Leading the way

While the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and businesses in the UK continues to be significant, some companies have responded to the challenge by creating opportunities for their business to grow. In this chapter, we shine a light on
three businesses that have continued to flourish despite the pandemic.

In 2019, there were 5.9 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK, employing more than 16 million people. Operating in sectors as diverse as Artificial Intelligence, Agritech and Construction, these companies are integral to UK productivity. By their very nature, small companies can’t afford to keep large reserves of cash and are therefore especially vulnerable to sudden economic shocks. The pandemic has had an impact beyond business cash flows, extending to wider society and households across the UK.

UK SMEs will be instrumental to the economic recovery. Throughout this period, we have seen examples of great leaders managing through uncertainty and companies showing great resilience during challenging circumstances. Companies have been able to raise finance during the pandemic to fund innovation and growth, in addition to shoring up their balance sheets.

Our research partner for this report, Beauhurst, has analysed the 28,499 ambitious companies it tracks on its platform, looking at the impact of COVID-19 so far. It is too early to know the full extent of the impact on the UK’s businesses, but we can observe particular pressure points and potentially positive stories from the COVID-19 pandemic. Beauhurst’s headline findings show a mixed picture emerging. They found that 22% of jobs in the high-growth economy are under immediate threat, with 615,000 start-up and scaleup jobs at severe or critical risk. However, of the analysed companies, 68% indicated that the pandemic has had a low or moderate impact on their business, and 15% said it has had a potentially positive impact.

Unsurprisingly, limitations on essential physical services are cited as the most common impact to operations across all companies, with 28% of respondents indicating this was the case for them. However, it’s encouraging to see that the second most commonly cited impact is a surge in demand for goods and services, with 19% of companies saying this was the case for them.

Some businesses, sectors and regions have been positively affected. According to Beauhurst data, London is home to the highest proportion of companies that have seen potentially positive impacts (17%), with the surrounding regions of the South East and East of England also doing well. Northern Ireland comes in second place, with 16% of companies being potentially positively impacted.

The number of positive outcomes in London, the South East and East of England could be attributed to the high density of tech companies in these regions. Tech companies are the most likely to have experienced a positive or low negative impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), Educational Technology and eHealth businesses performing particularly well. These companies have been in demand during the pandemic, supporting employees who are working from home, among other things.

The pandemic will leave a lasting legacy for the UK economy and businesses. It has forced companies to re-think the way they conduct business; by moving their offering online, changing their product offering, or shifting their focus to creating pandemic-specific products including COVID-19 testing kits and vaccines. In this chapter, we will look at three businesses that have adapted their businesses and show how the decisions they took during the pandemic have proved to be beneficial to them and to wider society.