How a global crisis is accelerating entrepreneurship

Young entrepreneurs are looking for concrete solutions to today’s problems

Despite the doom and gloom of the coronavirus and Covid-19, I have had a nice day. I have seen ten examples of young people sharing their elaborate ideas in less than three hours. Sixty students at universities across Flanders formed ten teams and participated in Junior Orsi’s “healthcare hackathon” to devise and develop new applications in the healthcare sector. In policy recommendations and research reports, I have always argued that we desperately need new entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial organisations to maintain the standard of living in our society. After all, on an international level, Belgium scores relatively poorly in terms of new entrepreneurship. Barely 5% of our active population is setting up a new business, which is a lot lower than the global figure of 10%. Moreover, although companies want to reinvent themselves through innovation, they are struggling because they do not know how to tackle this challenge.

After just one day spent generating ideas, the plans were briefly presented by the participating teams, awaiting my feedback. All are focused on solving problems that have arisen as a result of the coronavirus crisis, and they are very diverse. They include handy products such as a ‘remote button’ to serve patients faster and better, a mechanical foot latch to open doors hygienically, new apps to organise the avalanche of doctor’s and hospital appointments in an orderly fashion or to prevent too many people rushing to one place all at once, and of course new software to deal efficiently with the problem of children falling behind with their schoolwork.

Of course, not all of these ideas have been analysed and developed equally well. In fact, some are naive or ill-considered. However, they all offer a solution to a concrete problem that we can apply during and after the current crisis. Suddenly things are moving very fast. These young people are no longer waiting for the review process, which can take weeks or even months before the business plan is complete. They experiment and learn from the mistakes they have made in order to receive feedback at lightning speed.

In recent decades, policymakers have made space in their plans for boosting entrepreneurship, both through national and international bodies. Entire books, articles and even TV programmes are being devoted to this. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are now seeing a rapid acceleration of theory being put into practice. You don’t have to be a professor to explain these new developments with crystal-clear examples. They are right there in front of you.

We say of entrepreneurs that they see an opportunity and create a company to turn that opportunity into reality. All the examples I saw during the hackathon offered opportunities to launch innovative, future-oriented and risky applications. The ideas originate from a real problem that requires a solution, and not the other way around. The development usually requires rapid fundamental change (disruption) allowing for a process that is focused more on action than on brainstorming. The only way to do it is to do it! We will beat the coronavirus thanks to the efforts of the healthcare sector, of course, but also thanks to the unbridled creativity of people with an entrepreneurial mindset. And there are many of them. That gives us hope.

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