So here we are, on target to have 80% of the adult population fully vaccinated by the end of July. And although the last stage out of lockdown being pushed back to 19 July, some semblance of normality is beginning to return to our everyday lives.
At the Forum, we started the year with a sense of renewal, declaring 2021 as the ‘Year of the Entrepreneur’ based on the optimism of our members and partners, and the rise in the number of businesses that were launched during the pandemic.
Six months later, with the end of social distancing in sight and ‘normality’ back on the horizon, I can’t help but wonder: is the golden age of entrepreneurship nearing its end or is it just beginning?
For me, the last year has shown us that when faced with a deadly, invisible threat that knew no boundaries either by geography, ethnicity or class, mankind’s desire to overcome has led to some of the most outstanding scientific and medical discoveries and collaborations we have ever seen.
With time on our hands, we saw businesses form and flourish and ideas turned into a reality, while on the other end, for established entrepreneurs and businesses, 2020 offered time to reflect, not only on the state of their current businesses, but also on how they can respond and take advantage of changing consumer needs.
Of course, it’s not enough to have a business idea – funding and investment is needed too. Luckily, we’re seeing huge investment into our region and its business parks, filling entrepreneurs with optimism for the future. With more consumer confidence and more available capital, it seems securing funding is now easier for entrepreneurs at any stage of their journey.
And let’s not forget, entrepreneurs have access to more tools and technologies than ever before. The mass adoption of technology such as Zoom, Teams and Skype has meant we’re able to continue ‘business as normal’ wherever we are in the world – information, direction and support is available to entrepreneurs at the touch of a button.
The office, while a topic of much debate, has had a shake-up with many office-based businesses declaring their preference for hybrid working with communal working spaces. Entrepreneurs exploring new ventures can start businesses without needing to invest in their own office spaces – we’ve seen, and we’ve proven, that we can do business anywhere, whether it’s your dining table, spare bedroom or even a shed!
Efficiency was reported to improve during the first lockdown, presumably because of newfound flexibility and perhaps increased competitiveness to demonstrate that one was doing a great job, despite the lack of physical office presence. Work-life balance became a hot topic for conversation, as both entrepreneurs and their teams tried to navigate new ways of working and sustain a healthy lifestyle.
In a similar vein, we have seen a huge emphasis placed on wellbeing. As large sections of workers began to operate from home, the reality of what isolation and solitude would do to some people’s mental and physical health began to surface. Most enlightened employers, including many SMEs, have embraced this and are actively finding new ways to support their teams.
Of course, there have been challenges too. The business world has been forced to make some unprecedented decisions, many became a choice of whether to close, pivot or drive for growth. And for the entrepreneur themselves, where, for many the line between professional and personal lives is blurred, this level of risk is heightened.
This reminds me of the strong message Sir Martin Sorrell shared with Forum members during our recent Journey event - that is, we need to "get on with it", as entrepreneurs do.
I’m an optimist – like many of members of the Forum. The last year has been a learning curve for us all. Businesses across the North East have responded and adjusted to the challenges of the new working world.
As we enter a new phase of work and life, and navigate what our new world will look like, I’m confident that entrepreneurship in the North East is stronger than ever before. With our can-do attitude and willingness to give everything a go, it’s clear to me that the golden age of entrepreneurship is here and will long continue.