Funding startups during economic distress by Carol Lin Vieira, Partner, Marketing and Public Relations, and Anne Szustek Talbot, VP of Content Marketing, BX3
At first blush, they might not seem to be the most opportune circumstances under which to launch a business. But say what you will about recessions: they force people to be scrappy. And that scrappiness can lead to some pretty promising startups.
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Take a couple of companies that since their founding during the late-2000s recession have become household names: Lyft and Rent the Runway. Both companies were borne out of needs that the founders saw in their own lives that could be applied to others, whether that was making a few extra bucks from driving, or being able to wear designer threads without having to invest a month’s rent in a formal gown.
With both of these companies well past the unicorn threshold, the venture capitalists that saw something in their ingenuity are well reaping the returns from their investments.
Venture capital is a high-risk investment, and that’s unlikely to change. This go-around, however, the ticket isn’t so much to create a new industry, as we’ve seen with the various iterations of the sharing economy but rather, to bolster the very institutions that are bearing the brunt of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Below, we’ll take a look at a couple of case studies of early-stage startups with solutions that will help keep their target consumer industries—travel/hospitality and healthcare—not just surviving, but thriving beyond the current global health threat.
In turn, investment in new companies that are bringing entire industries to the next goal post should likewise show promise.
Funding Startups During Economic Distress
Case Study: Loyyal
Facing low occupancy in the face of social distancing and travel bans, hotels are looking for any way they can to reduce expenses. Enter Loyyal, a San Francisco-based startup that can reduce hotel and airline loyalty program administration costs by as much as 90 percent.
Traditional loyalty program partnership reconciliation is expensive, slow, and inefficient, which negatively impacts profitability and growth. Disparate systems among loyalty program partners (think of the United Airlines miles you can earn by staying at a Marriott) result in costly reconciliation and settlement processes, as transaction data is swapped between redemption partners in a variety of formats and schedules. The resulting settlement process between partners can be labor intensive, time-consuming and inefficient, often taking months to complete.
Loyyal’s blockchain-based products enable all permissioned network participants to share a common ledger securely and in real time. The typical back-and-forth of negotiating discrepancies with partners is removed. Loyyal’s shared ledger can practically eliminate costly reconciliation and settlement efforts, freeing up significant amounts of precious labor and cash resources.
Loyyal, which has already signed a three-year agreement with the Emirates Group, says that as the first major airline rewards program to work with Loyyal’s blockchain platform, “Emirates will achieve operational cost-savings, improve customer experiences and reduce the financial liability that inherently comes with large-scale loyalty programs.”
Loyalty programs are an important marketing feature for the hospitality industry and a key driver of customer attraction and retention. In times of want, hotels and airlines will undoubtedly be evaluating the efficacy of their loyalty programs and seeking ways to improve them. Companies such as Loyyal that can help the travel and hospitality industries slash operational overhead on these programs will be especially attractive.
Case Study: Ubihere
Being at the frontlines of the battle with COVID-19, hospitals need to take advantage of every possible efficiency to grapple with the pandemic. Every day, medical professionals face frustrating and preventable obstacles that can hinder providing streamlined, effective care. Among these hurdles is keeping tabs on the huge amounts of inventory and equipment. Not knowing where an X-ray machine is located can only compound stress in these times when quick, decisive action is all the more paramount—especially amid the high-rise, campus environment that characterizes so many health centers today.
Ubihere, a Columbus-based startup using NASA-based technology, is providing a novel, low-cost, low-power, highly accurate approach to geolocalization in a GPS-denied environment. The Ubihere tag can be mounted or embedded into any moveable asset, allowing for a nurse to see the object’s location in real-time on a tablet, laptop, or smartphone.
Imagine that you are a doctor or nurse in charge of care for a dozen high-risk patients. They need a ventilator — stat. Yet your colleagues in another wing of the hospital needed that same piece of equipment —stat — an hour ago, and you’re not sure in which room that ventilator might be. By affixing one of Ubihere’s tracking tags to high-demand, portable, medical equipment, the system’s signals can penetrate through walls and corridors to report the item’s location; accurate to the centimeter.
Instead of having to walk from room to room checking for the machine and potentially disrupting other treatment, medical professionals can head straight to the source.
Hospitals are clamoring for this technology, and its applications go way beyond the immediate crisis.
As one logistics and supply chain hospital executive put it: “There are so many avenues that we can pursue with [Ubihere], optimizing patient interaction on a nursing floor, making sure food trays are getting to the patient in a timely manner, looking at getting people in and out of procedures more efficiently, reducing wait times for patients waiting for a bed. The list is truly endless, it is a matter of identifying a challenge related to movement of any kind; patients, caregivers, equipment, supplies.”
Want to fund startups? Conclusion
Serial entrepreneur and angel investor Dan Martell believes that the best startups are created during economic downturns: “It’s easy to start a company when the skies are blue – it’s almost like a “hobby du-jour” for some. However, when times are tough, only the “true entrepreneurs” continue plugging away, creating value and building their dreams. They don’t stop and get day jobs, they figure it out.”
Investing in startups will always carry some degree of risk. It’s also an opportunity for investors to fuel innovation and help the next wave of entrepreneurs begin to patch the holes in a threadbare economy, making it that much more resilient.
As Martell has said: the real entrepreneurs will be building companies regardless of the markets, personal challenges or external forces – they only have one state: create.
Let’s foster this ingenuity and reward such creative, constructive efforts.