Business School: Entrepreneurship in the age of COVID-19

Professor Stefan Allesch-Taylor on the importance of small businesses in a time of crisis

In his third Business School column, serial entrepreneur, CBE and Professor of the Practice of Entrepreneurship at King’s College London, Stefan Allesch-Taylor, reflects on how businesses should respond to a global catastrophe – and suggests entrepreneurs will be vital in helping the world recover.

I have sat down to write this a dozen times. It seems premature to be thinking about a post-coronavirus world. It seems pointless to be discussing anything other than the bravery of front-line healthcare staff the world over, and of course, the heroic efforts of our NHS. It seems premature to be talking about anything other than how we can help, right here and right now, to slow and ultimately stop this virus.

Professor Stefan Allesch-Taylor

Professor Stefan Allesch-Taylor

The overwhelming majority of us can help by following the guidelines laid down by government to prevent the spread of the disease. That’s it. It’s incredibly important – and a better end of the bargain than the dedicated NHS staff have got. We need to remember that.

When I started this column a couple of months ago, I hinted that entrepreneurship wasn’t for everyone, that you needed to think about how much pressure you wanted in your own life and your appetite for ‘risk’. I talked about personality traits. I am firmly of the belief that this terrible period in our history allows entrepreneurs (and would be entrepreneurs) a period of reflection, creativity and innovation to explore what’s possible. And, as a result, this time may well prime the engine for the one thing the UK – and the world – is going to need as part of the collective long-term response to this pandemic: entrepreneurship.

All the government money in the world will not drive an economy if those with the will and the talent take a step back at a time when society needs them to take a step forward like never before. For those of you with small businesses, I completely understand your fear and dread about what this crisis means for you, your plans, and your people. I understand the hard decisions you may have already taken and the sense of utter dejection that creeps in as this continues.

But be under no illusion – when the curve flattens and people want their lives back, as much as we needed to be prepared for the onslaught of the virus, we will need to be primed and ready to go for the millions economically dispossessed by it. I am not talking about billionaires. I’m talking about the SMEs, sole traders and micro-companies that make up so much of our innovation, growth, GDP and employment. Those companies – and their leaders – are the beating heart of the country and represent its future prospects.

If this crisis teaches us anything, I hope it’s to respect those who do what they do well, as those are the people keeping the country going through all this. To every entrepreneur or small business owner facing seemingly insurmountable challenges right now I say, hang in there. We are all in the same position and, with a collective effort and practical support from the government and fellow entrepreneurs, you will be back. Maybe different, maybe leaner, but back nonetheless. I doubt you have ever had it easy but I am praying that an ocean of goodwill and willingness to preserve and build will wash over the nation on the other side of this.

For the UK and the rest of the world to come through this, each and every one of you with the skills and experience to run your own business are going to be needed like never before.

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