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Future-proofing Young Businesses

Agility, responsiveness and a bold vision are among the key factors for small business survival says investor and entrepreneur Nicole Junkermann

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future,” John F. Kennedy told an enrapt audience at Frankfurt’s Paulskirche in 1963. However even the late President himself might have been taken aback by the world-shaking changes that began to materialise by the close of 2019. And that old business acronym VUCA – volatile, unpredictable, complex, and ambiguous – suddenly began to colour the business environment for many. After all, unforeseen elements can and have capsized many businesses.

COVID-19 has become a clear example of this. Today’s businesses are facing huge challenges just to survive (let alone thrive), while the ongoing crisis has forced many early stage entrepreneurs to focus less on what the future of their companies will look like and more on whether they have a future at all.

Inevitably, the pandemic has also seen investors wondering whether early-stage companies are providing products and services which are truly innovative – or even necessary – in the current climate. That said, money will always follow those entrepreneurs with the best ideas and the best execution. Moreover, amidst the uncertainty and instability, those early-stage companies which adhere to the two watchwords of adaptability and flexibility will hugely increase their chances of survival. Conversely, I have seen companies unable to cope in the face of our global, unprecedented challenges because of a fatal inflexibility in their business models.

As Accenture says in its Continuity in Crisis report (April 2020), “With agility, flexibility and responsiveness, businesses can act swiftly to steer a new course with confidence and adapt to evolving global challenges.” Companies that reinvented themselves during the pandemic have thrived; for example, car manufacturers who switched to building ventilators, mobile phone charging points that were re-invented as hand sanitiser dispensers or a locked-down Chicago pizzeria, which retrained its employees to make face shields for frontline medical staff.

Likewise, a bold vision is what sets an extraordinary entrepreneur apart from an ordinary one; knowing exactly what you want to achieve and how you will go about doing it differently and more effectively than market competitors, is crucial to ensure your pitch or funding application jumps off the page.

When making investment decisions, I invariably look to invest in entrepreneurs with the potential to shape and define their industries because this is where, historically, at NJF Capital, we have had real success; by nurturing and guiding those early-stage companies which have disrupted traditional business models by challenging the norm. I too was in their position earlier on in my career and, as an investor, appreciate the value of learning from those have faced and overcome similar challenges. Believing in your vision while being open to listen to and potentially adopt a more collaborative stance ensures valuable support financially, and this is one of the keys to business longevity.

When I invest, I am primarily investing in the people behind the business; they are the core of my investment. In my experience, what sets entrepreneurs apart from managers is curiosity and a constant drive to learn. To that we can add agility, tenacity and a boldness of vision. An unwavering optimism to push through the hard times is essential: as Steve Jobs once said, “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”

Nicole Junkermann is an international entrepreneur and investor, and the founder of NJF Holdings, an international investment company with interests in venture capital, private equity, and real estate. Through NJF’s venture capital arm (NJF Capital), Nicole oversees a portfolio similar in size to a small venture fund across Europe and the US, including in healthcare, fintech, and deep tech.

2018