Startups living in uncertain times?
It goes without saying that startups have transformed how we interact with the world around us in the past few years. If you’ve traveled to any of the world’s major cities in, say, 2010, you would have likely checked into a hotel and hailed a taxi cab to take you there. Today, you can expect greater convenience, value for money and, possibly, a chance to meet locals at a click of a button through Airbnb and Uber.
The trend carries on as I type this blog entry. Uber, an established company by now, is being made to tweak its operations to keep newcomers like Bird, which now rent scooters as an affordable, convenient and reliable means of transportation, from eating into their market share. Also consider how corporate giants such as HBO, Amazon and Disney are being compelled to launch their own streaming services to reclaim their market shares from the likes of Netflix and Hulu.
But the truth is that startups can only flourish in healthy economies. Successful startup enterprises, after all, reflect harmonious matchmaking between entrepreneurial creativity and innovation and an optimistic outlook by investors. Perhaps it’s within our nature as humans to be creative and problem-solve, so the entrepreneurial spirit will probably never flag. But access to capital can be a problem. Even the most revolutionary business ideas of our time couldn’t have seen the light of day without funding.
There are many scenarios that can affect access to capital. How business-friendly is the economy? Are investors and lenders bogged down with red tape? Are they optimistic about the prospects of yielding a profit? Might they be concerned about consumer purchasing power if it’s not rising? Or maybe regard the market as saturated in a given sector? Endless possibilities can influence the outlook of investors and lenders.
One scenario that can surely affect startups’ access to capital is a financial crisis. Despite the inspiring success stories I’ve mentioned above, there is evidence that shows that potential for startups to succeed in the US has not yet fully recovered to its former pre-crisis levels in terms of births and deaths of startups, job creation and, perhaps most importantly, commercial lending. Fast-forward to 2018, and you’ll find the business press making noise about an upcoming and potentially deeper recession. Gloomy headlines such as “another economic downturn is just a matter of time” and “monetary policy for the next recession” can be found in the Economist and the Financial Times. JPMorgan Chase has even put a date on when it expects the bad news: 2020.
If the recession of 2008 is any guide, we know that we can’t underestimate how connected the GCC markets are to the fortunes of Wall Street: the US market, as the world’s biggest and most important, had a direct impact on commodity markets globally, which in turn affected GCC financial markets and government revenues. So the question for us becomes: how will we cope if a new crisis befalls us? Can we prepare any contingencies to keep new startups connected to their lifeline? Crisis or not, a lot can be said about the ability of startups to address all sorts of challenges, including the problem of access to capital. Just ask the people behind Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Beyond that, the role of pro-business institutions like Bahrain’s Tamkeen will be key in helping startups to rise and, if the doomsayers are correct, survive the winter of another recession on Wall Street.