As COVID-19 swept across the world, most Canadians were forced to stay home. They had time to reflect on the state of the world, on their communities, their lives and their families. The forced lack of social interaction has, in many respects, spurred innovation – it should come as no surprise that some Canadians experienced a genesis in their work lives.
Even a world-wide pandemic, unlike anything modern generations had ever experienced, could not kill the entrepreneurial spirit – a critically important driving force of the Canadian economy. Societal challenges always beget entrepreneurship and a pandemic made people diversify their efforts for a number of reasons.
Outside-the-box thinking has proven essential for not only the creation of businesses but also for the survival of existing enterprises.
People always have the power to pivot, and perhaps the most likely to utilize that skill is the entrepreneur. So businesses already in existence pivoted as best they could, with many increasing online opportunities, online marketing, and e-commerce.
A recent survey of over 2,000 Canadians conducted by Intuit Canada revealed that one in five–or nearly two million Canadians–launched a business venture during the pandemic. Mitigating the risk, many view their entrepreneurial efforts as a “side business.”
Reza Satchu is a serial entrepreneur, Harvard Business School professor and Founding Chairman of NEXT Canada, a philanthropic entrepreneurship organization that has created 225 ventures that have raised over $1.5 billion of equity and employ over 5,000 people. He says that entrepreneurship – and the grit it takes to be successful at it – is often born of challenges.
While motivations to begin can be varied, there are often core goals that make people more likely to weather the inevitable ebb and flow of entrepreneurship: bettering the lives of loved ones and making a contribution to society.
He notes that character-defining moments of discomfort and the ability to overcome life’s inevitable challenges prove critical foundational elements of a successful entrepreneur.
The ability to navigate moments of discomfort helped guide him in his own entrepreneurial journey.
He and his family immigrated to Canada from East Africa when he was a child.
“I saw my parents create a life for us through really hard work,” he said, noting that they lacked college degrees and worked multiple jobs to support the family. “What was important in my childhood in terms of becoming a successful entrepreneur was I had a set of experiences early in my life where I overcame obstacles not of my own choosing. That set of experiences – what my brother and I faced, through that discomfort we experienced was critically important to me as an entrepreneur. It taught me that I have some resilience – that I can overcome obstacles and I can make things happen.”
But how, specifically, has the pandemic impacted the Canadian spirit of entrepreneurship?
According to David Marquis, vice president and country manager of Intuit Canada, the future of Canadian entrepreneurship is bright.
“As our survey reveals, entrepreneurship has continued to grow since the beginning of COVID-19, both because of and in spite of the challenges it presented,” he wrote.
Concerns discussed in the survey included financing, and cash flow, work-life balance, as well as stress and mental health for entrepreneurs and their employees. Disruptions of the pandemic have spurred opportunity – and the willingness of Canadians to seize those opportunities.
With social distancing measures, many entrepreneurs turned to the digital world with their endeavors – “While 41% of Canadian entrepreneurs sell exclusively offline, more sell online, and 22% sell through both channels. Among the businesses started up over the past year, 3 in 4 sell online, and over half sell exclusively online,” per the survey.
As Satchu pointed out, the world shifted a bit on its axis – and entrepreneurs followed suit, with brick and mortar businesses creatively finding ways to survive the pandemic in order to once again thrive, and recent entrepreneurs embracing the renewed digital renaissance.
“Adapting to changing conditions with limited resources and information is at the heart of what it means to be an entrepreneur. This pandemic is an opportunity for Canadian small business owners to show their resilience and creativity in rapidly changing circumstances,” he said. “I have no doubt that many Canadians will rise to the challenge.”