COVID pandemic created new opportunities for entrepreneurs in 2021

Small businesses have driven the post-covid economic recovery, according to a new report published by Ulster Bank parent, NatWest Group.

It shows that UK entrepreneurs have responded to the challenges and opportunities presented by the pandemic with over 50 per cent agreeing that they have adopted new technologies or enhanced their digital services.

The latest Global Entrepreneurship Team (GEM) UK report, in partnership with NatWest, based on a sample of over 10,000 people, found that almost one in three working age individuals were either engaged in entrepreneurial activity or intended to start a business within the next three years. 

GEM is the world’s largest survey of entrepreneurship and is the only global research source that collects data on entrepreneurship directly from individual entrepreneurs. It measures various rates of entrepreneurship in 47 countries in 2021.

GEM’s UK team – which is led by Professor Mark Hart of Aston University – compared attitudes, activity and aspirations in the UK, Germany and the United States as well as the four home nations of the UK. The early-stage entrepreneurial activity rate of 11.5% in the UK is statistically significantly higher than that of Germany (6.9%) and France (7.7%) but lower than that of the US (16.5%).

Looking at the Northern Ireland detail, Dr Karen Bonner, senior economist at Ulster University’s Economic Policy Centre, said:

“Entrepreneurial activity in Northern Ireland was severely dented by the pandemic but within a year we see a strong rebound, and indeed record highs.”

“The GEM survey, undertaken in the middle of 2021, shows the highest ever number of individuals in the early stages of setting up a new business with an early-stage entrepreneurial activity rate of 9.1%. This record rate mirrors activity across the UK, demonstrating its entrepreneurial resilience.”

“The recovery in entrepreneurial activity has been driven by women, who historically, have lagged in terms of setting up a business. In 2021 7.2% of women in Northern Ireland were engaged in early-stage start-up. At its highest ever rate, it also means that women are no longer half as likely as males to start a business, with the gap between women and men narrowing to 35%.”

“The outlook for future entrepreneurial activity also looks buoyant with almost half of non-entrepreneurs perceiving good start-up opportunities and around one in five expecting to start a business within the next three years. To build on this momentum it is important that current and future entrepreneurs are supported as the challenging economic conditions prevail.”

John Ferris, Regional Eco-System Manager at Ulster Bank said:

“The findings of this report, against a challenging backdrop of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, once again confirm that the UK is a nation of entrepreneurs, and that Northern Ireland has made significant strides in its overall contribution to this entrepreneurial activity.

“The resilience of small businesses over recent years is both inspiring and important. As the economy faces significant turbulence in the year ahead, it is critical that we maintain a thriving ecosystem to support this boom in entrepreneurship, which is central to economic stability and growth. As a key supporter of entrepreneurship in Northern Ireland, we are determined to play our part in helping future business success stories to start, scale and thrive.”

The full GEM UK report, along with individual reports for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, in partnership with NatWest, Ulster Bank and RBS, are available for download here.


Leanne is the editor in chief of BELFAST.CO.UK.