The Covid-19 crisis will see hundreds of thousands of workers lose their jobs and many already have. For the newly - or soon-to-be - unemployed, this experience may prompt them to set up their own business. While it is probably wisest to wait until the emergency passes before doing so, what businesses could be worth setting up once the crisis clears?
"You need to look at what has changed as a result of this crisis - and the [business] opportunities presented by that," said Gavin Duffy, the Dragons' Den star and managing director of Gavin Duffy & Associates.
The Covid-19 crisis has transformed the lives of Irish people - and others across the world - at an astounding speed. It is likely to leave many of us with a new outlook on and approach to life.
"When we re-emerge on the other side of this, we will have got used to living life differently," said Oisin Geoghegan, head of enterprise at the local enterprise office in Fingal, Dublin. "The world will be a slightly different place."
So what startup businesses would have a good chance of success after Covid-19?
Many retailers have seen their online orders surge since the Covid-19 crisis hit, as anxiety about the virus has prompted shoppers to avoid the high street and public places.
This increased appetite for online shopping is likely to present opportunities for people to set up internet delivery businesses, according to broadcaster and businessman Bobby Kerr.
"Retail will be very different when this crisis is all over," said Kerr. The virus has pushed retailers to consider - and offer - online deliveries in areas which they had never contemplated online delivery before, according to Kerr. "There's likely to be opportunities in dispatch, logistics and deliveries [as a result]," said Kerr. "Consumers will be looking to order more stuff online than they ever did before. Even when we do get back to normality, I think there will be a transient period before people are comfortable gathering in their masses again."
So when the crisis clears, there could still be more people shopping online than was the case before - and that could continue to be the case going forward. Furthermore, you may not have to wait until after the emergency to tap into the growing market for online deliveries.
A wide range of retailers - including fruit and veg shops, delis, butchers, fishmongers, chocolate makers and coffee shops - have moved into online orders and home deliveries since the crisis kicked off, and more are likely to do so.
The Covid-19 crisis could create a gap in the market for a business which caters for remote workers - or which helps remote workers to set themselves up at home. This will be particularly the case if a large number of those who worked from home throughout the crisis continue to do so when the emergency passes.
"Working from home has become the new normal," said Kerr. "People may revisit their three to four-hour commute after this and look at other ways of working. I think the days of everyone being in the office nine to five - for five days a week - are gone."
There may, for example, be opportunities for an IT startup which provides remote workers with all the technology and support they need to work from home.
"A lot of businesses are discovering that the vast majority of what they are doing can be done remotely," said Geoghegan. "Covid-19 is forcing businesses to trial remote working - so when the recovery happens, businesses may be able to use remote working to cut their costs."
The crisis has seen many people tune into online workouts, so that they can exercise in the confines of their home.
"There may well be long-term opportunities for people providing online workouts or health advice because the crisis could see people become more comfortable with these things," said Geoghegan. "Furthermore, there will be a bigger focus on health and well-being after the crisis."
The beauty of delivering a service online is that it can be done very cheaply. If you don't need a business premises to operate from, for example, you'll save a huge amount in rent. "If you have the tools and can connect with people and provide a service, anything that can be delivered online is potentially viable," said Geoghegan.
THE PARTY SPACE
"Anything in the entertainment or socialising area is going to be huge when this crisis passes," said Duffy. "Whenever the lockdown and social distancing restrictions are lifted, people are likely to be suffering from chronic cabin fever. There will be a lot of partying. If restrictions are lifted by this summer, this will probably be the most sociable summer Ireland has seen in a long time."
Duffy believes there will be opportunities for businesses which can tap into any post-crisis surge in social events and gatherings - or indeed any pent-up demand for entertainment and personal grooming services. "There is likely to be a tsunami of sudden business for those supplying party gear or party attire," said Duffy. "Nail bars - and those who supply fake tan - are likely to be very busy. If you're an unemployed electrician, you could set up a business that supplies party lights."
Other ways to tap into any increased appetite for parties would be to supply party speakers or sound systems for rent - or to set up a party catering service, according to Duffy.
