Starting a business in a crisis [Opinion]

Sandras Phiri, CEO of Startup shares his tips on how to launch a business during a crisis. 

An article by BBC has indicated that within the last week of May, an estimated 67 160 entrepreneurs in the United States set up their companies and this is an increase in 21% from May 2019. Contrary to popular belief, these numbers have indicated that there is a sign that more new businesses are being set up even during the time of a pandemic. 

Sandras Phiri provides some tips on starting a business during a crisis

Many entrepreneurs may be feeling the harrowing uncertainty of Covid-19 with the local economy tanking and there being a question of the days ahead but Phiri points out that the current conditions can be beneficial. 

“Starting a business is tough in any environment, and although the conditions are not ideal, there is no end in sight to the crisis we find ourselves in. That said, like other crises throughout history, this one presents founders with a wealth of opportunities and the chance to be part of shaping the future.” 

says Sandras Phiri, CEO of Startup – Africa’s No.1 online accelerator and startup school which is geared towards helping entrepreneurs across the continent build and grow successful, commercially viable businesses.

Startup Circles is one of Africa’s leading online accelerator and startup school and is geared towards assisting entrepreneurs across Africa to build and grow successful and commercially viable businesses. 

Tips for launching a business in a crisis 

Relevant now and in the future

Look at your business idea and ask yourself how it can be adapted to current conditions. In South Africa for example, the country is on level 3 of the risk-adjusted lockdown, with tightened regulations in certain areas to ease pressure on the healthcare system and slow down the spread of the coronavirus. 

This has an impact both on businesses and customers. At the same time though, investors are looking at businesses that will be valid post-pandemic, so what can you do to ensure that your idea works now and down the line? (Hint: sanitisers and masks are not the answer.)

With increased demand for their products, Startup helped Sage Valley – a Zambian startup that produces locally made spices and pastes – to gain traction by signing up Shoprite as a client. Soon, their products will be on the shelves of Pick n Pay and Zambeef stores too. 

“We advised them not to wait until the crisis was over, but to rather think about how they could make their business work now. They achieved this by doing everything remotely, via email and Zoom. They also needed to have all the goods brought into Zambia while taking the necessary Covid-19 precautions, so they repackaged their products and delivered them directly to their customers,” said Phiri.

Speak to investors

Even if you are not trying to raise capital right now, speaking to investors can provide you with a unique perspective on your business. They will get you to think about how your idea will make money as well as how you plan to grow and scale your business. At the end of the day, investors are not charities, they want to help you make money.

With Startup giving startups access to investors, community member Lupiya, a Zambian-based micro-finance startup, recently received a $1-million investment from Enygma Ventures (see this story – link) to help the company continue to scale and roll out its services. 

Lupiya is a branchless, digital micro-finance platform that leverages technology to make the process of borrowing simpler and easier so that people and businesses located across the country, even in rural, remote areas, can access financial services. Originally, the company’s founder was lending money personally but later built the online platform using Amazon Web Service’s cloud computing services which were attained through their Startup Circles. ai membership. 

“Even during the pandemic, they have grown their number of clients by leveraging online technology as well as by providing great customer service.”

Be unique

Make sure that your idea stands out, is unique in the market, and meets a need.

With businesses needing to create customer-centricity now more than ever, Yamzit has devised a point of sales solution that allows small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to track customer loyalty. Startup challenged the startup to sign up more clients during the crisis and brainstormed with them on how to do so, while also getting the company investor ready.

Join a community

Entrepreneurship can be a very lonely road — even more so in a crisis where interactions with others are constrained by social distancing. On the plus side, the digital boom that has emerged from the pandemic has made it possible to be part of a community of like-minded people from all over the world, giving you the opportunity to share and analyse your ideas with others which can assist in refining your concept.

“Past crises like the 1987 stock market crash, the dot-com bubble burst of 2000 and the 2008 financial crisis, all saw entrepreneurs developing solutions in response to those troubling times, which have now become part of our everyday lives. Maybe your idea will be the next Instagram, WhatsApp, Uber, or Airbnb?” concludes Phiri.

For additional advice on launching your business, sign up for a course and community support at

Read more: Local startup offers affordable legal services during Covid-19
Read more: SweepSouth receives investment from Futuregrowth
Read more: Entrepreneur-driven Venture Capital Fund E4E Africa launches in SA

Featured image: Sandras Phiri, CEO of Startup (Supplied)



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