A manual for entrepreneurs to rise and grow strong from the crisis

Christian Mwijage, the founder of EcoAct in Tanzania, a 2019 D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellowship venture.
Christian Mwijage, the founder of EcoAct in Tanzania, a 2019 D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellowship venture.

Crisis is a time to act

Understand, adjust, continue

When I got off the phone with Christian, the founder of EcoAct in Tanzania, a 2019 D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellowship venture, I realized the struggles that companies in emerging markets were about to face due to the economic shock wave created by the Covid-19 pandemic. EcoAct converts waste plastic into recyclable timber that costs 75 percent less compared to wood. Christian explained that when the crisis hit, he lost his main customer base as the travel and tourism industry were forced to close down its operations, and therefore pending orders were canceled.

Though Covid-19 cases ceased to be officially recorded in Tanzania in May, the country began experiencing a shortage of hospital beds with only 70 beds per 10,000 people. Thinking quickly, Christian redirected EcoAct to develop eco-friendly and affordable hospital beds thereby contributing to the country’s frontline pandemic response and getting his employees – who had been deemed nonessential workers – back to work providing a very essential product. EcoAct has committed to donating five beds for every 100 beds sold to hospitals.

As illustrated by EcoAct, a business should not be afraid to adjust, amend, or change. In fact, reinventing a business can be the key to survival and an opportunity for success. Despite differences in business size, location, and industry sector, many businesses are facing the same challenges. With the right information and support, some quick-moving ventures in emerging markets may be able to find new business opportunities while contributing to the well-being of their community.

My takeaways

Working with the MIT D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellowship program gave me an understanding of the particularities of entrepreneurship in emerging economies. In locations where there is limited access to internet and financing, and where there is political instability and little institutional support or guidance, the challenges to starting and maintaining a venture may be particularly challenging.

The MIT D-Lab Scale-Ups fellows share the ambition and desire to have a positive impact in their communities. I am inspired by the creative actions these fellows have taken to meet social and environmental challenges in their home communities and while working to mitigate business disruptions. The fellows have shown that their understanding of the impact of the coronavirus on their business and community will help the venture weather the crisis. To help the Scale-Ups fellows think through the myriad of options for rethinking and retooling their businesses, we have published a first draft of “A Manual to Land.” I hope that this manual will help business leaders in their journey out of the crisis.

Manual to Land

How, why, what

Leading a business is an everyday challenge where founders are forced to make difficult decisions with insufficient information. The pandemic has magnified these challenges in an unprecedented way. When Scale-Ups fellows first came to us looking for Covid-19 support, we initially turned to existing sources online – scattered information including social media posts, community guidelines, and general articles. The material we found did not cover all issues an entrepreneur will face during an economic downturn, nor did it consider the needs of inclusive businesses – companies that are developing innovative ways to run commercially-viable business with people living at the base of the pyramid. The lack of concrete immediate advice and long-term actions that would help entrepreneurs to protect their venture, team, and customers inspired us to develop our own business manual. The manual addresses the specific needs of inclusive businesses in emerging markets with the kind of limitations in infrastructure, technology, and access to finance not faced by more well-established companies. The case studies that will be added to the Manual will provide practical examples of inclusive businesses tackling challenges during the pandemic.

Who is this manual for?

Neither sector- nor business-model specific, the manual is designed for:

  1. Early-stage ventures in any industry with some market traction and plans for expanding.
  2. Inclusive businesses in emerging markets that are developing commercially- and socially-viable business models and activities.
  3. Businesses serving communities in emerging markets where people live on less than US $8 per day. 

How do I use this manual?

We believe that the more illustrative and practical advice is, the more a business will profit from it. Our manual offers two types of practical advice, (1) how to respond and protect your organization, and (2) how to capture opportunities and change your business trajectory. The manual is not meant to be read straight through. We invite entrepreneurs to focus on the parts they need help with. There is no cookie-cutter approach to surviving a pandemic; entrepreneurs will likely want to mix and match advice to fit their business needs.

Prepare, recognize, and take action

Understand the crisis impact on the business

In order to function during a crisis, an entrepreneur needs to evaluate what effect the crisis will have on the business, both short-term and long-term. We hope this manual will help entrepreneurs to prioritize actions, identify mitigating solutions, and seize new opportunities. There are often trade-offs in any course of action; we want to help entrepreneurs understand difficult choices in order to make informed decisions. We have compiled a number of solutions to the most common business problems regardless of company size, stage, or industry sector. 

Identify challenges and take mitigating actions

We distilled five categories of challenges that businesses faces and in each category, we describe a number of common business issues and provide a comprehensive list of possible solutions and mitigating actions. The categories are:

  1. Finance: Reimagine and rebuild your cost structures
  2. Operations: Manage business disruptions
  3. Employees: Take care of your staff
  4. Customers: Support your clients and beneficiaries
  5. Market: Capture momentum and understand new opportunities

If you are committed to improving your business, you will be able to identify new opportunities wherever you can and to come out of the storm as a more experienced ‘crisis-proof’ entrepreneur.

About the Author

Therése Klasson has seven years of experience in advisory services from financial institutions, she is specialized in financial regulation, data privacy, and assessing operational and regulatory risks on business activities. With a passion for entrepreneurship, she has also taken on the advisory role during the past four years for early-stage ventures based in the EU and the US.

More information

MIT D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellowship


Jona Repishti, MIT D-Lab Social Entrepreneurship Manager