New Research Shows the Pandemic's Impact on U.S. Entrepreneurs

Tuesday, September 14th, 2021

More Americans were starting and running new businesses last year despite the economic effects of the pandemic, according to new data reported in the 2020/2021 U.S. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Report released today by Babson College.

In 2020, the Total early-stage Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) rate, which measures the percentage of adults 18-64 actively engaged in starting or running a new business, was 15.4%, down slightly from 17.4% in 2019, but equal to results reported in 2018. The new report shows Americans turned to entrepreneurship when faced with an uncertain labor market. Last year, one-half of entrepreneurs said they were motivated to start a venture because jobs were difficult to find, representing a 22% increase from 2019. Moreover, some 54% of entrepreneurs, and 43% of business owners, reported that the pandemic introduced new business opportunities.

New Research Shows the Pandemic's Impact on U.S. Entrepreneurs

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The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report, which polled more than 2,000 U.S. adults in August 2020, provides a comprehensive look at the impact COVID-19 had on entrepreneurs and business owners six months after the pandemic first caused restrictions on American life and business. Among established business owners, 58% halted some of their core business activities because of COVID-19. Of those who closed a business, more than one-third cited the pandemic as the reason.

"The United States has long relied on entrepreneurs to drive innovation, job creation and economic growth. There is no question that the pandemic created both challenges and opportunities for entrepreneurs and mature business owners," said GEM U.S. Team co-Leader and Babson CollegeEntrepreneurship Professor Donna Kelley. "Stable jobs and economic vitality depend on the survival and growth of businesses. This research can help guide decisions that support entrepreneurship in America, which will surely be a critical contributor to the post-pandemic recovery."

Despite the fact that 82% of entrepreneurs thought that starting a business was more difficult than a year earlier, and nearly 70% cited delays in getting their businesses operational because of COVID-19, Americans were still starting and running new businesses in 2020.

"People may have different reasons for starting a business: needing to generate income or seeing new opportunities, for example, but the GEM results show that people still turn to entrepreneurship, even in the throes of a social and economic crisis," said Smaiyra Million, Executive Director of The Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship at Babson College. "These are the adaptive and creative entrepreneurial leaders that solve today's problems and help create new and lasting change for themselves, their businesses, and their communities. This is especially critical as we look to the future. There is no going back to doing what we have always done. Entrepreneurs today will evolve and learn from the lessons of the last 18 months and emerge stronger."

"Much like the Great Depression or World War II, the pandemic promises to be a transformative event, one in which the society we knew is remade and filled with change and possibility and entrepreneurial leaders will lead the way," said Stephen Spinelli Jr., PhD, President of Babson College. "There's no roadmap to our post-pandemic recovery. The same attributes that enable entrepreneurial leaders to make decisions, solve problems, and create value are what will successfully lead us forward. Entrepreneurial leadership is more needed and relevant than ever before. GEM will be there to witness and capture this extraordinary moment, and through research, we will continue to understand and learn from entrepreneurs and help guide them as they shape the world of tomorrow."

Additional Key Findings

  • About 40% of Americans knew at least one person who closed a business due to COVID-19, although 21% knew someone who began a business.

  • Among the U.S. Adult Population (18-64 years old), 40% of respondents stated that their household income declined because of COVID-19.

  • Over one-third of those closing a business cited COVID-19 as the reason (41% of women who closed a business and 30% of men who closed a business).

  • Among established business owners, 28% had received, or expected to receive, pandemic-related financial support from the government, with women reporting a higher percentage than men (32% vs. 25%).

  • Established business owners were more likely than entrepreneurs (51% vs. 45%) to state that the federal government was effective in responding to the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Among entrepreneurs, 51% said the state government was more effective than the federal government in responding, compared to 32% of established business owners.

  • Necessity played an instrumental role in driving entrepreneurship in 2020; half of entrepreneurs were motivated to start a business in order to earn a living because jobs were scarce, a 22% increase from 2019.

  • The established business ownership rate (those that own or manage a business older than 3.5 years) was 9.9%, a slight decline from 10.6% in 2019.

  • Among the U.S. Adult Population, 4.4% closed a business, a 50% increase from 2.9% in 2019.

  • Most Americans hold positive perceptions about entrepreneurship: it is associated with high status in society (78%), it is a good career choice (70%) and it receives positive media attention (72%).

  • Perceptions about one's capabilities for starting a business were high (64%) and relatively unchanged from 2019. However, opportunity perceptions dropped from 62% in 2019 to 49% in 2020. Fear of failure rose from 35% in 2019 to 41% in 2020, an all-time high.

  • More than one-half (57%) of entrepreneurs are building businesses in finance, services, and information/communications technologies.

  • Growth projections, or the proportion of entrepreneurs anticipating adding more than five new jobs in the next five years, declined in 2020 (27.5% vs. 32.5% in 2019).

  • Black people are twice as likely as white people to have entrepreneurial intentions (20% vs. 10%) and nearly twice as likely to start businesses (26% vs. 14%).

  • The TEA rate for women was 16.6% and for men 18.3%, about eight women entrepreneurs for every 10 men entrepreneurs.