2020 could be the year of the startup. As record numbers of people in the more than $3 trillion hospitality, travel and meetings industry have lost their job due to cancelled events, many may turn to their side hustle to pay the rent.

“Dive in,” is the advice of Leith Martin, executive director of Troesh Center of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UNLV Lee Business School. He should know. He is a serial entrepreneur himself and an advisor for Lee School Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “In general, doing something productive provides hope and focus,” he says.

When there is disruption in the system, there is an opportunity for innovation, he explains. And that crazy idea could just make the meetings industry better in the process.

Despite the extreme pain in the hospitality world right now, the sector needs to experiment and find new ways to bring people together because it will pay an important role in the recovery of the larger economy, Martin says, adding, “We are all starved for a sense of normalcy right now, and meetings can help feed that.”

It could be up to these accidental entrepreneurs to deliver human connection in new ways.

Hierarchy of Entrepreneurial Needs

No business is born in a vacuum. Following are the boxes hospitality bosses need to check to build a strong foundation.

Time it carefully: You can’t outexecute market conditions. Martin tells a quick story. He had a group of students who came up with a box fitted with a UV light nestled in a gaming table that sanitized poker chips. There was no market for this idea a few years ago. Now, he is pretty sure they will get funded.

Build the team: This is one of the primary determinations of success, according to Martin and many others. A good team can pivot and make things work that wouldn’t otherwise, and a bad team can sink it when partners don’t get along and everything falls apart.

Identify innovative submarkets: New markets open when conditions change. Martin gives the example of the sudden “pivot” to virtual meetings. People now have the equipment and comfort with the idea of attending streaming meetings. But the last three months have also highlighted the shortfalls of current technology. “How do we improve hybrid environments and maximize the benefit for those who can’t or don’t want to travel in the future?” he asks. That is a viable submarket.

Plan for customer acquisition: Every company has to find customers and take care of them, regardless of the industry. Identify how people who need your goods or services will find you. For candidates in the Lee School Prize Shark Tank-style competition, celebrity judges Mark Davis (NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders owner), William P. Foley II (NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights owner), Bill Hornbuckle (MGM Resorts International acting CEO) and chef Wolfgang Puck are all experts in their fields and potential customers.

Secure funding: Many business owners blame lack of funding for their failure, but usually that is an indication of a problem somewhere else, Martin observes.