Be mindful, though, that it will likely take a while before many people get back on their feet financially after this crisis. So there will be a limit to the amount of spare cash they have to spend. "People will want to splash out [after the crisis] but they may not have enough money to splash out," said Duffy. Make sure therefore that you offer something that will be within the budget of most people. "While people may be unlikely to hire a party organiser [due to budget constraints], they may be able to pay for the hire of party speakers, for example," said Duffy.
Also bear in mind how people's habits around leisure and social life may have changed as a result of the emergency, and that some business opportunities may emerge from that.
"Many people will have got into the habit of drinking at home during this crisis, so it may be worth exploring a startup business which sells home-brew beer kits or home bars," said Duffy.
LOCAL FOOD AND DRINKS
"The world is about to become a smaller place [as a result of the crisis]," said Kerr. "People are going to be much more interested in making an effort to buy local and sustainable food - and to pay a premium for that. If you look at the way neighbourhoods are now, local butchers and shops are getting a lift, as people aren't travelling distances for their shopping. So more people are seeing the value of their local butcher or grocery shop, and this is likely to continue."
Kerr believes there will be openings for local food and beverage businesses as a result. "I see less people going to town [to shop]," said Kerr. The crisis has prompted more people to cook from home, so be mindful of this if considering setting up a food firm. "I've a feeling people will be looking for something else than ready-made meals after this crisis," said Duffy.
"We'll all have a little bit more confidence around food preparation after the emergency. There may be opportunities around half-prepared meals, rather than ready-prepared meals."
Many construction and other projects have ground to a halt as a result of the virus. Festivals, concerts and sports events have been postponed.
However, once the emergency passes, these should all in time resume, and so there are likely to be opportunities for startups.
"Ireland has been desperately trying to build houses," said Kerr. "We still have to build all those houses, so there have to be opportunities for qualified construction people."
This time 10 years ago, Ireland was in the depths of one of the worst recessions ever. Things seemed hopeless for many people at that time but Ireland recovered, and it should recover from the current crisis too. Once that happens, you could make a lot of money from a business that's ready to hit the ground running.
Startup survival tips
How do I get the timing right?
“Businesses — particularly startups — succeed and fail on account of timing,” said Dragons’ Den star Gavin Duffy. “If you come to the market with an offering and the timing is right, it’s a lot easier than doing so at a challenging time.” It may be wiser therefore to hold off setting up your own business until after the Covid-19 crisis.
“In reality, there aren’t that many opportunities out there for starting up a business in the current climate,” said Oisin Geoghegan, head of enterprise at Fingal’s LEO. “If someone’s looking to set up a business, they should take a long-term view, as we will come out of this crisis.
“A lot of people will have time on their hands during these weeks and months. It can be really beneficial to use that time to upskill — and to do research into setting up your business. If you don’t have the skills necessary to make your business successful, it won’t work.”
How do I survive financially?
“If you can, try to keep some alternative income on the go as you develop your business idea and start up your business,” said broadcaster and entrepreneur Bobby Kerr. Cash flow is crucial.
“Now more than ever, you really do have to watch your cash flow,” said Duffy.
“So get into a small business where you’re paid upfront for whatever product or service you’re delivering.”
Businesses and the self-employed should have a cash flow plan for every four-, six- and eight-week period, advised Kerr. “Have a clear picture of the cash flow you have coming in, and of how long you can survive on that cash flow,” said Kerr.
It should be cheaper to set up your business in a recovering economy than would have been the case in a booming economy. “There will be real opportunities out there as there will be a distressed market,” said Kerr.
How do I market?
“People are more likely to be tied to their community after this crisis so think about marketing your business locally — such as through local radio or newspapers,” said Duffy. “Poster adverts may also be more effective as people will be out and about more [after this crisis].”
Research & advice
Get advice from your local enterprise office. “Any business you are thinking of setting up is likely to have been set up before — so do your research and see what it is that has made that business successful,” said Geoghegan. “Equally, if there is a business that hasn’t been successful, find out why it failed. Talk to people whose opinion you value. Get independent business mentoring.”
For information on the advice and supports available from your local enterprise office, visit localenterprise.ie. For information on Enterprise Ireland funding for startups, visit enterprise-ireland.com/en/funding-supports.