Launching a business in lockdown

Ben Elliott and Hector Hughes, founders of Unplugged, stand outside a green cabin
Image from Unplugged
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
13 September 2020

According to new research from Virgin StartUp, the coronavirus lockdown gave many people the time and space they needed to create new businesses.

Virgin StartUp spoke to 1,000 adults who have started or developed a new business during the COVID-19 crisis. They found that for many of them, lockdown provided an opportunity to focus on their career and the push they needed to start a business.

The entrepreneurs were asked for their thoughts on COVID-19, the impact of lockdown on their business decisions, and why they set up a business.

  • 69% of lockdown entrepreneurs agreed that lockdown gave them the push they needed to start a business

  • 73% of lockdown entrepreneurs said that lockdown has provided them with the perfect opportunity to focus on what they really want from their career 

  • 69% said that they needed to do something to supplement their income during lockdown

  • 51% of lockdown entrepreneurs agreed that they’d never thought about becoming an entrepreneur before lockdown 

  • 46% said that their new business is focused on a hobby or passion rather than specific work experience 

Challenges

Launching during lockdown is not without its challenges, of course. Northern Cure, a charcuterie company in Manchester focused on sourcing quality meat and local ingredients, had to adapt its business model and launched an e-commerce operation to sell their products.

Northern Cure founders Douglas Staton and Alex McKay
Image from Northern Cure

“With lockdown, the little markets that we’d planned to be featured in were cancelled, so we had to adapt to the situation” Douglas Staton, co-founder of Northern Cure, explained. “We’ve launched online, selling home curing kits – our take on the food boxes that have been going out across the country.”

Another business that successfully launched in lockdown is Unplugged, which offers staycations where people can switch off from their devices and recharge themselves at their off-grid cabins. Founded by friends Ben Elliott and Hector Hughes and supported by a Virgin StartUp loan, the business has gone from strength to strength, capitalising on Londoners wanting a digital detox.

Although the launch of their business was delayed due to the lockdown, Ben said that it was actually “good timing” for them. 

He added: “With us all stuck inside, Londoners are actually working almost an hour extra each day. Plus not only have all of our work meetings moved online, but lots of our conversations with friends are also through our devices as well. So, with no real boundary between work and home, we're rolling between one device to another and I think now more than ever, busy city workers are looking to truly disconnect.”

Flexibility

Virgin StartUp’s research highlights that flexibility is key for lockdown entrepreneurs. 95% of them said that being able to choose the hours they work is important and 92% said they wanted to spend more time with their family and loved ones.

Andy Fishburn, Managing Director of Virgin StartUp commented: “For many people, lockdown has been a time to think about what really matters to them and to have the time to focus on it. Whilst generating more income was the impetus for some, it is really encouraging to see that 73% of lockdown entrepreneurs are looking to balance profit with purpose and agree that it is important for businesses to do more than just make money. Lockdown has brought out the best in many founders and we’ve seen more people than ever being entrepreneurial and getting creative in a crisis. It has been great to work with so many people trying to make a difference at this time.” 

Virgin StartUp also recently announced a £1.7m funding boost for London’s entrepreneurs.

Visit Virgin StartUp to find out more and apply for a Start Up Loan of between £500 and £25,000.