Although it is undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted significant economic and social costs on a global scale, not all industries have suffered. In fact, it could be said that the pandemic and its many consequences – such as the need for social distancing at various levels – has created new opportunities for certain industries and niches. Global societies have developed new habits over the pandemic months, including online learning, healthcare, professional development, socializing more through networking platforms, or using digital products and services. In general, we’re spending much more time online, leading to lasting impact on society worldwide, especially since most – if not all – of these habits will remain even after the pandemic.
The reason behind the increase in the number and variety of business opportunitiesis simple: previously unencountered issues require innovative solutions, and COVID-19 has provided a veritable downpour of newly arising problems – ushering in a series of innovations and opportunities for entrepreneurs quick enough to spot a gap in the market. The production and retail of antiseptic masks, disinfectants, and antibacterial pillow cases are all examples of niches that became extremely profitable virtually overnight.
On a social level, the pandemic opened up the playing field particularly for tech startups and companies providing alternative solutions necessitated by the need for remote working and learning. For instance, the American learning pod phenomenon – a direct consequence of the COVID-19 lockdown measures – gave rise to now highly successful tutoring platforms such as FLS Tutors or TheLearningPods.com.
For remote working, meanwhile, we’ve all witnessed the explosion of Zoom and other video-conferencing apps and platforms. Interestingly, social networking for professionals has seen an upwards trend during the pandemic, too – presumably motivated by the social distancing and lockdown measures. Beyond LinkedIn, there are many examples of career-oriented social networking sites emerging, increasingly aimed at a narrower group of people in the form of selected niches or professions. One example is BFROW – a networking platform intended for creatives and brands solely in the fashion, beauty, and lifestyle industries.
Some of the most interesting solutions in answer to newly arising COVID-related issues can be spotted in the fashion industry. Naturally, extended periods of lockdown in a number of countries had a directly negative impact on the fashion sector. Continuing safety measures aren’t making matters any easier for clothing brands nor for customers looking to browse and try on clothes.
Enter AR, or augmented reality. Though select fashion brands had started using AR prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, enabling customers to ‘try on’ clothing and accessories in a virtual environment or to view physical items in a store visualized on a model, these functions didn’t really gain much traction until lockdown measures were implemented. These created an opportunity for tech startups and existing fashion retailers to grow as virtual changing rooms for online shopping.
The award-winning marketing executive, fashion entrepreneur, and startup accelerator mentor Anastasia Vitruk – who, incidentally, was BFROW’s Head of Marketing at the time of launch – stresses the importance of the role of AR in the beauty, fashion, and lifestyle industries – especially in the midst of the continuing pandemic. Interestingly, AR is now more than a way to ‘virtually’ try something on before purchasing the physical item online: digital fashion has become a niche in its own right.
Digital fashion is exactly what it sounds like: clothing and accessories from top designers, available for purchase but existing only in digital form. Platforms such as Dress-X specialize in digital fashion retail, catering largely to Instagram influencers. Digital luxury fashion shopping not only doesn’t pose a health risk during the pandemic – as traditional shopping still might in certain areas – but is also a far more sustainable alternative.
Given the immense potential in multiple sectors for growth and innovation, how can startups take advantage of the newly emerging opportunities? Ms Vitruk suggests starting with formulating an idea in a simple sentence, responding on the questions of why there is a need for this new solution and who exactly needs it. Given how fast-paced the startup environment is at the moment, she also advises entrepreneurs not to be too precious about their platform: “Start with an MVP as soon as possible and monitor customer or user feedback. Then, consistently make improvements and develop the platform based on user experience”. This way, not only does your startup get a head start, but it also gradually becomes more responsive and tailored to your customer’s needs.
For existing companies looking not only to survive the pandemic, but to thrive in the ‘new normal’, research suggests that combining cost-cutting with wise investments for the future constitute the recommended strategy. Specifically, the best results are achieved by companies cutting costs in a way that doesn’t negatively impact on operational efficiency. As far as investments during the pandemic go, the wisest options are research and development, marketing, and new assets.
Any way we look at it, the coronavirus pandemic appears to have changed our lives irreversibly. For everything the crisis has taken from us, at the very least it facilitated a different future for many of us: hopefully one with room for growth for pioneering startups and innovative, sustainable solutions.