Over the last few years, we’ve witnessed the worst U.S. economy since the Great Depression. While we are in a recovery period, this recovery does not appear to be off to a strong start. And yet start-ups are still being created, companies are still growing, and many are achieving significant revenues.
These companies are proving that, if a business has strategic growth drivers in place from the very beginning, it will have the opportunity to grow, no matter what the economic climate. A fundamental piece to this puzzle is ensuring that the business model that you create and develop enables value creation and the possibility for creating a successful business, not just a successful product line.
At my company, we look for five strategic growth drivers in the companies we look to partner with: maturity, migration, convergence, compliance and cost containment. For example, populations are maturing and drugs have their patents expiring. There is a migration of technology platforms, from generalized treatments to personalized medicine, and offline to online media. Information technology is converging with life sciences technology. Regulatory compliance is driving reform, and organizations that monitor compliance (SEC, FDA, etc.) often are telling companies how to spend their money. Cost containment conversations are everywhere — whether it’s spiraling maintenance costs on IT infrastructure or healthcare costs. Companies that have built business plans to address these themes are setting themselves up for success.
To help companies build and maintain momentum throughout their various stages of growth, our management team has developed three pieces of advice that we give to partner companies to help them weather economic uncertainty. We tell our partners to preserve their cash, be predatory and aggressive from a sales and marketing perspective, and be opportunistic toward acquisitions.
Preserve Your Cash
The economic malaise was the most serious in 2008 and 2009. During that time, we advised our partner companies to preserve and protect their cash. By committing capital to something that’s simply “nice to have,” you move funds away from your critical success drivers. Shelve all the items that aren’t critical for accomplishing the critical success factors. This will help you streamline activities, and your cash consumption will be focused on accomplishing your already-identified goals.
Use Aggressive Sales and Marketing Campaigns
The best battle to win is the one that’s never fought at all. Cap your adversary’s strategy by using guerrilla marketing and sales strategies. Disrupt their company and their campaigns. Implement aggressive sales and marketing campaigns and you will keep your company one step ahead of your competitors, and in an uncertain climate, that’s one step closer to success.
Seek Opportunistic Mergers & Acquisitions
We’ve seen a consolidating business world in the past few years. Among our partner companies, there were 15 acquisitions alone, including four completed by AdvantEdge Healthcare Solutions since 2009. Take advantage of the fact that other companies may have seriously struggled in a down economy, and opportunistically look for those that can advance your business.
Learn From Your Experiences
We may learn from our mistakes, but we also learn from identifying what worked. Periodically evaluate where your business is and where it is headed. If you’re thinking strategically and acting tactically, you’ll be making the necessary adaptations to keep your business afloat during tough times.
The most important piece of advice to remember is that success is not a straight line — it comes with setbacks along the way. Be flexible and alter your skill sets to keep your company relevant based on changes that have taken place externally, no matter what the economic climate is you’re facing.
Peter J. Boni is the president and chief executive officer of Safeguard Scientifics, Inc., a Penn.-based company that provides growth capital for entrepreneurial and innovative life sciences and technology companies.