Thursday, September 9, 2021

The psychological price of entrepreneurship


Today’s glorified start-up culture has constricted an entrepreneur’s self-identity to the success of their business, being expected to work tirelessly around the clock to validate their passion and dedication for their business.

While these detrimental stigmas have always been present, the coronavirus pandemic - a crisis that has caused delays, roadblocks, and failures for many start-ups - has greatly magnified these issues.

Founders are twice as likely to develop depression, and typically endure higher stress levels when compared to the general population, according to a recent report on the mental health of Middle East entrepreneurs. The report was a a project led by Wamda, Microsoft for Startups, EMPWR and HAD Consultants. 

Founders in the region are paying the price of success with their mental health, experiencing loneliness, depression, and anxiety as they work through the ups and downs of start-up life.

A harsh reality

‘The impact of Covid-19 on the state of mental health & wellbeing of entrepreneurs in MENA’ report marks the first time that data has been recorded on the mental health of entrepreneurs in the region.

Based on data collected from 101 start-up founders from across the region, 64 percent reported that they were highly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and 60.5 percent stated that their immediate and long-term priorities have had to change due to the global crisis.

“What we found out from the report is that funding and raising money is the hardest task for entrepreneurs these days,” said Ally Salaam, mental health activist and founder and CEO of EMPWR, a UAE-based digital media agency dedicated to mental health.

“Not everyone has a growth period in their start-up and that's a reality that is very hard to swallow for many. So many start-ups fail, not because of their idea, but because of funding.”

The report showed that a vast majority, 55 percent, of respondents cited that raising investment has caused them the most stress. The pandemic was the second most popular reason for entrepreneurial stress with 33.7 percent of all founders facing struggles.

"You have to know from day one that 90 percent of businesses won’t get funded and the ones that do get funded, 90 percent of them will fail - and you must still feel like you can take this on," added Dr Naïf Al-Mattawa, an entrepreneur, clinical psychologist and clinical hypnotherapist.

The report also revealed that 95 percent of entrepreneurs view their co-founders as family members and/or friends.

“Having a good relationship with your co-founder takes away a little bit of the pressure of starting a business and managing a start-up team,” added Salaam.

Unique problems

Salaam explained that entrepreneurs have their own unique set of challenges that are not shared by everyone else.

“Nine out of ten start-ups fail, so entrepreneurs are working with their backs against the wall on very tight deadlines to try and fund their idea, validate, and grow it as well,” said Salaam.

“One of the biggest challenges I find entrepreneurs have is growing their company and bringing in investments within the first two years. These are things the general population don’t usually have to worry about, so it really adds a different type of pressure on entrepreneurs that not many can understand.”

Concern for mental health wellbeing is on the rise across the region, with 40 percent of founders stating that they would like access to mental health support from the wider entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Commenting on the lack of accessible wellbeing services for the entrepreneurial community, Salaam said: “There aren’t any solutions specifically designed for entrepreneurs and there's no place for them to join that can give them the mental health resources needed to help them.

“I think we need to provide a platform, specific programs, or a set of resources that cater to the needs of Arab entrepreneurs specifically.”

Supportive ecosystem for entrepreneurs

According to the report, 68.4 percent of founders surveyed remained concerned about their start-up’s financial stability and growth prospects, while slightly more than half of all founders cited mental wellbeing as their current worry.

Reiterating the need for mental health services among start-up communities, 40 percent of founders are demanding both direct and indirect mental health support, including better access to health professionals.

Explaining what needs to change in the region’s mental health ecosystem to help support founders, Salaam said: “There needs to be a set networking platform for just entrepreneurs or executive businesses, offering leadership coaching for example. Entrepreneurs need to feel connected and our study shows that 61 percent of founders want access to networking platforms just for entrepreneurs.”

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