Resilience and Resourcefulness: Entrepreneurial Success in Times of Crisis

By Mahir Sheikh

As the world adapts to social distancing measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, businesses and entrepreneurs have made crucial changes to ensure long-term sustainability. The latest event hosted by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) with the LIFE Project Consortium, highlighted the challenges and opportunities that small business owners and entrepreneurs experience in times of crisis and how to navigate them successfully.

Key Takeaways

  • Strong, decisive leadership is the foundation of resilient businesses during times of crisis

  • Technology including cloud services, videoconferencing, and social media platforms play a critical role in stabilizing businesses impacted by COVID-19, better positioning them for future success

  • Disruptions to global supply chains have forced entrepreneurs to focus on more sustainable, localized solutions

  • Many refugee entrepreneurs faced unique challenges adjusting to new markets and legal environments before the pandemic that enabled them to build resilience to weather the current crisis

  • Social cohesion programs like the LIFE Project provide opportunities for knowledge-sharing between refugee entrepreneurs and their host community peers who are more familiar with the local market and legal structures

Enablers of Resilient Entrepreneurship

Karen Kerrigan, who is considered America’s “entrepreneurial envoy” and is the President & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council) and a CIPE Board Member, opened the event by discussing the pivotal role of technology, specifically social media platforms. "Digital technology is a huge enabler in order to navigate the current crisis and will be something that small business owners will continue to use," Ms. Kerrigan observed. Indeed, a recent survey by Facebook and the Small Business Roundtable found a 50% increase in social media usage, and another from the SBE Council further discovered that 82% of small businesses throughout America said cloud-based services are essential to stay relevant and find new customers.

Beyond technical solutions, Dr. Eric Fretz, a faculty affiliate at the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan, and Cullen Gilchrist, the CEO and Founder of Union Kitchen, identified strong leadership and community as the two aspects that translate to longevity for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Dr. Fretz specifically emphasized that resilient teams start with resilient leaders who are able to support and empower those around them. Both Dr. Fretz and Mr. Gilchrist noted it is substantially easier to mitigate the impacts of a crisis like a pandemic when there is a strong support system in place and a network of individuals that are able to support and guide each other.

Lessons from the Field

“When entrepreneurs face challenges, they think that they must go through it alone.” said Guler Altinsoy, CEO and Co-Founder of IDEMA. “During COVID-19, LIFE Entrepreneurs are looking at it through the bigger picture and see that everyone else is going through these challenges too.” Ms. Altinsoy emphasized that LIFE Entrepreneurs are coming together and negotiating and discussing issues that are consistent across the board. 

She specifically highlighted one entrepreneur who owned a shop that sells traditional Turkish sweets who had to shut down his shop due to restrictions that were put into place throughout Turkey. With the support system and community that is in place through the LIFE Project, fellow entrepreneurs encouraged him to become active on social media and offered other solutions they had come across in order to help maintain his business while restrictions remained in place. 

The LIFE Project offers a collegial environment instead of a competitive environment for its members, which has increased successes among entrepreneurs. With opportunities for in-person collaboration limited due to COVID-19, LIFE Entrepreneurs have found new ways to connect with their communities. Ms. Altinsoy highlighted one example of a finalist in the latest business pitch competition who wants to create a neighborhood-based delivery service for home cooks to sell their products to those in need. During the pandemic, many customers are unwilling to buy from businesses they are not familiar with, and new ventures like a neighborhood delivery service can create a word of mouth effect that brings in more customers while also strengthening ties in the local community.

Community Resilience in the New Normal

One of the other challenges the speakers addressed was disruptions to global supply chains. Mr. Gilchrist said he has seen a willingness to grow localized supply chains throughout America, as businesses and entrepreneurs must find new and creative ways to distribute their products such as food delivery services. In Turkey, food delivery services are limited which makes it that much harder for entrepreneurs to maintain their businesses. Nour Akkad, CIPE’s LIFE Project Coordinator in Mersin, noted that many refugee entrepreneurs have been dealing with supply chain challenges long before the pandemic, facing barriers to obtaining work permits, hiring, imports, and exports. These entrepreneurs had to learn everything to start their businesses and establish themselves in a new country, which in turn has made them more resilient throughout this crisis. 

The event emphasized the importance of community during times of crisis and how the LIFE Project supports its members through its vast network of refugee and host community entrepreneurs. While uncertainty remains across the globe, utilizing these support systems will be crucial as entrepreneurs and small businesses recover from the impacts of the pandemic. As cookbook co-editor Johanna Mendelson Forman noted in her concluding remarks, The Cuisine of Life: Recipes and Stories of the New Food Entrepreneurs of Turkey is a great example of how social integration works and highlights the journey that both Turkish and Syrian men and women have endured to become successful entrepreneurs. 

As the pandemic remains prevalent throughout Turkey, leadership and technology are essential to maintaining a resilient business that can overcome the challenges associated with COVID-19. The LIFE Project established a successful network of entrepreneurs that work to support each other in this time of crisis, and will continue to utilize alternative strategies to ensure the success of its entrepreneurs while adjusting to a new normal.