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Small business accelerators helping companies navigate coronavirus pandemic

Gerri Willis

While the novel coronavirus is taking a toll on the nation’s economy and small businesses, some companies within the sector that are backed by accelerators are finding ways around obstacles created by the pandemic.

Unlike incubators, which help aspiring entrepreneurs hone their ideas, an accelerator helps small businesses find a road to profitability and access to investors. Over the past 15 years, the number of accelerators has risen substantially, investing an estimated $20 billion in more than 5,000 U.S. startups, according to the Harvard Business Review.

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Patrick McQuown, executive director of entrepreneurship at Townson University, runs StarTUp, a university-affiliated accelerator.

“The current climate is like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” he said. “I’ve had to manage through 9/11, the D.C. sniper, and [the 2008 financial crisis.] It’s not good – stuff that you’ve been working on for months gets derailed and you have no idea when it’s coming back.”

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And he’s not the only one. Gener8tor operates accelerators in cities across the country and is currently operating an emergency response program to help small businesses, nonprofits and startups navigate the pandemic, providing webinars and one-on-one consultations.

“The impact that accelerators have on the communities they work in is amplified during times of crisis like what we’re experiencing right now,” said Gener8tor’s Chelsea Linder, who leads the company’s gBETA program in Indiana. The accelerator is expanding its definition of startups in order to help a wider range of small companies with legal and accounting help, plus access to investors and mentors.

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Small business is also a critical supplier of jobs, employing 48 percent of U.S. workers. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the pandemic has led to suspensions of operations for 53 percent of small business.

Employment isn’t the only reason startups and entrepreneurs need support. McQuown points out that entrepreneurs are likely to find solutions to the problems posed by the pandemic.

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“Right now is not the time to cut back on entrepreneurship, it’s the time to double down on it. Take a look back at 2008,” he said. “That was a bad economic time … and that gave us companies like Slack, Airbnb, Dropbox.”

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