Did the pandemic spark a flurry of innovation or was everyone too busy bingeing Tiger King and Outerbanks and Zooming to endless happy hours to launch new businesses and products? Dean Paul Jarley turns to UCF’s entrepreneurial in-house experts along with an alum whose company helps startups grow and scale to find out the answer.
- Caroline Castille – CEO, Clickable Impact
- Cameron Ford, Ph.D. – Associate Professor, Management; Founding Director, Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and StarterLab
Director, UCF Blackstone LaunchPad
- Carol Ann Dykes Logue – Director, Programs & Operations Innovation Districts & Incubation Program, UCF Business Incubation Program
- Michael Pape, Ph.D. – Dr. Phillips Entrepreneur in Residence; Professor of Practice, Management
Caroline Castille: I think we’re going to see a lot of more entrepreneurial people out there who are more hunt-to-kill type of people instead of grazers, just worker bees in the company, which I love. That’s going to make more people, not only in control of their lives, but it’s going to make the economy even stronger.
Paul Jarley: Did I just get called a grazer? When did that become a thing?
Paul Jarley: This show is all about separating hype from fundamental change. I’m Paul Jarley, Dean of the College of Business here at UCF. I’ve got lots of questions. To get answers, I’m talking to people with interesting insights into the future of business. Have you ever wondered, “Is this really a thing?” Onto our show.
Paul Jarley: My sense is, in talking to a lot of faculty and editors, that submissions to journals in terms of research were down during the pandemic. And I think part of it was because people didn’t have access to subjects like they might normally have if they were doing certain kinds of research. Some of it, I think, was just the general angst people had. And then maybe third, people didn’t get together in groups, maybe, as much, and to the extent that sometimes ideas come out of group conversations. And then it got me thinking as to whether or not there’s sort of a similar phenomenon with respect to innovation and entrepreneurship.
Paul Jarley: To answer that fuzzy question, I assembled today’s panel of experts. Caroline Castille is a UCF grad, a finalist in the 2014 version of the Joust, and a serial entrepreneur. Cameron Ford is the founding Director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at UCF, and an associate professor in our Department of Management. Carol Ann Dykes Logue is Director of Programs and Operations at the UCF Innovations District and Incubation Program. And Dr. Michael Pape is the Dr. Phillips entrepreneur and residence in the Department of Management, and serves as the director of the UpStart Student Venture Accelerator at UCF. Mike, let’s start with you. Did innovation go up or down as a result of the pandemic?
Michael Pape: One way that we measure innovation, which is a new way to do things, at least with a solid metric, is patent submissions. So I was interested in this, been reading about this, and if you look at patent submissions, they kept going up and up and up, the USPTO, the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Michael Pape: They publish all these stats every year. If you look through, they started the plateau in 2016, interestingly enough-
Paul Jarley: Before the pandemic, yeah.
Michael Pape: Yeah, and they’ve stayed pretty flat, but that’s sort of a gross aggregate, obviously. And that’s just the U.S. But I did see that in other countries, they had actually an increase in the number of patent applications, depending, again, what’s your point of reference as you try to interpret this?
Michael Pape: But one interesting thing that came out since… I went to University of Chicago, I get some of the publications and read a paper put out by some of the researchers there, they published a paper in American Economic Association Journal. They looked at the number of patents that were filed were related to work from home. They looked at 3.5 million patents from 2010 to 2021, and they used the keywords “remote” “work from home,” et cetera, et cetera. And then they looked at the number of patents per year, and they found that there was an average, like 0.5% of all patents were related to that as the baseline. And then when 2020, 2021 hit, it almost more than doubled. So it was people… So is that innovation, or is it people who were just sitting on those patents? Of course, that’s difficult to know. So was there an increase in innovation, or was it just people moving forward?
Paul Jarley: Carol Ann, what’s your perspective?
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: BC, Before COVID, to me, there was a collective lack of appreciation for the technology innovations and the capability of technologies that we all have at our fingertips before then. We just took it for granted. It was not always incremental, but it just kind of creeped up in our lives and we got used to it, and we learned what we had to learn, how to use technology. So that was one thing.
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: Second, to me, there was a pretty, and it’s human nature, that there’s pretty generally when you look at a problem, or you experience a problem, you see it from a very self-centered, self-focused perspective and with little appreciation for the shared humanity that has the same problem. Pretty often, we just don’t tend to, in general, think about other populations, other countries. People don’t think that way in general. And the incentive and the view that there was great potential, and therefore a motivation to take the risk, we know we’ve always had entrepreneurs, but there was an interesting dynamic, to me, that happened during COVID in the number of people willing to take some risk after a certain time in the pandemic.
