigh Dickenson University’s Rothman Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, noted that they have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. He urged the audience to remember that when a family business closes, the entire family is often unemployed. By contrast, a lot of the big box stores have stayed open and are doing record business.
Caldwell would like to see a pandemic equity grant for family businesses. “They should really grant some of that money to local family businesses, since it affects them much more than the rest.” Another idea is to create entrepreneur zones, built around the idea of an opportunity zone, “but the idea is to provide tax credits to people to invest in businesses in urban communities.”
How Businesses Survive During the Pandemic
Suresh Kumar, director of innovation and entrepreneurship programs at NJIT’s Ying Wu College of Computing, noted that the first thing entrepreneurs must do is reevaluate their business models and “get a bearing of where they are. Can they still sell what they have been selling before” during the pandemic? They also must review their distribution partners and business models, and look at their office space…
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