Research in the US and UK shows keeping a strong entrepreneurial spirit is of paramount importance to avoiding a catastrophic slowdown in the economy. Australia is well placed with, large studies showing that as a country, we have a strong entrepreneurial spirit.

The way ahead may not be a walk in the park, but the proactivity, innovativeness and resilience of Australian entrepreneurs can potentially help us weather the storm. Obschonka et al’s research provides insights on macro-psychological factors predicting regional economic resilience during a major economic crisis, such as the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

While this research focused on specific geographical regions, it showed a more limited economic impact in times of crisis in regions which are more emotionally stable and have “a more prevalent entrepreneurial make-up.”

Here are some encouraging facts as to why entrepreneurship offers a silver lining in the Australian context:

Australian employees are global leaders in intrapreneurship: The recent GEM study conducted by QUT, found in excess of 1.4 million people in Australia are involved in employer-sponsored intrapreneurship – employee entrepreneurial activity within organisations. We lead the global rankings on intrapreneurship indicating Australians are keen to build wealth and make a difference.

Our start-up rates rank amongst the best globally: Australian entrepreneurs are among the most creative and innovative in the world, ranking sixth of all developed nations. Our total entrepreneurship activity rate of 12.2 per cent is well above the average of 9.2 per cent.  Our ranking is similar to USA, Israel and UK, and we are fifth among 24 developed nations for job creation.

The number of Australian senior entrepreneurs is among the highest in the world: Our profile of start-up activity is particularly strong in the senior age groups with 9.3 per cent of 55-64 year-olds engaged in early stage entrepreneurship. We rank third globally amongst developed economies, ahead of USA (7.6 per cent), UK (5 per cent) and Canada (8.1 per cent).

Maritz’s research identifies senior entrepreneurship as the fastest growing sector of entrepreneurship in Australia and globally and these entrepreneurs are motivated by capturing business opportunities they see based on their past experience and in their extended networks.

Hybrid entrepreneurship in Australia is experiencing strong growth: Individuals who engage in self-employment activity while simultaneously holding a primary job in waged work is on the incline. Often referred to as “side-hustle”, “mumble” or “moonlighting”, this form of entrepreneurship behaviour can provide a supplementary income, non-monetary benefits (such as psychological and active ageing) and a path to transition (treading the start-up waters prior to full emersion into entrepreneurship activities)

The research suggests our entrepreneurial character as intrapreneurs, opportunity entrepreneurs, senior entrepreneurs and hybrid entrepreneurs has the potential to help us to come up with unique ways to deal with the challenges we face and also recognise the opportunities (and not just dangers) of the crisis and things that we can still control.

Australians have shown an extraordinary ability to bounce back from crises. The recent bushfire crisis shows how resilient, proactive and communal we are by nature.

Entrepreneurship, in all of its various iterations, may just be that silver lining that enables us to recover more quickly economically after COVID-19. But to ensure this, Australia will have to keep its entrepreneurial spirit alive.

Alex Maritz (La Trobe U), Martin Obschonka (QUT), Aron Perenyi (Swinburne U), Bronwyn Eager (U Tas), Bambi Price Janine Pickering, Barbara Cosson (War on Wasted Talent, inc. SeniorPreneurs)

The authors are currently researching diagnostic and intervention mechanisms to enhance entrepreneurship behaviour and outcomes in organisations, together with associated entrepreneurship enablers for senior entrepreneurs.


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