Paul Jarley: Do you think it went up or down, Carol Ann?
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: It went down, and then it shot back up.
Paul Jarley: Why do you think that’s true?
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: Think back to what happened in spring of 2020, and everybody, globally, just… We were all thrown into such massive change, massive uncertainty about life as we thought we knew it, that it became about just surviving. And it was hard for anybody… For most, it was hard to feel secure enough to take that risk. Unless you already had a job where that’s what you had to do, you’re working for a company like [inaudible 00:06:01], and you know got a problem and you got the money to pour into it. So this is more of an individual innovator entrepreneur perspective, but even companies too. Because a lot of our companies in the Incubator, we quickly switched our focus to coaching and advising and supporting them in growth, to supporting them in survival. In many cases, that meant downsizing and all of that, and reducing risk even more, not taking risk.
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: But after a point in time, once they got a feel for, “All right, this is our new world. We don’t know how long this is… Clearly, it’s going to go on for a while. We don’t know how long. We’ve right sized. We’ve got our cash flow under control. We’ve found some new opportunities. How do we move forward then?” And we had entrepreneurs coming to us during all this that, all of a sudden, they saw an opportunity for something that they’ve been thinking about and realized, “There’s a whole lot of people that have this problem,” and ideas that individuals had had, or companies had had, for products and services, to Mike’s comment, that related to virtual meetings and work from home, remote workers, offsite workforce, virtual companies, pretty much. All of a sudden, they realized, “Now’s the time.”
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: And I just think the awareness of global population in general of technology was heightened, plus an awareness that we’re all humans. We all had a shared experience. I’ve not seen anything else like that in my lifetime, where truly, it was a global shared experience, and that just changes the way you see things.
Paul Jarley: Well, necessity was certainly the mother of invention during COVID. I remember talking to Lorette on my advisory board, who sits on a number of corporate boards, and she talked about Papa John’s decision to go to contactless delivery. And she said, “In normal times, we would’ve debated that for two years before we entered that in that space,” and we did it in about 30 minutes.
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: Right. Yeah. And that’s the other thing that came to mind. I was thinking about it earlier, but I forgot, it’s that we proved that innovation doesn’t have to take so long.
Paul Jarley: Well, we saw this in our own world. Imagine, Cameron, how much debate we would’ve had in the pre-COVID environment, about having a significant percentage of our courses on Zoom. We’d still be debating that. There’s a real old joke attributed to someone who is on the board of trustees at Duke, who said if he was driving down the road and he heard that the world was going to end today, that he would immediately drive to Durham, North Carolina because everything happens a year later there. Right?
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: Good.
Cameron Ford: Yeah.
Paul Jarley: But I remember being in a meeting with our provost when the pandemic was just starting, saying, “Well, we might have to consider in six or seven weeks that we might have to go to an alternate contactless form of delivery for higher ed.” And that happened a day and a half later. And we just turned a switch, and we just decided to live with that for a while. Now, at the time, we thought maybe it’d be a week or a month, or maybe a couple of months, and it turned out to be a lot longer than that. But yeah, to your point, Carol Ann, I mean, I think things that we thought we couldn’t do, we learned how to do really fast.
Cameron Ford: I think it’s an important distinction, I think that speaks to both with Carol Ann and Mike been talking about, is a distinction in invention and innovation.
Paul Jarley: Yeah.
Cameron Ford: Because invention is actually coming up with a creative solution. And like Mike said, they came up with the technology for mRNA vaccines quite a while ago. This innovation is usually measured in terms of diffusion and use of inventions. And that’s usually where entrepreneurs contribute. They don’t typically invent something that’s completely new. They’re the ones that help to provide it to the market and make it more available. So I think the dynamic going into COVID probably had less to do with the pace of invention than it did with windows of opportunities slamming down and other ones sliding up really fast. It’s like suddenly, just something just couldn’t happen. Bam, window goes down. And now, it’s like, people are looking around, trying to figure out what innovations are available that we might be able to use to still get stuff done. So vaccinations, almost a miraculous kind of pace of delivery on those. There were existing fairly large scale delivery services. Those things were able to be scaled up even further to help a lot of restaurants stay in business.
