Understanding the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on high-growth entrepreneurial firms

Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies

Nick Williams is Professor of Entrepreneurship. His research mainly focuses on entrepreneurship and economic development, with a key interest in the impact of different forms of crisis on entrepreneurs. Kautsar Ramli was a Postdoctoral Research Assistant on the ERICC project and now works at the University of Bristol.

Photograph of Leeds skyline

The Entrepreneurial Resiliency, Innovation, and change during the Covid-19 Crisis (ERICC) project is a research program funded by the UKRI and ESRC.  

Over the past 18 months, the research team has conducted 243 interviews with 93 high-growth entrepreneurial firms across the UK. Interviews have taken place at the start of the first COVID-19 lockdown in the UK, with follow-up interviews conducted through to December 2021 to examine how responses to an unfolding crisis have evolved.  

The project seeks to understand the short-term and long-term impacts of the crisis on entrepreneurial survival, growth, and innovation. We are interested in understanding how entrepreneurs are reacting to the crisis to both preserve their firms and reorient to new market conditions. The project has also involved a range of interviews with stakeholders across the UK who are involved in supporting firms through the crisis, including, in the Leeds City Region, Leeds City Council, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Nexus at the University of Leeds.  

Thus far, the research team has produced a range of reports designed to inform policymaking as well as academic debates. The team has produced a report on the invisible problems facing entrepreneurs, showing that there are obvious problems facing entrepreneurs during the Covid-19 pandemic, for example surviving the loss of customers during the lockdown, dealing with the fallout to supply chains, and transitioning to remote or socially-distanced working among them.  

These are the problems that have tended to be well recognized in the business media and have received support from the Government to help overcome them. Yet our report shows that there are other challenges entrepreneurs are facing that are invisible: challenges for which businesses are less prepared because they have received less attention.  

The report highlights two key problems: first, the freezing of entrepreneurial networks over the past year and, second, shifting sales funnels which risk increasing the cost of sales. If left unchecked, both problems will limit entrepreneurial growth and innovation for years to come. The report details what these problems are, how they will affect businesses during the pandemic and into the future, and what actions entrepreneurs and members of the UK entrepreneurial ecosystem can take to help overcome these problems.  

We have also written a report on the critically important topic of maintaining well-being during a crisis. The report demonstrates that high-growth, scale-up entrepreneurs are critical to the UK’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. While there has been a lot of attention paid to the economic health of entrepreneurs and workers at high-growth firms, less attention is being paid to their mental and physical wellbeing. But poor wellbeing can destroy the ambitions of entrepreneurs and make firms less productive and innovative.  

The report discusses how the pandemic has affected the wellbeing of the founders and employees of scale-up entrepreneurial firms across the UK and how this has changed over the course of the crisis. Based on their experiences we suggest actionable steps entrepreneurs, workers, and policymakers can take in order to preserve wellbeing in entrepreneurial organizations to mitigate the wellbeing impact of this crisis.  

The next steps for the project are to produce more policy reports to be shared with the stakeholders involved in the project as well as wider audiences at the national, regional and local government levels. We are also currently producing a number of academic outputs which will inform debates on how entrepreneurial responses to the COVID-19 crisis have evolved and impacted performance, and how the impact of future crises can be better managed.  

For more information please visit the project website.

This research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s rapid responce to Covid-19.

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