COVID-19's Counter-Intuitive Implications for Small Business and Employment


COVID-19 has caused enormous pain and suffering for so many that I cannot offer any suggestions for the future without first acknowledging that debt that we have to all essential workers, from the healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic to those who work in grocery stores, transportation, utilities, public works, education, agriculture, and critical manufacturing.

COVID's impact will be far reaching in many ways that we have yet to fully understand. However, there are two long term repercussions of COVID-19 that are almost always thought of as having only a negative impact; it’s impact on small business and employment. In both of these cases I see something counter-intuitive happening.

While there is no doubt that millions of small businesses will be wiped out by the economic impact of the pandemic, I am seeing a flurry of activity in ideas for new business models from the ranks of those professionals who either lost their jobs in a corporate setting or who've had to shut down their own small business. Four things are coming together as a sort of perfect storm to cause that:

First, these individuals have little in the way of long-term prospects for re-employment and are uber-motivated to do something fast.

Second, the ability to start a new company has never been as incredibly easy from the standpoint of cheap or free technology infrastructure. You can create all of the underpinnings and user experience of a newco in weeks for next to nothing.

Third, it's precisely because of the incredible rise in unemployment that relatively inexpensive or free labor is now readily available on spec with the promise of future earnings. This and the second point above make it possible to throw together a start up with record resources in record time.

Fourth, the Federal government, through the SBA's PPP and EIDL programs, has committed close to $2 Trillion for small business. What's critical about this is that the requirements for these programs are written in such a way that they effectively provide a bridge for crossing the chasm to build entirely new business models, since the funding is not predicated on the viability of the current business. It's effectively venture money from the government.

The result of these four forces will create an unprecedented opportunity for small business innovation and experimentation the likes of which we have never seen. That may come across as idealistic thinking while we are still in the midst of a crisis. However, that may also be exactly what we will need to find our way out of it.

By Thomas Koulopoulos

Keywords: Future of Work, Entrepreneurship, COVID19

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