Video conferencing has changed what is possible to achieve in business communications. It makes partners out of people on opposite sides of the globe without either having to set foot on a plane. It lets companies speak face-to-face with customers without ever opening a storefront. It lets team members collaborate on the same project, at the same time, without ever having to leave their homes.
Those tools aren’t the exclusive domain of well-established big businesses, either. They’re available to anyone with an internet connection, a webcam, and a free Skype account, and they can be used to start a business from scratch as effectively as they can keep one running.
Video conferencing for startups offers a cheap, effective access to nearly everything a new venture needs, from funding to employees to clients and customers. In fact, video conferencing has become such an essential tool that banks are making sure the startups they support are equipped to communicate via video.
Video Conferencing for Startups
The Bank of Ireland is one financial backer that is putting video conferencing in the hands of its newest investments. The bank has opened a series of startup business “incubators” in New York, Dublin, and Galway. These StartLabs offer offices, meeting rooms, and video conferencing equipment to fledgling entrepreneurs. The digital technology’s reach means supplying desk space for 50 people provides a launching pad for up to 15 independent new businesses. VC Daily has discussed the advantages of shared video conferencing resources before, and if the Bank of Ireland is going to give everyone their own private equipment, that’s even better.
The StartLabs are situated above bank branches, but they function like any other office. Each startup gets a brick-and-mortar presence to entertain potential investors and partners, and room to spread their financial blueprints out all over their desks.
More importantly, though, the video conferencing equipment–and we’re going to assume it’s the shiny HD variety since banks aren’t typically short on funds–gives each business a digital presence to project an image of professionalism to clients, potential employees, venture capitalists–anyone who would be interested.
Starting a Business Has Never Been Easier
The advent of digital technologies like video conferencing means it is easier than ever before to start a new business. The internet has become a thriving marketplace, with global e-commerce generating more than $2 trillion annually. Space on this digital Main Street is unlimited, while the cost of building and hosting a website from scratch comes in at around $200 a month, compared to the $3,400 you pay annually for every square foot of retail space in New York. That low cost dramatically reduces the amount of startup capital a new business needs, removing the pressure for instant success.
Today, an entire business can operate without a brick-and-mortar presence. With video conferencing as their mode of transport, employees can work together online via telecommuting–40% of Americans already do at least some of the time.
So, tucked away in their Bank of Ireland incubator, a startup team heading a virtual business could use video conferencing to:
- Meet face-to-face with potential investors with zero travel costs
- Source, interview, and recruit employees located anywhere in the country
- Speak to clients personally regardless of location
- Provide customer service over a web-based video link
- Keep their business operating 24 hours a day with a global team of employees
- Source and interact with accountants, advisors, marketing experts, and financial planners from any location
That final point goes to the heart of what the Bank of Ireland is really offering startup entrepreneurs–an on-call mentor. With video conferencing, that relationship can continue to flourish once the young startups have flown the bank’s nest.
Video Conference Mentors
The business world is littered with self-help books, how-to-succeed seminars, and financial planning guides. None of those aids can react to the everyday realities of a growing business. None of them can have a quiet word with you at the end of a hectic day.
Increasingly, though, video conferencing is being used to establish long-term business mentoring partnerships. Under such arrangements, experienced, often retired business people make themselves available for regular video chats to pass on their wisdom. They provide connections, shortcuts, legal and financial insights, or just encouragement and a shoulder to cry on.
The Bank of Ireland currently offers mentoring to the young professionals within its StartLabs, but the relationship only lasts as long as the startups are in the program, six months at the most. Six months may be a long time in a quickly changing digital world, but it isn’t long in the life of a successful business, and it isn’t long enough to develop the kind of relationship that can truly help sustain a promising small business. Perhaps that initial mentoring could grow along with the business even after it leaves the space provided by the bank by moving over to a video conferencing platform. A long-term investment of this kind in startup businesses, beyond just the few months in the bank’s space, could increase the success rates of these startups and impact young entrepreneurs in a serious way. A few moments of regular availability could be just as important as a free office in giving a young businessperson an advantage in getting their dream off the ground.