Unlocking Growth for Small Businesses: Lessons from Unicorns
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Unlocking Growth for Small Businesses: Lessons from Unicorns

Digital connectivity and a wide range of easily accessible information technologies, including online tools that are available for low or no cost, mean that it has never been easier to maintain and grow a business that is better, faster, and cheaper than in the past.

Sophie Krantz

2020 has been a challenging year for small businesses with many struggling to survive. The International Trade Centre’s global COVID-19 impact survey suggests that one in five small firms may go bankrupt within three months.

Meanwhile, a small number of businesses have thrived during the pandemic, particularly pharmaceutical companies seeking COVID-19 vaccine and tech companies benefiting from homeworking. Distorted and uneven value gains in the world have proven to be problematic for economies and society. In 2020, governments around the world are stretched and bracing for long periods of economic contraction.

Is it possible to bridge the gap between the many businesses struggling and the few that are currently thriving?  Can this gap be filled in a way that leads to sustained growth in the future for small businesses?  This is possible if we look to Unicorns for lessons on how small businesses can survive 2020.

In 2013, Salim Ismail studied the characteristics of over a hundred of the fastest growing and most successful startups, including those that made up the Unicorn Club, a term coined by Aileen Lee, to describe the billion-dollar market cap startup group.  Salim found commonalities used by companies to scale. From this, he created the Exponential Organization (ExO) innovation methodology. It is designed for business to be ten times better, faster, and cheaper.

Not every small business wants to achieve global scale, nor do they aspire to be the next Unicorn. Digital connectivity and a wide range of easily accessible information technologies, including online tools that are available for low or no cost, mean that it has never been easier to maintain and grow a business that is better, faster, and cheaper than in the past.

For small businesses, this means that they can explore the world, assessing and seizing opportunities easier and faster than ever before. This can be done with no travel, little investment, and all from the internet via a computer or smartphone. It means that small businesses can grow internationally, with the guidance of a low-cost and low-risk framework. Benefits realized by small businesses include: building communities of supporters and customers, selling new and existing sales mixes online to widened markets, accessing cheaper and more innovative inputs, tapping into a global tool of talent, and accessing growth-enabling tools including crowdsourcing and crowdfunding.

A Unicorn is something that is highly desirable but difficult to find or obtain. With up to 70% of the world’s population employed by small and medium-sized businesses, it’s time to look to the Unicorns to promote business survival and growth.

This article first appeared on the OpenExO blog on June 29, 2020.

SME Small Midsized EnterprisesUnicornsExponential OrganizationsSalim Ismail

Sophie Krantz

Sophie is a coach, advisor and author on internationalisation and global strategy. Sophie uses the ExO framework to enable business leaders to succeed and scale globally.