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Helping entrepreneurs to grow and thrive in 2021

To launch the 2020 UK Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report authored by Professor Mark Hart and his team at Aston University, a panel of enterprise specialists explored how the business ecosystem can help entrepreneurs to build back better after Covid.

Last updated: 08 Sep 2021 4 min read

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Despite a turbulent 18 months, the new UK Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report supported by NatWest has revealed some encouraging trends. While the UK economy in 2020/21 was undoubtedly hit hard by the pandemic, the indomitable spirit of enterprise among the country’s entrepreneurs held firm. 

To explore how government and the business support ecosystem might further assist UK entrepreneurs, NatWest joined the New Statesman to host an online panel discussion. 

Chaired by Emma Haslett, Group Managing Editor of New Statesman Media Group, the speakers were: 

  • Paul Scully MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy 
  • Andrew Harrison, Head of Business Banking, NatWest
  • Mark Hart, Professor of Small Business and Entrepreneurship and GEM report lead, Aston Business School
  • Balbinder Bhogal, MD and Principal Instructor, BBX Fitness

How has the pandemic changed enterprise?

It’s no surprise that, due to the shock of the pandemic, total entrepreneurial activity in the UK dropped to below 2018 levels. But more people expressed the intention of starting a business in 2020 than in previous years, up from 11% in 2019 to 16.2%. 

Offering an entrepreneur’s perspective, Balbinder Bhogal said the start of the pandemic “felt like a threat; this year feels more like an opportunity”.

The government is committed to supporting entrepreneurs while rebuilding the UK economy, said Paul Scully MP. “If ‘furlough’ was last year’s business word, we want to make sure that ‘pivot’ is the word for this year,” he said.  

Entrepreneurs need to have the right information to hand, regardless of time, scope, or scale aspirations. A range of support programmes is required, agreed NatWest’s Andrew Harrison, to suit the myriad needs of individuals at this time.

How can SMEs maximise their opportunities for growth and boost their productivity? 

Professor Mark Hart pointed out that, when you look at the GEM data, it is nascent entrepreneurs who will lead the recovery. They are the heartbeat of the UK economy, they are beginning to identify opportunities in the marketplace, so what happens next is key to any long-term solution. 

“If ‘furlough’ was last year’s business word, we want to make sure that ‘pivot’ is the word for this year” Paul Scully MP, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy

The onus is on the business ecosystem to connect entrepreneurs to the best programme of support that suits their needs, and to ensure that female business leaders and minority groups have a fairer share of involvement in entrepreneurship. Whether they are starting a business at their kitchen table or are on a growth trajectory to becoming the next Gymshark, consistent UK business support all around the UK is key.

Professor Mark Hart’s insights on productivity:

  • Businesses that become more professional – whether through improved management practices, new digital strategies, or better networking – are becoming more productive.
  • Since 2020, the businesses making effective efficiency gains are those that are looking at their business models and rethinking the way they deliver products and services to the marketplace. 
  • UK entrepreneurs respond to events and challenges every day. We may begin to see even more SMEs showing signs of increased productivity after the pandemic.

Supporting SME growth

“To really understand the different needs of entrepreneurs and small businesses, we need to work collectively to offer a range of first-class business development programmes,” said Andrew. “How do we connect what’s already there and use it more effectively; to make it quick and simple for entrepreneurs to find the support, and to understand the payback on investment – whether it’s cash or time – in their own development?


NatWest helps both early-stage entrepreneurs through the free Business Builder programme and growing businesses through its Accelerator


“When you’re in that day-to-day heat of running a business, the cash that comes in can sometimes get mixed together,” he continued. “Looking at growth, it’s about business planning and working out: what is your strategy to make sure you’ve got the working capital to keep the business running, and access to a support network? And having a more structured approach so you’re clear on your resources: either through saving and putting some of that profit aside, or through appropriate funding, whether that’s equity or debt.”

Lessons learned during the pandemic

“The financial support was there; the challenge was the time,” said Balbinder. “Being a working parent was a massive challenge. If you’re growing fast, you don’t always have the time to engage in business support programmes. You need the time to learn the right skill sets to apply in your business. To pivot, for example: you have to research, learn, understand, procure, purchase, implement, review, evaluate – and continually improve the business. It’s a constant cycle.” 

Download the most authoritative annual research into UK entrepreneurial activity and trends below.

Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2020 – read the full reportGlobal Entrepreneurship Monitor 2020 – results at a glance
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