Cameron Ford: But the invention part does kind come back again at the back end of that, because when those windows slam shut, Mike referenced some restaurants and stuff that completely had to pivot, and you have to figure out how to make do with what you have. “We can’t do what we used to do, but we have a lot of resources, and we have some skills. What else could we do with those things to still create value?” The pace of invention probably didn’t change a lot in those before times and during times, but the rate of adoption greatly accelerated in certain areas around medical technology, drone use delivery services, software service, things that facilitated people working from home, working on projects together. A lot of things like that, that blew up.
Paul Jarley: Listen to Caroline talk about windows slamming shut and opening with two of her companies bSteps, which sells dance shoes, and Flightpath, which markets a high tech golf team.
Caroline Castille: It was rough for the dance market, let me tell you. On the marketing side, were people actually dancing? Not really. Not in the ways that we used to market too, which was, you could dance anywhere, and people love to go to dance festivals. They love to go to the club, whatever, and you could wear these shoes anywhere. That’s our value prop. It has all the performance features, et cetera. Not a lot of people were buying. So we said, “Hey, we’re going to pivot, and we’re going to offer classes online.” So we have about 30 influencers plus, and we booked a dance class every week with our influencers. And that was one big pivot that did help to bring sales in until COVID resolved itself, and then we started selling a lot of shoes again.
Caroline Castille: Going up, I mean, for Flightpath, one of the reasons why we were able to sell a golf tee and sell so much of it so fast in its first year was because people were playing golf more. There was a huge increase in golf.
Paul Jarley: This is hard for me to say, because I haven’t gotten used to this idea yet, but my grandson… Okay, I actually have two, I still make them call me Dean Jarley, because I don’t want to be called grandpa.
Caroline Castille: [inaudible 00:13:02].
Paul Jarley: Everybody under the age of 18 has to call me Dean Jarley, so that’s what I [inaudible 00:13:07]
Caroline Castille: Oh my goodness. Oh, wow.
Paul Jarley: But Henry is an avid golfer, because, to your point, all kids’ sports were shut down, except for golf. So there’s been this enormous increase in golf among seven to 10 year olds.
Caroline Castille: Yes.
Paul Jarley: It’s crazy-
Caroline Castille: Yes.
Paul Jarley: … how much. So good product at the right time there.
Caroline Castille: Yeah. Exactly. It’s crazy how much any golfer will invest into something that will make them incrementally better.
Paul Jarley: So let me go through four factors that I think have defined a post pandemic environment, and I’d like each of you to comment on whether or not you think they had a meaningful and/or lasting impact. Has the increase in liquidity led to more deals, more deal flow, more encouragement for entrepreneurship? Less? Doesn’t matter? Carol Ann?
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: Absolutely more. Investment groups that never would’ve talked to us before from Nevada, from New York, from Boston, from Atlanta, from Texas, from California… I think part of it is because, all of a sudden, Florida’s this big, bright spotlight out there. Companies are flocking to Florida, brings that, and brings in investment, attention. And we’re getting inquiries from groups that never would’ve talked to us before. And we have a record number of clients, I would say, that are securing investment, cap equity investment.
Paul Jarley: Caroline’s company, Clickable Impact, is even taking equity positions in firms in place of payment for services.
Caroline Castille: So Clickable Impact is a social media marketing agency. One of our top services is email on performance, where we do email and text message marketing for a percentage of revenue for e-commerce stores. So very niche service. And then the only other thing we do is we just do special partnerships or JVs with different companies. We might invest into them, own a piece, or just be a service provider where we have some kind of skin in the game. Maybe it’s-
Paul Jarley: You will take an equity position as part of a service contract?
Caroline Castille: Yes.
Paul Jarley: So Cameron, another source of financial resources for a lot of small business is home equity. Did unrealized gains in the housing market result in more small business start up? Do you think that had an impact or will have an impact over the next year, or not?
Cameron Ford: Over the next years would be hard to say, because, obviously, they’re raising interest rates dramatically, with the intent of trying to flatten out housing prices and make loans more expensive, so that home equity thing may be kind of more of a blip than anything longer term that people can count on. Obviously, the folks that Mike and I are working with are students tend to not be homeowners and have that as an asset to draw from. So I don’t have a lot of insight into that.
