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How to Stay Afloat as a Start-Up During a Pandemic

April 10, 2020

Startups are often likened to pirate crews, this parallel is usually attributed to the late Steve Jobs. Pirates are used to weathering stormy seas, and acting quickly to correct paths to stay alive. We are extremely fortunate that our team was able to quickly transition to remote work, and we’ve been working from home for the last four weeks. Transitioning to this new normal, however, didn’t come without its own challenges. As we join our fellow Canadians to stay home and keep eachother safe we wanted to share some of what we’ve been doing as an early-stage tech startup to stay afloat and step up during the COVID-19 crisis.  

How We Transitioned

Normally our team works out of two locations, Ryerson’s Clean Energy Zone in Toronto and the Venture13 Innovation Centre in Cobourg, so luckily we have some experience with telecommuting and working remotely!  

Before the shut downs we were already utilizing remote work applications like Slack, Notion and Google Suite for sharing documents, video conferencing and project management. We’ve ramped up from two team meetings a week (Monday morning and Friday afternoon) to two a day. We do a 15 minute morning stand up and a 15 minute end of day wrap-up. We find this helps to keep everyone on track and connected while being apart. Notion is used for creating to-do lists, spreadsheets and various other documents that the entire team can access. We use slack to communicate about work issues but we also have a dedicated channel for off-topic stuff where we often share cool stuff found on Reddit!  

We’re happy to find that productivity has not been majorly affected and we believe that is due in part to implementing these programs.  

How We’re Getting Through It

Staying connected with other startups and groups has been priceless to us during this pandemic. Our revenue is generated through our pilot programs, and not being able to install our products into our clients’ spaces has been a roadblock for income. We’ve received some great funding advice from our peers and have shared our experience with the hopes of helping others. Here are some tips we’ve found useful to help stretch our finances through this crisis.  

Expand your supplier list

Having back up or alternate suppliers for everything is key. For companies producing hardware, this is an excellent time to learn what it takes to weather a supply chain storm. For every overseas supplier we have, we’ve also made a list of local suppliers. At times like this, sometimes your local suppliers will have competitive pricing.

Apply for more credit

The first step we took was to call our bank, and ask for credit increases across all of our products. Start with your line of credit (if you don’t have one, now is a great time to be applying), then move onto your credit cards, and finally request an increase of overdraft protection on your checking accounts. A line of credit is an excellent safety net since it’s there if we need it, but unlike a loan it won’t collect interest unless we have to touch it. Also the line of credit bears an extremely low interest, especially now that the prime rate has fallen to 2.45% (at the time this post was written). A successful application isn’t all that hard, the banks will typically check for three things: your relationship with the bank (your business credit rating), The credit scores of the business owners, and the personal assets of the business owners. The banks have loosened a lot during this time, so it’s a great time to get in touch with your financial institution.

We were able to get increases across the board, so even though the banks aren’t advertising this it’s a great idea to call and ask!  

Call your providers

It’s hard to keep up with every company’s new policies but it can be helpful to check in on what the providers you use are doing to help clients during COVID-19. Check to see if your cell or internet provider is offering free data and internet this month, if your landlord is giving extensions on rent, or if your favourite supplier is offering free shipping and discounts. These are easy ways to save monthly costs and potentially stock up on equipment or products at a discounted rate. It also doesn’t hurt to call your bank, landlord or internet provider to ask if you can have either a discount or an extension on payments. Just because they’re not advertising promotions doesn’t mean they can’t help you out. The best place to start is your accounting/books. Take a look at your dues and subscriptions for some inspiration.  

Loans and funding

A good chunk of our time has been spent reaching out to contacts and funding groups to see where money may be available. Some groups have created special loans and funds for businesses affected by COVID-19. Applications can be quite lengthy and all of the options can become overwhelming so we suggest creating a spreadsheet or list of available loans and rank them by requirements, amount, conditions etc. so you can keep track and prioritize which loans to apply for first. Obviously go for the ones with the least interest first, and move from there. A great place to start is the $40,000 loan offered through the Canada Emergency Business Account. You apply for this one directly through your financial institution, online. Also, keep an eye out for BDC, they are updating their offerings almost everyday.  

Stay up to date with government updates  

There are a lot of announcements coming out on almost a daily basis from all levels of government. We’ve been checking in on the official government pages, often daily to see what programs are being implemented and what support we qualify for. Everyone should be taking advantage of the 10% temporary wage subsidy. If you’re running your payroll through quickbooks, it’s a simple flick of a switch, and you automatically save 10% company wide. The trickier one to navigate is the 75% Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, but the government has already started to loosen the criteria for that one! Check here for updates.

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What We’re Doing to Help

We’ve been so impressed and inspired by the number of tech companies, universities and manufacturing companies that have been printing and sewing masks and other PPE to support front line workers. We saw an unmet need in underserved communities outside of the GTA, and wanted to contribute what we could to them. Since we’ve been using our 3D printers at home to continue making our sensor enclosures, we decided to put that on pause to start printing face shields.  

We are now working with Producer Alliance and we are managing to print nearly 100 shields a week. The Producer Alliance is a community of tech startups and together we are producing over 1000 units each week to donate to Northumberland Hills Hospital and other medical centers in and around Northumberland County.

If you are interested in printing face shields in your area we suggest reaching out to groups who are printing masks and finding out if you can contribute your 3D printer. If you would like to print masks for Northumberland County or donate to the Producer Alliance visit the website here. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with us!

tweet about the town of cobourg

Another project we’re looking into more is utilizing our air quality sensor technology for virus detecting breathalyzers.  We’re hoping that with the help of a medical professional or groups we could use our existing technology to detect virus biomarkers in human breath through exhaled volatile organic compounds, to assist with COVID-19 and other flu and virus screening.

Overall, this has been an excellent test of our agility, and ability to react to change. Take this as a reminder, that nothing is for certain, especially for startups! If you have any questions about how we’re navigating these waters, feel free to reach out to us, we’re more than happy to talk and share our experiences with any early-stage venture going through a challenging time. We’d also love to hear about how your team is getting by and any tips you have for us!  

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Bolis Ibrahim

Bolis Ibrahim Is the CEO at Cence Power. He is a technology entrepreneur and engineer. He started his entrepreneurial journey with a small recording studio, then graduated onto a high growth tech startup, Argentum Electronics. The Argentum team has now merged with Cence Power, their mission is to conserve energy & CO2 emissions for buildings with patented DC (direct current) power distribution systems.

Cence Brings Buildings Into The Future

We improve the value of commercial and multifamily buildings with an intelligent DC power distribution system that's pain-free to install. It combines the benefits of low-voltage wiring practices with voltage capabilities of up to 450 Volts DC.

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