Following on from our recent PrOPEL Hub podcast “Thriving in uncertainty – the power of entrepreneurial leadership and the need for community,” Katherine Jones reflects on lessons learned on the impacts of Covid-19 on entrepreneurs and considers the important role of the PrOPEL Hub and Crème, based at Aston Business School, in supporting businesses through uncertainty.

Uncertain times is a term often bandied about, but now, more than ever, in the centre of a global pandemic, businesses are being forced to face a future of unprecedented uncertainty and change. How business adapts to this, whether a one-person life-style business or a global entity, will dictate their survival. This raises many questions for micro and larger business owners.

  • What opportunities can business gleen from this drastic change to operations?
  • Will business ever be able to go back to standard operating procedures?
  • Can entrepreneurial leadership provide a solution to business survival? 
  • What will the key impacts of Covid-19 be on entrepreneurs?

Professor Monder Ram from CREME at Aston University and Professor Eleanor Shaw from the University of Strathclyde discussed these concerns in their PrOPEL Hub launch podcast Thriving in uncertainty – the power of entrepreneurial leadership and the need for community.”

Most businesses have been reactive to the problems that COVID-19 has presented but some are exploring new ways. The sectors that CREME is working with are seeing very different impacts:

Bangladeshi caterers have seen a devastating impact.  Many with no option for delivery have had to close down.

Creative industries have not been able to continue as normal leading to minimal activity, and no income. Some of these have diversified to delivering and sales online.

For many in the retail sector a boom in orders has occurred due to online orders.

Therefore, with uncertainty being the new norm, what are the key messages for leaders and entrepreneurs?

Leadership & Communication

Leaders have to play a key role in their business survival and demonstrate flexible and ambidextrous leadership skills. This is now a time that provides an opportunity for open communication and authentic leadership. A leader who is trusted and authentic through communication is critical to engage staff and customers. They will then follow on decisions rather than challenge or block change.

Innovation and pivoting

Most businesses have been reactive to the problems that COVID-19 has presented but some are exploring new ways. Be creative, what can you do to pivot your company output? When your business screeches to a halt, sweat your existing resources and move in a different direction. The ability to do this is sector specific and easier for some than others. “That’s not what we do” can be a reasonable reaction to diversification or where an opportunity is spotted there can be a block to required resources to change to producing PPE for example.

Sense of Community – Network

Businesses must recognise they are part of a community and peer network. Networks are often a challenge and can be limited to friends and family. Businesses can collaborate by talking to each other and sharing resources. Many micro businesses are family orientated and want to take care of their employees and customers. By supporting and caring for employees and customers, and being aware of their circumstances, businesses are developing their network and sense of community and become a focal point for those who feel they are in a state of isolation.  Businesses can have a caring as well as a communicative role.

Seek and use business support

Where there is a limited network such as with micro businesses that are generally limited to friends and family business owners are now starting to seek help from a wider support network such as Chambers of Commerce, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Universities. These behaviours are not normally associated with micro businesses. Citizens UK is playing a vital role with local community groups, so CREME is working together with Citizens UK to see how those businesses can be supported, by routing community organisations to larger, more formal sources of support. This in turn makes the support providers more responsive to the businesses in these communities.


Policy influencers and makers must have a better understanding of the informal networks that both larger and micro businesses use. Entrepreneurs should be asked what support is required, with a view to local, regional and national responses being heard to shape policy so better decisions can be made on what interventions are relevant. The PrOPEL Hub is keen to support this route so all businesses can access appropriate support.

The PrOPEL Hub

Entrepreneurs and businesses have a role in supporting their community, with many businesses demonstrating a caring attitude through local employment, supporting sports clubs and community ventures. Micro businesses that are resource poor enrich their local community in many ways by having a clear understanding of their locality, with knowledge and advise to share. By connecting them with larger entities, they can co-create responses and solutions. The PrOPEL Hub is uniquely placed to develop these interactions.

CREME – Centre for Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurs

Based in Aston Business School at Aston University, CREME delivers leading-edge expertise on business support for ethnic minority entrepreneurs. CREME has transformed the ‘perceptions’ of ethnic minority entrepreneurs by working with business policy-makers and influential organisations to engage collaboratively with overlooked or disregarded business communities. Headed by Professor Monder Ram OBE, CREME has built up an enviable reputation regionally, nationally and internationally for its pioneering research and business engagement activities, promoting diversity and enterprise

One current project that CREME is engaged in is ‘Productivity From Below’.

This project uses academic research, co-produced with practitioners, to design and implement scalable policies to boost productivity by strengthening management practices in micro-businesses (with 1-9 employees). The project focuses on businesses owned and run by disadvantaged communities in the West Midlands around business support for enhancing productivity.  Academic Partners are working with Ashley Community Housing, the Bangladeshi Network, Citizens UK and Punch Records to support this project.