A closer look at entrepreneurship during COVID-19

Holly Branson on a panel with female entrepreneurs
David Watts
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 28 May 2020

As part of our Business as Unusual series, I reached out to Virgin StartUp’s Managing Director Andy Fishburn to learn more about how coronavirus pandemic is impacting entrepreneurs.

It was a fascinating chat and we discussed everything from emerging trends for small businesses to the compelling case for starting a business during this time, how businesses can adapt and acclimatise, the future landscape for start-ups, and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 upon female founders. It was really inspiring to hear Andy’s thoughtful optimism. As Andy put it himself: “It’s a difficult time for a lot of businesses at the moment, but the future is bright.”

Here’s a few key points I took away from our discussion...

1. There’s a compelling case for starting a business right now

Entrepreneurs thrive in complex situations where they can use their ability to think differently, see what is needed in the world and create new solutions. As Andy put it himself: “Entrepreneurial minded people will always find opportunities and now is arguably as good a time as ever to start a business.”

Holly Branson and Andy Fishburn interview

In fact, Virgin StartUp have seen a big increase in interest from people looking to start new businesses, as people are finally finding the time to turn existing ideas into business plans.

Holly Branson and Andy Fishburn interview

If you’re one of these budding entrepreneurs, here’s three pieces of advice from Andy: 

  • Think lean: Keep it simple, prioritise what’s important and focus on products or services with minimal outlay.

  • Add-value: People expect more from businesses than ever before - how can your business give back?

  • Tell your story: Share your business journey with your community and keep your communications really honest and personal.

2. Female entrepreneurs are being hit harder

It was concerning but sadly not surprising to hear that businesses founded by women are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. According to Andy: “Anyone who is entrepreneurially underrepresented, when you have an incident like this, it’s those people and those groups that are most impacted.” Virgin StartUp has already seen a drop in funding applications from women since the pandemic began, but the team is more motivated than ever to level the playing field. 

Image from BBC Sounds
Image from BBC Sounds

Last year Virgin StartUp became the first business funder to commit to funding an equal number of men and women founders. Prior to COVID-19, Virgin StartUp was more than doubling the national average with 43 per cent of their funding allocated to women. However, during the first six weeks of lockdown, Virgin StartUp’s funding applications from women dropped to as low as 23 per cent. It’s so important that we support women and other underrepresented entrepreneurs during this time and it’s encouraging to see Virgin StartUp more committed than ever to their 50:50 gender pledge.

3. The changes and trends to entrepreneurship coming out of COVID-19

It was fascinating to hear Andy’s observations on how the start-up landscape is shifting. New trends are emerging and Virgin StartUp believe that entrepreneurship will look a little different in a post-coronavirus world, with more businesses acting as a force for good. In Andy’s words: “As we look to rebuild things – communities, the economy and the world more broadly – we’re going to look to businesses to lead the way on that. There’s an opportunity to rebuild better businesses, more purposeful business and more sustainable businesses in the future. Start-ups will absolutely be the ones leading the way on that.”

While small businesses are becoming increasingly purpose-driven, it looks like businesses are also becoming increasingly digital, and embracing agile business models that allows them to quickly adapt to new environments.

Virgin StartUp
Virgin StartUp

In unsettling times, it’s so encouraging to hear how entrepreneurship is evolving and playing an important role in re-building economies and communities. As Andy said: “Whenever you have a period like this, new opportunities do arise from it.” I couldn’t agree more.

If you want to learn more, check out more from our Business As Unusual series. If you’re a budding entrepreneur yourself, it’s well worth reaching out to Virgin StartUp for some support!