Teija Rautaiainen and Helena Merikoski
Research Managers at South Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences
As we now know, covid-19 halted companies business unprecedentedly quickly and unpredictably. Perhaps, micro enterprises have been the biggest sufferers of this new situation. Main reason for this is that in micro enterprises, the resources available to develop their business are relatively limited. Even though, micro enterprises have ability to change their business operations relatively agilely, they lack ability to do these changes based on customer's needs and systematically collected data.
The Covid-19 crisis forced micro-enterprises to reorient and develop their business to meet rapidly changing customer needs and expectations. This challenge has been particularly acute in the South Savo region, where 95 % of region’s 9,200 companies are small micro-enterprises. During these difficult times, one of the supporters of micro-enterprises in the region has been the Smart and Specialized South Savo – Mikro Growth (MikroX) project, which fosters the internationalisation and the growth of micro enterprises of the South Savo region.
The micro-enterprises participating in the MikroX project have a common development goal to grow their business and build a business network together with other micro enterprises in the region. In addition, each company has its own business development plan, which aims to secure the continuity of company’s business in the new normal after the covid-19 crisis. The implementation of company-specific plans have triggered by the rapid changes in the business environment caused by the covid-19 crisis. Thus, in MikroX project, 13micro-enterprises providing food services have started to develop their business by taking advantage of Lean Service Creating method and the tools offered by Service Design with the help of RDI specialists of South Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences Xamk.
Innovativeness and open-mindedness towards development are adjectives, which describe entrepreneurs participating in the MikroX project. Still, a need for systematic process, methods and tools is obvious because new product and service ideas are too often left aside, postponed or forgotten in the micro enterprises, because of their scarce development recourses.
To get business development projects up and running in participating micro enterprises, we applied Lean Service Creation canvas and Service Design Toolbox. Together these applied tools offer several business development canvases. Each canvasconsist forms for developing new services and products. These canvases were systematically and straight forwardly used in workshops were entrepreneurs and RDI specialists of MikroX projects were involved. Our aim was to help entrepreneurs to clarify their new business ideas, identify value of these ideas to customers and additionally manage the related challenges and risks.
In practice, MikroX project team organised four to five planning meetings for eachparticipating micro enterprise. The duration of these meeting were between one and two hours each. So far, entrepreneurs has been extremely grateful for the time and support they have received. The most valuable aspect of this work for entrepreneurs has been thechance, maybe for the first time, to develop systematically their business towards more and more customer-oriented products and services. In addition to company specific meetings, MikroX-project organised informal meetings for all firms, where entrepreneurs had chance to share their thoughts and support each other.
From a micro enterprise’s perspective, the key to find a way out of the covid-19 crisis is the courage totry new product and service ideas as early as possible before major investments must done. This will reduce entrepreneur's risks significantly. However, it takes courage to ask customers for feedback before a new product or service innovation is fully completed. Understanding that a product or service is neverfully prepared also helps to understand how important it is to get customers to develop services alongside the entrepreneur. Thus, a micro-enterprise saves expensive time and money, but more importantly, this makes customers loyal to entrepreneurs who serve them well, even in difficult times.