The future of entrepreneurship in a post-Covid world
"Why work at a single company when I can work fractionally at several companies? It lowers my risk, allows me to super-craft my work, and makes me resilient to change." - Taylor Black
Thinking of starting a company? You’re not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic unleashed an entrepreneurial boom, leading to the largest increase in new business applications in history.
This entrepreneurial shift began long before the pandemic, but has accelerated as many Americans were either laid off or forced to work from home. With more time on their hands, many budding entrepreneurs saw the opportunity and flexibility to begin building their dream.
Now, more than two years into the pandemic, what does the future of entrepreneurship look like? For one, it’s become more accessible. It’s become more globalized. And, in many ways, it’s become more inclusive, with the coupled rise in entrepreneurial communities like Propel’s. Propel was one of the many companies launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, as a way for like-minded entrepreneurs to connect and collaborate.
Emily Pik, co-founder and Head of Propel, shared her observations of connection in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. “The need for human connection didn't disappear during the pandemic — if anything, it's more important than ever for entrepreneurs to connect and form relationships with each other. Virtual communities can be the first stepping stone in that relationship, giving individuals access to those outside their immediate circle.”
The pandemic doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon — the United States is currently averaging more than 400,000 new cases a day — but there are signs of oversaturation in certain sectors of the start-up market. Not to mention that the average start-up lifespan has been steadily declining for decades.
Starting a business during these turbulent times requires having the right tools at your disposal and looking to the future.
How digital accessibility has shaped entrepreneurship
The disruption of COVID-19 lowered many barriers to entrepreneurship. Now, most entrepreneurs have access to the same digital tools, and new cloud-based technologies have lowered the cost to launch and run a business. It’s also much easier to access new technology to build your idea or market your product to a wider audience.
Michael Fisher, founded his company, Rotten, during the pandemic. He said it’s been easier to connect with more people from all over the world.
“I felt like COVID was really accelerating and changing so many behaviors that it was a great time to lean into that and build for the changing habits,” he said.
The decentralized nature of remote work also makes it easier for entrepreneurs to gain experience at different opportunities, all at once, explains Taylor Black, principal program manager for the Office of the CTO incubator at Microsoft.
“Why work at a single company when I can work fractionally at several companies?” he said. “[It] lowers my risk, allows me to super-craft my work, and makes me resilient to change.”
Fundraising has always been a challenging aspect of entrepreneurship, and can oftentimes distract from product building or hiring the right talent, Black says. Now, entrepreneurs can reach venture capital sources all over the world, and even seek out more unconventional ways of raising money. An expansion of fundraising platforms like Kickstarter and the rise of the Creator economy on platforms like Airtable and TikTok has made it easier for some entrepreneurs to secure funding through decentralized means.
“Entrepreneurs should open their minds as to what constitutes their ‘company’ and what sources of funding they need to achieve their goals,” said Black. “It could well be that their seed round is funded by a mint of NFTs related to project milestones as they test out their concept and grow it to something valuable.”
Does accessibility improve diversity?
Access to technology in an increasingly-connected world offers entrepreneurs from all backgrounds the opportunity to scale.
“From the top down, there are [now] specific funds founded by people with untraditional background and experiences. From the bottom up, founders are able to reach investors, customers, and other founders from larger scope with increased digital connection,” said Anna Bao, a founder at Kleido.
The Kauffman Foundation’s “National Report on Early-Stage Entrepreneurship in the United States” found that Latinos and immigrants had some of the highest percentages of new entrepreneurs, and Black entrepreneurs saw the highest year-over-year increase in entrepreneurship in 2020. Today, entrepreneurs of color operate more than 8 million businesses.
However, minority entrepreneurs face unique challenges when trying to start a business — problems that were exacerbated throughout the pandemic. There is a lot of work to be done to make the entrepreneurial world more inclusive for minorities, said Tiffany Patterson, founder of Cowie, a marketplace for underrepresented and underserved early-stage entrepreneurs.
“The pandemic has disproportionately impacted minorities, posing more significant employment and entrepreneurship challenges,” she said. “If you’re already too busy wondering how you’ll get your next paycheck or require financial security and stability, entrepreneurship isn’t something on your radar or is a side hustle than a full-time gig.”
Charting the waters ahead
It may be too soon to say how long this start-up boom will last — some experts say it could quickly fade as the economy reopens and people return to more traditional forms of employment. But more than two years into the pandemic, it seems unlikely these trends will be going away anytime soon.
How can budding entrepreneurs best meet the moment? The pandemic has created both opportunities for entrepreneurs and changed the way everyone works, allowing for more connection and networking through digital means. One way entrepreneurs have been able to build a network is through the rise of entrepreneurship communities like Propel’s. These communities help entrepreneurs learn from each other, exchange tips of the trade, and make connections they otherwise may not have — helping you build your dream and find a sense of belonging in a virtual world.