The pandemic created a new generation of entrepreneurs – now retail landlords need to help them thrive.

Either by necessity or a reframing of life goals, the pandemic has had a dramatic impact on entrepreneurship. Many lost their jobs, while others realized they’d be happier jettisoning jobs that didn’t fulfil them. 

As a result, starting a new business, for many, became a key aspiration. According to data from Clearview Research’s Youth Employment 2030 report, 58 per cent of young adults in England said they would pursue entrepreneurship and 13 per cent have already started a side hustle since the beginning of the first lockdown. Meanwhile, a study run by members’ club Allbright found that one in four women are setting up their own business as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, while three quarters of women (74 per cent) feel inspired to do so. 

This glut of entrepreneurship is evident in the fact that there were about 1.5 million new business applications in the US in Q3 2020, a 77 per cent increase from Q2 and double any quarterly report from 2004 to 2017. In the UK, business incorporations have regularly been hitting double-digit growth rates since last June. 

While most of these businesses will have been born online-only due to circumstance, the opening up of towns and cities presents an opportunity to engage new audiences, especially with so much vacant real estate. That will require the help of landlords, however. One case study comes from shopping centre owner Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, who is currently granting six businesses started during the pandemic window space in one of the UK’s largest retail arenas. Titled Side Hustle Heroes, the ventures cover fashion, homeware and beauty, a self-care subscription service and a sustainable paint company. The now-ubiquitous QR code is used as a vehicle to take passersby to each brand’s web shop. 

‘Whilst the pandemic has been a tough time for many it has also simultaneously presented an opportunity for the nation to turn their hobbies and passions into their very own businesses launching online over the past 12 months,’ says Harita Shah, marketing director UK at at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. ‘With people craving physical experiences more so than ever before and 49 per cent of consumers wanting to buy more locally sourced products, were bringing these online brands offline into a physical space for the first time.’

Business network Enterprise Nation, in partnership with payment provider SumUp, are currently operating a pop-up shop on Oxford Street (previously Europe’s busiest shopping avenue) to offer smaller brands a direct route to market post-lockdown. Tenants can book in one to four days of trade, splitting the cost with two other complementary businesses. Digital signage makes transition between brands seamless. ‘While online selling is brilliant, some smaller brands tend to find it difficult to get the traction they need online and compete with larger brands,’ Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones told the BBC. ‘We think, going forward, retailers will develop a hybrid form of selling which might see them trading via their own website, on marketplaces like Amazon as well as on the High Street via pop-ups, all at the same time.’

Speaking to Enterprise Nation as part of its affiliated Hello World campaign, Becky Jones, head of partnerships at temporary-retail platform Appear Here, explained how adding such flexibility to commercial centres could ensure their long-term survival: ‘Higher vacancy rates arent always a bad thing. If done right, its an opportunity to redefine our cities and introduce a new generation of brands and entrepreneurs to our streets.