Start-Ups in the Crisis: Looking to the Future

April 21, 2020

COVID-19 has already seen a strong response from the technology community, ranging from Google and Apple joining forces to develop a contact tracing protocol to Sam Altman leading crowd-funding for a billion face masks to Jack Dorsey donating $1 billion (almost a third of his wealth) to relief programs. Governments are also mostly doing a creative job of helping — here in the UK including widely-publicized salary support, tax relief and loan programs, as well as an Innovate UK competition for business solutions to challenges of COVID-19 (which we have entered, as we hope have many others).

What should start-ups like LearnerShape do to be part of the solution? Besides being CEO of LearnerShape, I am an investor in UK start-ups, and all are moving fast to deal with changes in demand, working practices and investor funding appetite. These changes are not all negative — online sales at one of my portfolio companies are up 400% in April — but mostly there are serious challenges.

Whatever each of us is facing now, we should be looking beyond the lock-down and taking actions that will position us well for the future. First, this is good business. Start-ups face huge risks, and we can only succeed by being bold, especially in a time of massive change.

Second, it’s the right thing to do. The future will ask of businesses: what did you do at that time?

LearnerShape is in the fortunate position of having started with goals that align commercial and social imperatives. We are building a platform for enterprise reskilling, but it has always been core to our vision to serve individuals across their lifetime learning journeys. We are hearing from a lot of directions that individuals need help to figure out reskilling options in the face of massive workplace change. To take just one example, university graduates are facing a horrific employment environment and we are working with one of our university partners on how the LearnerShape solution can help. Rolling out a public platform to support those who need reskilling to find employment is what we’ve pitched in the Innovate UK competition, and win or not we will continue to look for ways that our technology can assist.

How this should be done at the same time as building our core enterprise business through the COVID-19 crisis is a challenging question. We believe it can be done, mostly because it must, and that we can make commercial success align with a model that provides public benefit. Partnerships, collaboration, help are very important to us as we chart this course. We already have strong partnerships with larger companies, universities and others, and we are very open on ideas for collaboration on the principle of mutual benefit for broader benefit!

It is likely going to get messier out there before it gets better. We look forward to talking with you about how to make our collective future as good as it can be.

Maury Shenk
Co-Founder & CEO, LearnerShape