Cameron Ford: I did want to just echo though what Carol Ann was saying about the risk capital investment domain. I mean, it really has gone up by a lot. I’m looking at a bunch of charts on my screen right now, and a huge increase in investment funding recently. And also, Blackstone, one of our patrons that supports our students here at UCF, is opening up a huge office in Miami. And they’re making a big investment in our educational efforts here in Florida as well in parallel with that. And I think that’s going to make a huge difference, having an 800 pound gorilla private equity company like that anchored in South Florida, along with a lot of the really good things we’ve seen with the growth of the venture capital community in Florida as well.
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: Yeah.
Cameron Ford: I think from that standpoint, from a risk capital investment standpoint, I think the future there looks pretty bright. Carol Ann, if you would agree with that or not, but-
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: Yeah. Yeah, totally. Totally. Because once that dynamic changes of the investor world nationally and even internationally, realizing that Florida’s not a swamp land, that there really are investable companies here and deals accelerate, it’s picking up speed. It’s not going to slow down anytime soon.
Paul Jarley: How about The Great Resignation? One of the things that’s puzzled me over the last year or so is, where did all those people go? Carol had mentioned labor shortages that we’re seeing now. Did a bunch of them decide to be entrepreneurs and start their own business? Is there any evidence of that?
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: First thought was fortunately not.
Cameron Ford: Yeah. I was going to say the same thing.
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: Yeah. But that’s a true statement, at least where I sit in the world, my little microcosm. I didn’t see this sudden rush of people that, all of a sudden, decided to be an entrepreneur. We haven’t had anybody show up at our door that hadn’t already been thinking about, or hadn’t already started on something.
Paul Jarley: Caroline has a different take on The Great Resignation.
Caroline Castille: We live in the era of The Great Resignation, for now. And I think that’s just because people are now able to see what it’s like being at home, but also what it’s like seeing other cultures, work cultures. I don’t think it’s just because people want to work at home. I think it’s because people just now can see that they were just in a sucky work culture, a sucky company culture. And now, they can see, “Oh, there are other opportunities with these companies. I’m going to go there.”
Paul Jarley: And then finally, changes in the fortunes of companies that are publicly traded. So right now, a lot of the tech companies who were the solution during the pandemic, because everybody was home, think the Netflix of the world, or the meal delivery services of the world, are kind of taking it on the chin. And a number of companies that specialize in experiences are having a good run. Is that likely to change the nature of entrepreneurship and what entrepreneurs look at over the next few years, or do you also think that’s sort of meaningless in this process?
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: Are you asking change whether or not entrepreneurs consider going public maybe?
Paul Jarley: No, no. I’m asking whether or not it’s going to encourage some forms of innovation rather than others.
Carol Ann Dykes Logue:Innovation, oh. Oh, okay.
Cameron Ford:There’s a long-term trend, I don’t know the exact numbers, but that the 10-year churn in the Fortune 500-
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: 500.
Cameron Ford: … it used to be like around maybe 30% would change over a decade [inaudible 00:19:51]
Paul Jarley: Yeah.
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: Yeah.
Paul Jarley: Yeah, yeah.
Cameron Ford: … where now, it’s like 70%.
Paul Jarley: Wow. Really?
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: Yeah. Right.
Cameron Ford: And a lot of that’s because of mergers and acquisitions and other stuff like that. It’s not all that stuff just vaporizes. But the name plates at the top of the companies changes a lot within a decade, so you’re seeing a much more rapid churn in membership in the upper echelons of the corporate world. Which to go back to the point Mike was making earlier, I mean, I think the overarching value of our entrepreneurship education efforts is really to help our students become professionally agile and to be able to move around from various kinds of startups, or small companies, or big companies and then hopefully playing a positive role there, and then maybe moving out of that, and maybe having a side hustle. There are so many different ways, I think, our students are going to have to navigate their career paths that are so different from folks my age, certainly.
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: Yeah.
Cameron Ford: They had a much more linear notion of what that might look like. I think our students are going to be doing a lot more weaving and bobbing, these windows going up and down, like I saying before.
Carol Ann Dykes Logue: Yeah.
Cameron Ford: Trying to be able to sustain a financially and personally successful career. So I think a lot of things that… If you think of entrepreneurship as a method, you can apply to a lot of different kinds of problems. I think that’s one of the things we’re trying to contribute to the world is to empower our students that way.
Paul Jarley: So if I were to summarize the one thing I’ve heard from this conversation that I think might have the most lasting impact was Cameron’s comment about diffusion, and that diffusion clearly excel-