Global Entrepreneurship Week, a week of events dedicated to celebrating innovation and entrepreneurship worldwide, looks a lot different this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. In Kansas City, typically a hub of Global Entrepreneurship Week activity, what used to be in-person events largely held around the 18th and Vine District are now virtual events attended from home.
“We did some surveying of entrepreneurs (and) received several hundred responses,” said Jenny Miller, a network builder at KCSourceLink and head of the organizing committee for Global Entrepreneurship Week Kansas City, or GEWKC.
“We asked them, what do you want? What does this look like? What do you need for your business right now?” Miller said. “And we took all of that feedback from our entrepreneurs and businesses and designed Global Entrepreneurship Week Kansas City 2020.”
This year’s event is using a virtual event platform called PheedLoop. Through the software, participants can build their agenda and attend events. They also have access to the networking platform to connect with other participants.
Hear more: Jenny Miller discusses Global Entrepreneurship Week on the Speaking Startup podcast
Organizers considered canceling GEWKC this year, Miller said. Kansas City first started feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, around the time GEWKC planning efforts were supposed to start.
But after conducting surveys of local entrepreneurs, organizers decided hosting GEWKC would be beneficial to help equip businesses with the tools and information they need during this time.
“What we heard from those businesses is that ‘I need tactical tools right now to take away and implement into my business so that I can sustain,'” Miller said. “We have also seen an increase in the number of people that are looking to start businesses, either out of opportunity or out of necessity. So we put all of that together in what we’re calling prime-time events for Global Entrepreneurship Week.”
GEWKC this year shifted its focus to help businesses through the pandemic. The survey revealed that business owners wanted to learn how to keep their traffic up using technology, while others started businesses because of the pandemic and wanted to know how they can keep going after the pandemic.
“We have a lot of events that are focused on resiliency and recovery. However, when we say recovery, we’re looking at the whole economic recovery,” Miller said. “It’s looking at how do we make your business sustainable right now and after the pandemic? How do we help you shift best business practices so that you’re sustainable for the long term, not just make a pivot right now so that you can survive the next few months?”
In addition to all of this, Miller said keeping networking for this year’s GEWKC was vital for business owners. Figuring out how to do that online was the next step.
Organizers created the concept of “the hallway,” an online breakout room people can hop into between events to connect with other entrepreneurs. This was designed to replicate in-person conferences where people connect with others in downtime between sessions.
“There will be people in the hallway the whole time so that attendees can, in between sessions, go into the hallway and meet other people,” Miller said. “You’ll be able to go into a breakout room and have a private discussion, if that’s something that you want to do in there. And, again, it’s to help foster those relationships that people are craving right now.”
Among the benefits of GEWKC going virtual are that it allows people from across the state to get involved, Miller said. The organizing committee added events hosted by people across Missouri to help build collaboration between businesses and also to bring expertise from other areas.
“We actually had a university out of Virginia reach out. … They usually host Global Entrepreneurship Week but didn’t have the capacity to move everything virtual, so they reached out and asked if their students in their community could join us,” Miller said. “Again, it’s not just Kansas City. Now we have the Midwest and even people from the coasts that are joining.”
In other ways, going virtual has made the event more accessible. Things like room capacity and parking are no longer concerns. Miller said all of the prime-time events are being recorded.
“If people can’t attend, they can still take advantage of that video content,” she said, “in order to get what they need for their businesses.”