Two Million People Launch Side Projects In Lockdown


Work-life balance, disliking current jobs and finding it hard to be managed motivates one in three (33%) to become an entrepreneur

  • One in five (20%) who have their own business launched it from their living room, with a further one in seven (14%) setting up from their bedroom
  • Although research suggests women are less confident about setting up a business than men, 41% of Virgin StartUp founders are women, more than double the national average
  • In the mainland UK, the North East (39%) is home to the most budding entrepreneurs, followed by the West Midlands (36%) and London (35%)
  • More than one in three (36%) believe they would need support with funds to make their start up dream a reality
  • Virgin StartUp celebrates having funded its 4,000th founder, Carley Read, CEO & Founder of parent-to-parent digital marketplace, Y’earn
Thursday 13th May 2021:Virgin StartUp releases new research to celebrate funding its 4,000th founder. Virgin’s not-for-profit entrepreneurial hub reveals that one in three (33%) Brits dream of becoming an entrepreneur and would like to set up their own business.

According to the study, approximately two million (5%) people have started a side project during lockdown.(1) A further one in four (24%) said that although they don’t currently have a passion project, they would be interested in starting a business alongside their main employment.

Wanting to be your own boss is amongst the main motivations for becoming self-employed (49%), alongside a better work-life balance (45%), disliking existing jobs (17%), and finding it hard to be managed (14%). And it seems as though home is the place that sparks the most creativity, as one in five (20%) who have their own business launched from their living room, with a further one in seven (14%) setting up from their bedroom.

The COVID-19 economic reality seems to be accelerating entrepreneurialism. As the UK entered lockdown on the 23rd March 2020, the number of businesses set up almost halved, with a -43% drop compared with the same week in 2019.(2) But confidence started to recover in May 2020 after the announcement that lockdown would lift from June, as the number of new businesses launching bounced back dramatically (from 9,989 to 14,525 within a week following the announcement).(3)

From May 2020 onwards, the average number of businesses set up per week during 2020 was 30% higher than the same period the year before, jumping from 12,446 in 2019 to a huge 16,157 in 2020.(4) And it seems as though the UK’s entrepreneurial spirit is now stronger than ever, with an average of 15,751 businesses set up in Q1 this year – an increase of 19% compared to the same period in 2020.(5)

In 2019, Virgin StartUp announced its 50/50 pledge to fund an equal number of women and men founders. In the last week before the first lockdown, this rose to a peak of 47% women founders receiving funding. When the pandemic hit, the first six weeks of lockdown saw this drop down to 23%, demonstrating the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women who were looking to start and scale businesses. Thankfully, the number of women founders has risen again as 52% of applicants in April 2021 were women, more than double the rate seen in those first six weeks of the pandemic.

The study reveals that 26% of women are concerned that they don’t have the relevant skillset to start a business, compared with 19% of men. Since it was founded, Virgin StartUp data shows that 41% of its founders are women, compared with the national average of 20%, so a huge number of women entrepreneurs have been seeking expertise and funding(6).

This includes Virgin StartUp’s 4,000th founder Carley Read, founder of Y’earn, a parent-to-parent marketplace to rent baby & kids items from people and small businesses in the local community.(7)

Carley says:

“I am extremely grateful to discover I’m Virgin StartUp’s 4,000th founder. Starting a company during a pandemic isn’t easy, but I really believe that Y’earn is more necessary than ever. Thanks to the support from the Virgin StartUp loan and the team’s advice, I’ve been able to get my business off the ground. I’d definitely encourage other entrepreneurs to look to Virgin StartUp’s diverse range of services to help them make their idea a reality too!”

In line with the government’s plan to level-up, the figures reveal a regional spread of budding entrepreneurs, with the North East home to two in five (39%) people dreaming of starting a business, the highest of all regions in the mainland UK, followed by the West Midlands (36%).

But in order to make start-up dreams a reality, it’s clear that people would turn to entrepreneurial experts for assistance, as needing support with funding is the primary consideration (36%), followed by needing help understanding business finances (33%) and wanting support and mentoring from other entrepreneurs in the same field (23%).

Andy Fishburn, Managing Director of Virgin StartUp, comments:

“The pandemic has allowed people to refocus on what’s important to them. It has also provided essential time and space to develop ideas, so it’s been amazing to see more and more founders getting creative in a crisis. It’s so encouraging to be working with so many people trying to make a difference at the moment by bringing innovative ideas to the table.”

To apply for a Virgin StartUp Loan between £500 – £25,000 and to find out more about support on offer, please visit virginstartup.org