business owner with open sign

The pandemic has been a massive challenge for small businesses, with many closing and others relying on government assistance to stay afloat, but a survey from RBC suggests prospective entrepreneurs are uncowed.

More than half of the 2,000 Canadians surveyed online by Ipsos Canada said they’ve thought about owning a business, a four-year high for RBC’s small business poll.

“Canadian entrepreneurs have faced a myriad of challenges over the last 15 months, and it’s made for some devastating headlines,” said Don Ludlow, RBC’s vice-president of small business, partnerships and strategy, in a release. “But we’re also hearing countless stories of entrepreneurs who are finding ways to turn these challenges into new opportunities for growth and change.”

Among aspiring entrepreneurs — those who’ve considered owning a business but haven’t yet — more than four in 10 said the pandemic has made them more likely to start a business. Among all respondents, almost six in 10 said Covid-19 has created new opportunities for small businesses.

While aspiring entrepreneurs may be thinking big, many existing business owners are struggling with debt and worried about government programs winding down.

Small businesses have taken on an average of $163,000 in Covid-related debt, Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) president Dan Kelly said on Monday, and almost half are worried about their survival.

The CFIB is asking the federal government to maintain wage and rent subsidies at their current level and allow new businesses to access federal support programs.

Ipsos conducted the survey for RBC in April. Representative sample results were weighted to reflect the Canadian population, but online surveys can’t be assigned a margin of error because they don’t randomly sample the population.