Not the biggest companies survive, but the ones most adaptable to change

How to succeed as a start-up in these digital times

The pandemic has presented the global business landscape with enormous challenges. Even though of course we all crave the ‘old normal’, there is also a lot of energy and creativity in the ways we see start-ups adapt to the ‘new normal’. The pandemic is used to fuel an entrepreneurial spirit and to gain traction. The crisis can (and perhaps should) be used as an opportunity for change.

We talked to some of our National Leads to find out how our global cleantech community is finding ways to connect, to create and to stay focused on fighting the climate crisis. They also share their insights and opinions on what start-ups can do to stand out in these digital times.

Change is the only constant factor

Jop Blom of Rainbow Collection, our National Lead in Colombia: “Personally, I have always seen challenges as opportunities. Bringing the competition and Boot Camps to an online environment in 2020 was actually a major breakthrough for ClimateLaunchpad in Colombia. I now actually see unlimited potential to replicate and grow our regional scope, to increase the number of participants and to create even more impact in the region. If we know one thing in life, it is that change is the only constant factor. Especially for agile starters and disruptors this new reality can present a huge benefit. More than ever, it is not the most intelligent (and big) companies that survive but the ones most adaptable to change. That is what we have always taught our start-ups.

Despite COVID-19 limitations and the fully digital arena for the 2020 competition, all of the teams impressed me. It’s energizing to see and feel the passion, determination and action driven attitude of all participants. I’m always so flabbergasted by the high level of the ideas and I always wonder why established companies don’t come up with these inventions.

As for the online pitching and interaction. Of course, it is different not actually being in a room with the jury, with potential customers or with interested investors. But I’ve seen a lot of really good pitches nonetheless. I believe in authentic and simple stories driven by purpose. That doesn’t change with the digital format. What it boils down to is a founder who identified a problem and found a simple and logical technological solution to solve it. And considering his or her unique background and passion, that founder is the best person in the world to pitch it with grit and an authentic drive.”

Start-ups need to master the digital transformation

Markus Fischer (of Startup Academy, our National Lead in Switzerland): “With the shift to digital this year, we had to adapt and change some things in our approach. Meeting, teaching and pitching online is the new norm, and it has proven to work. That being said, it’s not the same as pitching your idea in person. I really admire the commitment of all start-ups in our 2020 cohort. We’ve seen some very smart entrepreneurs this year who understand their business and got their heads around the digital format of the competition.

It’s difficult to build a socially or environmentally conscious business that is viable and profitable enough to have the desired sustainable and long-lasting impact. My advice is to thoroughly think your idea through before you start. How will you create a sustainable business that, in the long-run, doesn’t depend on grants or donations? A big chunk of our Boot Camps are about just that: validating the business model, validating assumptions and validating scalability of an idea.

The global pandemic has quite literally been driving the digital transformation. And digitization won’t stop – our future is digital, so our skills have to be as well. My advice here is: get up to speed with the key digital topics in your industry and improve your digital fitness. I’d like to mention here that social media is your digital business card, yet each year we see so many start-ups without a presence on any social media platform. If you’re a business that is not yet on the relevant digital channels, you are missing out!”

New opportunities and the art of digital pitching

Kadri Kaarna (of Cleantech forEST, our National Lead in Estonia) shares her vision for digital pitching: “Pre-recorded videos give so many new opportunities. It’s so exciting. On the physical stage with slides we never allow animation and videos due to the high risk of errors. But with the digital format for the online pitches, teams can let their fantasy and creativity fly. Video, animation: anything is possible. In my opinion, the perfect digital pitch consists of videos of the team and the product or service to illustrate and demonstrate their proposition and value very clearly. The key is to stand out.”

Markus adds some practical advice to create the best possible video pitch: “There are obviously some basics that you want to take into account, such as making sure you have a strong internet connection. When it comes to the video pitch: make sure to adjust the camera so it’s at eye level. Have a calm and neutral background, and make sure the room is well lit. Another important aspect is audio: be in a quiet room, preferably with carpet, and avoid any with no background noise – close your windows. Test your sound and the quality of the sound beforehand. Make sure you look directly into the camera. Try to speak freely and do not read from notes on your screen. Also: try to avoid touching your face and limit body movements. Wear appropriate office attire and turn off notifications on your computer. Lastly, try and make your pitch as tangible as possible to your listeners.”

Stay ahead of the start-up game

While we are preparing our ClimateLaunchpad programme for 2021 to welcome fresh new green ideas for this year, this is your time to stock up on skills and knowledge. Get prepared for every curve ball coming your way and make sure you stay ahead of the game with our recommended reading list and sign up for the newsletter to never miss a beat.

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