The speed and severity of changes emanating from COVID-19 are unprecedented. In some cases, these tectonic shifts reflect an acceleration of trends already underway. In others, these changes have permanently destroyed or severely affected many large and long-standing sectors. Even the savviest business leaders and investors were caught flat-footed and are today baffled as to how the future will unfold.
I wholeheartedly agree with how NYU professor and best selling author Scott Galloway, who in a recent podcast described the largest fields of opportunity: “healthcare and education is literally a deck of cards thrown into the air.” This tumult applies to many more industries than just these two.
Overlaying the acceleration and destruction of industries, products, and services lies the question of whether consumers — businesses and individuals alike — will have short memories and revert to what was once normal. Alternatively, will these groups adapt and embrace the “new normal” as a new permanent reality?
“We all want things to go back to normal quickly,” MIT’s Gideon Lichfield wrote for the university’s Technology Review. “But what most of us have probably not yet realized—yet will soon—is that things won’t go back to normal after a few weeks, or even a few months. Some things never will.” Collectively, these forces and future scenarios are creating a fertile ground for nimble and innovative entrepreneurs.
In many respects, the playing field is more level than it has been in years. No one had a plan to deal with the new reality in which we find ourselves, nor does anyone really have a clear understanding of how and when things might evolve. Because of this, there are an abundance of fantastic business opportunities available to those who are able to rapidly adapt to how the crisis has reshaped consumer preferences, redirected growth, and redefined industries for the long term. These opportunities exist in areas that are experiencing trend acceleration, especially the adoption of technology, as well as those that have faced disastrous destruction.
In searching for new business opportunities, the first sectors to examine are the largest, most antiquated industries that are being forced to quickly reinvent themselves. Professor Galloway in his podcasts states it perfectly: “the big kahuna here is 17% of GDP and that’s healthcare.”
Prior to COVID, telehealth, or “virtual health” was seldomly used despite its great promise and value proposition. However, during COVID, this modality became an essential mechanism for providing high quality, accessible and affordable medical care to many millions. For most, a favorable user experience has created a “no going back” scenario. More importantly, constituents — users, providers, payors — have all accepted that this is the new reality. And yet, the surface has only been scratched in terms of the benefits afforded by incorporating deep technology.
Another area of rapid, massive and likely permanent shift is occurring in the ability to work from home, or, maybe more accurately, work from anywhere. The ability for a full 42 percent of the American workforce to work productively and seamlessly from a remote location is transformative.
This trend was envisioned and in its embryonic stage prior to COVID; however, no one anticipated how fast this capability would be thrust upon us, nor how comfortably employees and employers would accept such distances. For many, the disappearance of commuting time and costs is a welcome luxury that allows resources — time and money — to be allocated elsewhere.
The sudden shift has driven businesses to consider a question that would have been unthinkable just six months ago — do we need offices? Some prominent businesses have already answered no. Earlier this year, Twitter and Square both announced that they would allow their employees to work remotely even after the pandemic ends. Last week, Microsoft followed suit in embracing this new reality.
While working from a pleasant surrounding can often literally be a “breath of fresh air,” there is no mistaking the innovative boost that occurs when employees are able to collaborate on creative endeavors or strategize on the future in-person. The question becomes: can these benefits still be achieved with employees in the office a few days a week, or a few days a month? What an office looks like in the future, and which tools will facilitate workforce connectivity and culture, present opportunities for tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.
Finally, another titanic shift that has dramatically accelerated since COVID’s onset is the change in how and where we shop for things. The move to ecommerce is hardly new; however, the necessity and simplicity of this avenue during COVID have significantly accelerated movements already in motion. A shopping method that was once viewed as a convenient luxury is for many now almost a necessity.
Nowhere is the impact of this trend more pronounced than in the tenants of America’s shopping malls and the shopping mall owners themselves. This summer, the New York Times reported that as many as a quarter of the nation’s malls might shut down within the next five years. But we can’t blame COVID-19 for shuttering shopping centers; the closing process was already well underway for many. Before the pandemic hit, malls were desperately reaching for tenants providing consumers with non-shopping experiences and those demands have fallen off a cliff since COVID. How small and large spaces are repurposed to cater to consumers’ needs and desires are for creative entrepreneurs to figure out.
Sadly, companies in hospitality and entertainment industries have been dealt what has proven to be a lethal blow for all but the most well-capitalized. Although much destruction has occurred and may even continue in these areas, the changes are not permanent. This is an area where I believe that people and businesses will have short memories. We are social beings who yearn to create great experiences and memories with others. Again, how and what these will look like, and where opportunities will emerge are questions for would-be entrepreneurs.
The changes afoot in almost every business sector are creating windows of opportunity for new businesses to respond to changing needs, practices, and desires. In many cases, those unencumbered with legacy processes and products will be in the position to most swiftly respond to industry evolutions. Recent months have been unnerving and wreaked countless hardships; however, they have also opened numerous opportunities for able, willing, and rapidly-responding entrepreneurs.