In November 2020, Business Forward made a call for submissions from entrepreneurs and business leaders to tell us their stories of how they survived –and perhaps even thrived- through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We asked our audience to vote for the stories they found the most compelling to be guests of honor at our 2020 annual event –the third in Business Forward’s history and very first to be held virtually.
After dozens of submissions and hundreds of votes, four businesses stood out the most and attended the live online event to speak at length of how they fought through the year’s adversities.
This is their story of how they moved their #BusinessForward
#4 – Withlocals
The fourth most-voted for business in our campaign was Amsterdam-based startup, Withlocals. Established in 2013, Withlocals connects travelers with locals to offer a unique and immersive experience in the destination city, away from the beaten path and the usual touristy stuff.
With COVID-19 bringing a total shutdown to global travel, Withlocals faced a complete halt to its operations. Moreover, even closed borders and suspended air routes were not enough to bring their business to an end.
Responding immediately to a radically different landscape, Withlocals began to host virtual tours in March. Sherif Abaza, chief growth officer at Withlocals, says “we very quickly had over 60 tours available on our website that could be booked ‘virtually’ for people to enjoy with their friends and families during the lockdowns.”
It did not end there. Their shift to online also brought about a new idea: virtual experiences and connections for employees. “What if we were to use our network of locals around the world, these passionate individuals with varied passions and interest in the world of travel, history, art, cooking, drinks, sport, architecture and more to foster real connections not only between travelers and locals, but also between colleagues and team members who are now socially isolated and miss spending quality time with each other?”, Abaza says.
Months later, and Withlocals can proudly say that Google, TripAdvisor, LinkedIn, and KLM among many others are their clients.
#3 – The Worx EMC (Event management consultancy)
Operating in a sector where crowds and human interaction are the core of its business, COVID-19 could have seemingly destroyed an event management and consultancy firm such as The Worx.
Founders of the bi-annual Creative Industry Summit, The Worx was forced to cancel their 2020 physical event due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, this was not the cancelation of the summit outright.
“The strategy was to keep the brand going but given that we are essentially about celebrating creativity, then we had to also hold the conference in a new innovative, creative and inspirational way,” says Mai Salama, founder partner of The Worx EMC.
And so, as with many things throughout 2020, they took the summit virtual but with many innovations and new ideas to provide attendees with a very similar experience to a physical conference.
Amazingly, it was a huge success. “We received unexpected and unprecedented amount of viewers. We had 17 countries viewing the event, and over 800 attendees.”
#2 – Croccante
Croccante could probably be described as a child of COVID-19 as they were just established in 2020. Operating online and baking and delivering chimney cakes -a traditional Hungarian dessert- Croccante was perfectly placed to thrive through the pandemic.
Omar Ahmed Orfy, the founder, says the lockdown was a perfect opportunity for them to reach a big market demanding online purchases and deliveries. “COVID-19 affected the business positively as we were still starting and we took it as an advantage to start delivering, as people in their houses were bored and wanted to try new things.”
Instead of opening their first brick-and-mortar branch in Cairo, Croccante managed to establish their debut physical location in the North Coast gated resort community of Marassi. Calling it “a really good deal”, Orfy says it tends to be very difficult for startups and small businesses such as his to enter big and high-profile compounds such as Marassi.
#1 – The Training Hub
Just established last year, this startup offers a different kind of training to professionals by bringing in people already working in their respective fields to share their knowledge, experience and required skills and competencies.
As with almost everything before COVID-19, classes were held in a physical location. Come COVID-19, the Training Hub could no longer bring people together for their unique coaching experiences.
At the beginning of the pandemic, things were not looking well, according to Sherif Nasr, the hub’s founder. “COVID-19 had a really negative impact on our business as training was not a priority option neither for companies nor for our public agenda because no one would have wanted to spend the money in the training part during that time and there was a high medical risk of attending any class with that virus. So, classes were closed, and the place was in a mess and we were not sure that this place will proceed anymore.”
To mitigate the lack of a physical place, the Training Hub did more than just go virtual with its classes, as ‘absent attendeeism’ was becoming a growing and recurring problem with Zoom meetings worldwide.
“We made a lot of brainstorming meetings to find different ways to pass this crisis. We were usually thinking how to be unique and how to make our service special and interesting. So, we invented a new system mixing between the online platform and interactive during our training sessions to make sure that all employees effectively attended their assigned training and got the most of it,” Nasr says.
And their innovative approach certainly left a mark. The Training Hub’s inspirational story of success through the difficulties of 2020 was the most voted for by you -Business Forward readers- in our campaign.