A survey of leading entrepreneurs across Europe, the Middle East and Africa has revealed that, despite the recession, they remain relatively optimistic about business opportunities.
The study, carried out by Ernst & Young, indicates that leading entrepreneurs are looking beyond the immediate crisis toward future opportunities.
Zanele Xaba, director for strategic growth markets at Ernst & Young, explains: "Entrepreneurs see growth and future opportunities as more important than battening down the hatches and protecting their existing business. In the course of the study, several entrepreneurs have commented that 'the minute your business is not focused on growth, you are already losing the battle and winding down."
More than 80% of the entrepreneurs believed that there are opportunities to be exploited in the next 12 months. In addition only 16% said that they were focused on surviving the next 12 months.
When questioned about their area of focus in the next 12 months, 48% plan to expand into new geographic markets and 47% plan to diversify their business or develop new product lines. Two thirds are increasing their focus on new market opportunities.
Xaba comments: "While focusing on their current performance is still important to entrepreneurs, it is in their culture to constantly look for new opportunities and new markets. This might mean a new sector, a fresh idea or a different geography. Or all three."
A significant number (36%) of entrepreneurs said that availability of cash was not an issue per se for them. However a substantial proportion (41%) said that they were taking other steps to maintain liquidity; including a stronger focus on working capital, increasing efficiency, securing equity investment from strategic partners and deferring capital expenditure.
"Those entrepreneurs which can capitalise upon the momentum of these turbulent times, using it to make the required business improvements, with the respective focus on efficiency and performance, will emerge stronger than ever," says Xaba. "The statistics show that entrepreneurial businesses are likelier to do just that."
More than half of the surveyed entrepreneurs indicated that they planned to increase investment in areas such as marketing; staff training, IT infrastructure, doing more business on line; sales and prospecting staff, research and development, geographic expansion, innovation and product development as well as additional offices and new facilities.
"Investment is key to growing the economy," Xaba says. "It will also be critical to ensuring that businesses stay ahead of their competitors and ahead of the market. This may explain why several of the strongest businesses today were grown in turbulent times: entrepreneurs know best how to capitalise on opportunities."