Tom Still: Innovation contest may confirm ‘legend’ of small business adaptability | Business News

One of the oft-repeated generalizations about small business owners is their universal adaptability to change. Legend would have you believe that economic Darwinism is bred into every small business owner, making them genetically wired to come back from any adversity.

If only it were true. Small businesses fail all the time. It’s not often because owners lack tenacity or a willingness to pivot, but they are nonetheless overcome by competition, troubles finding good workers, unseen regulations, bad locations, their own management woes and more.

These days, the “more” is the COVID-19 pandemic.

Owners of traditionally customer-facing businesses — restaurants, taverns, retail stores and personal care businesses — have found themselves with far fewer customers to physically face. The same goes for other sectors, even for many young firms in the tech-based economy, where surveys have shown pessimism about surviving three or six months from now if conditions don’t improve.

The “We’re All Innovating” contest sponsored by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and produced with the help of the Wisconsin Technology Council is an attempt to improve those conditions by tapping into the legend — and the reality — of small business adaptability.

Facing a short deadline to creatively invest $3 million in federal CARES Act money, leaders in WEDC asked whether a platform used by the Tech Council since 2004, the Governor’s Business Plan Contest, could itself be adapted to accommodate a competitive process for distributing grants to innovative small businesses.

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