By Saranjit Sangar, EMEA CEO
Covid has resulted in a surge in entrepreneurship. According to the Centre for Entrepreneurs, the number of UK start-ups reached a record high in 2020. In total, 772,002 new businesses were created last year, up 13% from 2019.
With millions staying at home during lockdown, many used the opportunity to start new companies. As a result, the number of online retail start-ups increased by 105% in 2020 and, according to separate analysis by Tech Nation for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sports, a new technology business was created every half an hour last year.
It appears this significant uptick has inspired a new wave of UK entrepreneurs. Research undertaken this month by upGrad shows more than 2.6 million Brits under the age of 40 plan to start a new business in the next two years, signalling that a start-up boom may be on the horizon.
Women aged 18-30 appear to be right at the forefront of new business creation, with 42% of those planning to start a new business claiming they will do so in the next 12 months.
While this upward trend is positive, women are routinely hitting hurdles preventing them from starting and growing a business. While some fall into the systemic category – including bias which sees pitches by women get less funding than identical pitches to men, even when the slides, script and proposition is the same – other barriers can be tackled to help even more women break through into business.
Next wave of business owners motivated by more than money
While wealth generation continues to be important to entrepreneurs, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a new motivation for female business owners – flexibility.
In response to the global shift to working from home, employees have, in many instances, been afforded greater flexibility and autonomy. The post-Covid ‘remote working revolution’ has seen workplaces transform their policies around physical presenteeism in offices and working hours which many believe should become standard practice. Indeed, as recently as last month, Deloitte was the latest organisation to announce it was allowing staff to work from home permanently.
As a working mother, I have found the change to be particularly empowering. While it is certainly useful to have time in the office each week, being able to juggle my priorities as a businesswoman and mother has felt easier to balance. I’ve been able to enjoy small moments during the day – like sitting down to lunch with my family or putting my daughter to bed – which I would have not been able to do before the pandemic. I would find it difficult to give that up, as would many parents and others with caring responsibilities around the UK.
The pandemic has resulted in another key motivator for female entrepreneurs – the opportunity to take on a new challenge and solve problems. This has resulted in an increase in the number of conscious entrepreneurs driven by people’s changing needs and behaviours. Since the start of the first lockdown, we have seen a swathe of new businesses created specifically to rise to the many challenges this created, so it is perhaps unsurprising that others want to follow in their footsteps.
The number of new businesses selling sporting goods increased by 98% year on year – a by-product of only being allowed outside to exercise. Similarly, businesses selling games/toys increased by 89% and the number businesses selling flowers, plants and seeds increased by 75%.
Start-up success hampered by lack of knowledge
Despite the huge number of new start-ups on the market, reports predict that 60% of new businesses fail within their first three years. From not having a business plan and cash flow problems, right through to lack of understanding of the marketplace and business concepts, there are many reasons why a business might fail in its infancy.
For women considering starting a business, it is not lack of funds, but a lack of knowledge holding them back from taking their idea to market. According to upGrad’s research, more than a third said that they have a good business idea, but simply do not know where to start. Not knowing how to launch a business also tops the poll as the biggest challenge holding women back from becoming entrepreneurs.
The emergence of this knowledge gap is cause for concern as it will ultimately result in more failed businesses. The good news is that there is a solution – upskilling.
Build a strong foundation with the right skills
Before conducting research and developing a business plan, it is important to build a strong foundation. This involves building the knowledge and skills needed to create and run a business, which will help increase confidence levels when it comes to decision making.
Top tips for identifying and learning the right skills to become an entrepreneur:
- Observe other entrepreneurs and map their skills/experience
Considering the skills of entrepreneurs that you admire in business can be a useful exercise in helping to pin down the experience and attributes which have helped to make them successful. Overlaying this with your own skills will help you to identify areas for improvement where you may want to undertake some additional training.
- Fill any gaps
Consider taking a course or qualification built specifically for entrepreneurs, such as upGrad’s Entrepreneur’s Programme. These programmes have been specifically tailored to help individuals build the specific skills needed to successfully start a new business. To take upGrad as an example, the offer includes:
- Business building methodology – including new business sprints
- Mentorship and networking – the chance to learn from a network of founders, business owners and like-minded peers
- Lifetime support – to draw on expertise at any point in your business journey
- Playbooks and resources – so that you can focus on growing your business without reinventing the wheel
Remember that there is no such thing as a job for life anymore! You should review your skills at least once a year to ensure you are continuing to learn, develop and grow in-line with your business.
- Find a mentor
A well-chosen mentor can be invaluable. Remember that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work and that doing your research and being proactive can pay dividends. This could be done in person at networking events, or through channels such as LinkedIn. Taking myself as an example, I have built a network of mentors by approaching people with traits or careers that I admire. I will seek advice from different mentors depending on the advice that I require, which has helped to stand me in very good stead over the course of my career.