June 9, 2022

Early-stage pandemic stalled and invigorated early-stage entrepreneurs

Researchers explore effect of pandemic on women entrepreneurs
Early-stage pandemic stalled and invigorated early-stage entrepreneurs

The pandemic brought with it some good news and bad news for early-stage women entrepreneurs in Canada — those who are thinking about, or just a few years into, starting a business.  

The good news is nearly a third of the women, 32.6 per cent, recognized new opportunities due to COVID 19, compared to 46.9 per  cent of men. The bad news is women entrepreneurs aged 25 to 54 “reduced their engagement” with early-stage entrepreneurship in the first few months of the pandemic.

“It was this notion of the triple shift: women working, plus also doing child care, elder care and home schooling,” says Dr. Chad Saunders, PhD, associate professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at the Haskayne School of Business. “About 37 per cent of women were involved with child and elder care, versus only 29.5 per cent of men.”

In Lockdowns, pivots & triple shifts: early challenges and opportunities of the COVID-19 pandemic for women entrepreneurs, Saunders and colleagues at the University of Alberta, Drs. Karen Hughes and Nicole Denier of the Department of Sociology, explore how women and men in early-stage firms (defined as less than 3.5 years into the venture) fared over the summer of 2020.

Chad Saunders

Chad Saunders and co-authors explored the effect of the pandemic on women entrepreneurs.

Adrian Shellard, for the Haskayne School of Business

“The whole motivation for this study was essentially to put stake in the ground and provide a baseline of data. We knew that as the pandemic unfolded, a lot of this was going to get lost,” says Saunders. “It’s part of a SSHRC-funded stream of work that looks at the differential impacts of COVID 19 and policy interventions on women entrepreneurs plus entrepreneurship as a viable career path for women.”

The researchers analyzed Canadian data from the 2020 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), an annual survey that’s the oldest and largest study of entrepreneurship in the world. Saunders and his colleagues surveyed 2,910 early-stage firms across Canada between June and August 2020, following the devastating first wave of COVID-19 that caused significant economic and social upheaval.

“When we did the study it was a pretty negative environment,” says Saunders. “There was a healthy debate whether we should even collect data in 2020, because there was so much turmoil in the market. We ended up scaling back the survey quite a bit and focusing mostly on COVID and the impacts of the pandemic.”

Fourteen per cent of women and 17.7 per cent of men surveyed reported coronavirus had led their household income to somewhat, or strongly, increase, compared to 6.8 per cent of women and 9.2 per cent of men in the general population.

The study found women entrepreneurs continued to see entrepreneurship as a good career choice and that their “entrepreneurial capabilities” continued to improve.

“The big thing to me was just the growth aspirations and opportunity recognition,” says Saunders. “You would think it would've just have been a negative sort of experience across the board. But lots of entrepreneurs took it as an opportunity.”

With this data, the researchers are poised to provide a more complete picture of how women entrepreneurs were affected over the course of the pandemic. They have data from 2019 and are analyzing a much larger data set collected in 2021.