3 Ways to Build Stronger Small-Business Communities in a Post-Covid World

Alfie Brown

The economic recovery could present a new opportunity for small businesses and startups nationwide–with some strategic planning.

Most people are not worried about Canada Square, London, or other capital-rich business hubs. Those ecosystems have a strong infrastructure in place to quickly rebound after the pandemic.

Conditions for less robust–but to this point emerging–business hubs aren’t looking too hospitable these days, however. The picture is even more bleak in rural and poor regions of the U.K.

A January 2021 study from Cambridge University, Hertfordshire University, and Kent University on well-being in the rural England and Wales found that more than 19 percent of the region’s full-time workers have either become unemployed or shifted to part-time work during the pandemic. And a December 2020 report from the Brookings Institute, cites a lack of adequate access to capital and broadband connectivity as significant barriers to rural small-business revitalisation in the post-Covid world.

Cities and towns can recuperate, though. The key to reviving Main Street small businesses and rebuilding The UK’s smaller startup ecosystems, lies in just how much money and attention local governments are willing to spend. 

Here is how communities can build or rebuild startup infrastructure, further strategic relationships, and enter the recovery on stronger footing.

1. Support the support system.

Startup ecosystems tend to thrive when support networks like accelerators, incubators, and co-working spaces are plentiful. National and local government officials should work to support these organisations, along with helping area businesses. Such investments could be the best chance that we have to effectively jumpstart local economies post-Covid.

Nationwide, many of these organisations are struggling, especially away from such hubs London. Numerous rural and poor areas lack them altogether. Building or rebuilding that support system could help small-business communities prosper in the years to come.

2. Reallocate local government resources.

National pandemic aid efforts like the furlough scheme and the bouce back loans scheme delivered for some businesses better than others. Business owners without strong banking relationships or large numbers of employees, for instance, missed out during different stages of the forgivable loan program, which has doled out more than £100 billion to small businesses since last April. Those entrepreneurs could have benefited from a helping hand in navigating the program.

The same is true for regulations more generally, national and local governments taking on more of a guiding role than usual can be a net positive for Main Street, particularly in spreading the wealth between big business and startups. As they revisit budgets in the wake of the pandemic, they should consider levying higher taxes on large corporations that have grown enormously in the past year, such as Amazon and Alphabet–and put that money toward loans, grants, or other forms of investment in small-business ecosystems.

3. Invest locally.

Investors can also play a role in super-charging startup ecosystem. The country’s new rule for enhanced equity crowdfunding, which allows private companies to raise capital in small chunks by selling securities like equity or debt, offers a grand opportunity.

In March, Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) raised the legal cap for crowdfunding campaigns to £5 million, up from £1.07 million. Some small-business owners and investors, have already begun taking advantage.

The new rule could be a game-changer for small-business communities. The difference between £1.07 million and £5 million would be substantial for many smaller companies, especially as many entrepreneurs and small businesses emerge from the pandemic ready to spend. Crowdfunding campaigns could even enlist nearby corporations and angel investors to match donations, as part of an effort to encourage local residents to invest locally. The message to send is: “If we don’t have these small businesses, these local businesses, how are our communities going to exist?”

Traditional investors can also do more to encourage stronger and more equitable startup centres. Focusing specifically on start-up and small businesses, to help create a virtuous cycle of reinvestment and community wealth for those startup ecosystems hit hardest by the pandemic.