This week marks the first anniversary of the UK’s national lockdown due to every virologist’s worst nightmare: a global pandemic. It’s been a full 12 calendar months since the world shifted on its axis and everyday life as we knew it turned upside down. Covid-19 gave us a new home-working culture overnight as well as a novel professional lexicon: pivot, furlough and Zoom fatigue.
While business titles regularly report on the enduring economic legacy of Covid-19, at Harper James, we have strived to surface another important narrative from the entrepreneur community. While we believe that it will be the pluckiness and verve of the UK’s buoyant start-up ecosystem that will help us build back better, we are acutely aware of the pressures that expectation poses. That’s why we’re marking this milestone by raising awareness of a little-reported area of entrepreneur life: mental health.
How has the founder community we support coped with the pressures of Covid over the past year? In a series of candid interviews, six founders share their experiences, explain how they’ve been affected, offer insight to peers, highlight where businesses might do more to support employees and present ideas for how the government should manage the mental health epidemic caused by Covid.
Few studies have explored the effect Covid-19 has had on the start-up ecosystem. Research conducted by Santander UK revealed that out of a survey of 2,000 SMEs, a third of owners admit Covid-19 has negatively affected their mental health. Two in five said the impact had even left them questioning whether they want to continue running their own business in the future.
Among those sharing their experiences is our own founder and CEO, Toby Harper: ‘Running your own business can be challenging at the best of times, but the pandemic has pushed many business owners to breaking point. Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the UK economy – ensuring they have the support they need to cope in the weeks and months ahead is critical.’
It’s a problem that founder and Harper James client Asim Amin is making his life’s work to solve. Take-up of his online therapy platform Healingclouds has seen an 84 per cent rise in demand in the space of a year. We recently helped him complete a funding round for his wellbeing start-up.
Asim tells us: ‘After the Covid-19 pandemic escalated in February, we saw a rise in the number of people seeking help for their mental wellbeing. The rising number of people reaching out for help due to stress brought on by the pandemic is staggering. It is important we are having this conversation and that the government also addresses what is an increasing problem.’
Tesco, HSBC and Crowdcube are now all working with Healingclouds to offer employees access to their services.
The willingness of corporates to consider employee mental health is a development welcomed by business coach Becca Clayton. Becca has spent nearly two decades helping businesses bring in measures that boost employee wellbeing. Her enterprise, Tonic Wellbeing, aims to support clients, implement stress management techniques which, in turn, raise productivity.
Becca shares her view: ‘First and foremost, the blurring of boundaries between our home and work lives means that the demands placed upon us are greater than ever. We have little control of the roadmap to recovery and it is a time of uncertainty and much change.
This makes it a very challenging time for those individuals who do not have the tools to deal with these pressures. Businesses need to practise what they preach and give permission to staff to prioritise wellbeing. Mental wellbeing needs to be firmly on the agenda.’
It is our hope that by sharing these stories of founder wellbeing over the past year that we can be a voice in the national conversation we need to have about our mental health, founder ambition and the future of work.
Thank you to founders Alistair MacGregor, Asim Amin, Becca Clayton, Barry Searle, Jess Heagren, Leah Totton, Rob Kniaz and our own Toby Harper for talking to us.