Now is as good a time as any to be starting a business, according to Virgin StartUp's Managing Director, Andy Fishburn.

Virgin StartUp Managing Director Andy Fishburn

Despite the challenging times ahead as the UK eases itself out of lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, Virgin StartUp's Managing Director, Andy Fishburn, has been heartened by the entrepreneurial spirit of many in the Virgin StartUp community.

In a video chat with Holly Branson, Andy talked about emerging business trends, how businesses are adapting and what the future will look like.

Andy said: “It’s a difficult time for a lot of businesses at the moment, but the future is bright.

“Entrepreneurially-minded people always find opportunities and now is arguably as good a time as ever to start a business. When things are changing, new opportunities present themselves.

“One of the interesting things, actually, has been the number of established businesses within our community that have been forced to do things differently – they’ve been forced to take their offline businesses online and what they’re saying is it’s allowed them to reconnect with their start-up mentality and has forced them to be lean, to be agile and to think about how they can do things better going forward.”

Andy revealed that the organisation has seen an increase in new businesses starting out during lockdown, adding: “At first we had an influx of requests for support from existing businesses looking to adapt and for follow-on funding. They were looking to sure up their existing business. In recent weeks, we’ve actually had a real increase in people looking to start new businesses.

“A lot of people will think, at a time like this with much uncertainty around, that people perhaps wouldn’t be starting businesses. Actually, what we’ve found is quite the opposite. People who have lost employment elsewhere [are] now looking at self-employment or starting a business as a really good option for them.

“People who have perhaps used their time on furlough to focus on an idea that they’ve always had but had sat on a shelf somewhere - they’ve now had the time to say ‘you know what, I’m absolutely going to make a go of this’.”

Unfortunately, Andy believes the pandemic will have an impact on underrepresented groups, including women, starting up their own businesses, but reaffirmed Virgin StartUp’s commitment to equal funding. 

“Sadly, I think we will see an impact of the pandemic on the number of women receiving support and funding,” Andy said. “Only one in five businesses in the UK has a female founder, but actually the further you go on a start-up journey, the wider that gap grows. In the UK last year, only 10% of venture capital money went to women who had a woman co-founder; less than 3% of the money went into business that were founded solely by women.

“We came out last year with our 50/50 pledge and we’ve committed by the end of 2020 to get to equality in terms of the funding we’re distributing at Virgin StartUp to really try and level that playing field. We’re making really good progress. In the months leading up to lockdown, 43% of the businesses that we were funding – more than double the national average – were founded by women. Sadly, what we’ve seen in the two months since is that the number has actually dropped to close to 25%. Anyone who is entrepreneurially underrepresented, when you have an incident like this, it’s those people and those groups that are most impacted.

“It reinstates the need for us to stand by our 50/50 pledge. We know it isn’t going to be easy, but we knew that last year when we made this pledge. Having it up there, it focuses our attention.”

Looking ahead, Andy sees a lot of good in the start-ups sprouting up during the crisis, which can only be a good thing for the world of business.

He added: “One of the things that has been really great to see is actually the number of businesses that have started putting a purpose at the heart of what they do - and people are looking to say ‘how do we use business as a real force for good?’. Whether that’s supporting frontline workers, whether it’s adding value to the community and supporting one another, or collaborations between small businesses.”

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