When Kathryn Rudloff accepted her new role as executive director of weVENTURE, the Bisk College of Business’ women’s business center, in January, she expected the usual challenges: Learning the ins and outs of the university. Building trust and rapport with her employees. Making important decisions.
She did not, however, anticipate leading a new team through the unfamiliar territory of a worldwide pandemic during her first 90 days.
Still, she’s done just that. And here, Rudloff provides insight into finding a way when business as usual gets quarantined.
As executive director, how are you helping your organization navigate these uncertain times?
As a Small Business Administration (SBA)-funded local community partner, weVENTURE is on the frontlines of helping small businesses respond to the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.
Our staff is working remotely, and all our consultations and programs are now entirely virtual. We remain available to help businesses understand the disaster recovery programs available to them, help them decide what to apply for and work with them as they reassess their business and plan for moving forward in this new normal.
As executive director, I believe my role is to provide the staff with leadership and structure to ensure we are able to continue to effectively serve the high volume of businesses seeking our help. We have implemented daily check-ins and other procedures to ensure we are all communicating and working together despite our physical separation.
What message do you have for small business owners who are struggling right now?
I encourage them to stay connected to the community. Whether you join weVENTURE sessions or other online meetings hosted by business groups or socially as friends. Don’t get stuck with your head down, wallowing in your own anxiety. We must stay connected and talk about working through this as a community. It is one thing to be physically isolated; it is another to think you are going through this alone.
The COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything we have ever seen. Are there past experiences or historical instances that have set any type of precedent for how entrepreneurs and small businesses should proceed? If not, from where do you and your team develop your guidance?
While many Florida businesses are used to temporary shutdowns and interruptions in their business operations due to hurricanes, this current health crisis is unprecedented in the prolonged nature of the shutdowns. We have worked with a number of businesses who were prepared for a few weeks of downtime, but now that this crisis will extend through April—and into who knows how long beyond that—they are having to take more drastic measures to respond.
What is the No. 1 piece of advice you have been giving to small business owners?
As a local branch of the SBA, we have been privileged to be on calls with the administration directly and have heard the message repeated: This crisis is unprecedented because never before have all 50 states been declared in states of emergency. Nothing in our history compares to this, and we must all be patient and supportive as we work through it together.
Every entrepreneur that I speak to is panicked and wants answers now, and I am preaching patience. Every day that passes, more information is available. These new federal recovery programs are being written and implemented in real time. Avoid making rash decisions, and instead, assess your business plan and respond in a strategic, thoughtful way.
As this situation continues to unfold, what positives have you seen develop as a result?
I love working with entrepreneurs because they see opportunity where others don’t. In the midst of this crisis, we are also hearing from individuals who see opportunity to launch a new product or business. Every economic downturn results in tremendous opportunity for new businesses to capitalize on the rapid changes taking place. I can’t wait to see what new businesses we see come out of this crisis.
When the pandemic has passed, where do you see the state of business and entrepreneurship?
I believe that after riding the booming economy for the last decade, entrepreneurs will be extremely motivated to get back to business. The entrepreneurial spirit is hard to break, and many thrive in the face of adversity. In true Florida Tech spirit, the relentless pursuit of innovation will drive entrepreneurs to succeeded, no matter what obstacle they may face. I am inspired every day by the men and women we serve and honored to be in this position to help them.
Having served as an advocate for women and children in the community and political organizations as well as on multiple political campaigns, Rudloff has garnered extensive fundraising experience and connections within the local business community that have already begun to effectually serve the mission of weVENTURE, the Bisk College of Business’ women’s business center.