Here are the top 10 nations enjoying the fastest growth in small businesses – and why it matters

Image:  Unsplash/

Bricklin Dwyer
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Innovation is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:


  • The innovation born from the pandemic has created a host of new digitally native businesses designed to meet evolving needs and new market opportunities.
  • The fuel driving this exponential growth of new small business formations around the world is ease and accessibility of digital operations.
  • The top countries with the largest new business formation growth in 2020 were the UK (+101%), US (+86%), Australia (+73%), Germany (+62%) and Canada (+58%).

The global health crisis has disrupted businesses around the world in vastly different ways, but particularly small and medium-sized businesses (SMB), which make up more than 90% of the total worldwide. Many businesses closed their doors temporarily and others for good, while some saw unprecedented growth.

Have you read?

Yet a lesser-known outcome from the past 18 months has been the innovation born from this worldwide disruption, as a host of new digitally native businesses were created to meet evolving needs, new market opportunities and a global shift to remote-work environments, which has enabled the entrepreneurial to thrive.

The latest insights from Mastercard’s Recovery Insights: Small Business Reset report corroborate this development, revealing a pandemic small-business boom. According to the report, 32% more SMBs were formed in 2020 globally, as pent-up savings, a disrupted job market and evolving consumer behaviours drove new entrepreneurship. From the UK and Canada to Japan and Brazil, countries around the world saw unprecedented new business formation growth, with the top 10 seeing a nearly 30% increase or more. The global economic marketplace rarely reacts in such unison, particularly as a result of crises, yet this growth demonstrates the beginning of a new global landscape for e-commerce business.

The leaders

To develop a list of the top 10 countries that experienced the largest new business formation growth, Mastercard created a new methodology for accurate measurement. Drawing on proprietary analysis and aggregated and anonymized sales activity within the Mastercard network as well as third-party data sets, the findings focus specifically on businesses that accept card payments. For this report, SMBs were classified using a set of distinct indicators and comprehensive AI-driven algorithms. Metrics included their number of locations, sales volume, number of transactions and average transaction size.

The top 10 countries with the largest new business formation growth year-over-year in 2020 comprise:

1) United Kingdom (101%)
2) United States (86%)
3) Australia (73%)
4) Germany (62%)
5) Canada (58%)
6) Italy (44%)
7) France (40%)
8) Japan (38%)
9) Brazil (35%)
10) Thailand (29%)

Acceleration towards digital gains speed

The fuel driving this exponential growth of new small business formations around the world is the ease and accessibility of digital operations. Almost immediately, the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a dependence on digital operations, and spending was almost entirely transacted through e-commerce. Millions of citizens around the globe found themselves required or opting to work, eat, exercise and entertain themselves within the confines of home, narrowing the focus to life online. By the second half of 2020, many found opportunities to be entrepreneurial in this structure that didn’t exist or might not have been possible before.

Furthermore, the number of brick and mortar businesses that went digital for the first time during the pandemic tripled in 2020, a sure sign that the acceleration towards digital is only gaining speed. This increased shift to online acceptance was mirrored around the world, though to varying degrees. In Brazil, for instance, the number of existing businesses that made the shift online for the first time in 2020 vs. 2019 grew 208%, whereas the growth rate in Germany was 38%.

Small businesses have had to become resilient innovators in order to maintain operations during peak crisis, as the competition among online retailers has undoubtedly been intense given the rise in entrepreneurship. Given the low cost to entry compared to traditional channels, online platforms, drop shipping and other new direct-to-consumer channels have never been easier to set up. This led to not only increased competition among existing SMB retailers that went digital but also competition from a wave of new arrivals born out of the crisis.

The shift to digital paid off for businesses that were able to go digital. According to an analysis by Mastercard Test and Learn®, which used a test-and-control methodology to understand how accepting e-commerce payments impacted sales during the pandemic, SMBs attracted more customers and boosted revenue. Digitally enabled SMBs saw a 5.0% increase in customer spending and a 4.5% increase in transactions compared to their peers. They also attracted more revenue from new customers than their peers (6.4% increase in spending). The analysis also found that 34% of SMB e-commerce sales were purely incremental and would not have occurred with brick-and-mortar alone.

An online presence with staying power

The stresses and successes of businesses faced around the world due to the pandemic varied based on circumstances within and outside their control, including location, government restrictions and financial support, willingness to pivot, industry type and more. But for any small business, making the jump online meant investing dollars and resources in a viable online presence with staying power.

While this has been an existing option for decades, the COVID-19 pandemic fuelled more urgency and foresight for future-proofing operations. A natural result of having a viable presence online means the potential to attract consumers and expand globally, but also competition at scale. As we’ve seen in the past 18 months, SMBs aren’t just continuing to shift to digital – they’re racing towards it with urgency and choosing to be digitally native when forming to capitalize on minimal start-up costs and lower risks. It is these businesses that are heralding in a new global economic landscape that is here to stay.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about digital trade?

Though still challenging, starting a digitally native small business or shifting an existing one online has never been easier, even despite economic hardships from the global health crisis. As the marketplace continues accelerating its shift to digital, we are seeing technology expand to be able to support these ventures, further fuelling entrepreneurial opportunity. Digital capabilities and accessibility have historically been insurmountable hurdles for many seeking to form new small businesses, but we are in the midst of that changing. As small businesses continue to form, it becomes increasing prudent to conduct additional research and track this evolution throughout the economy.

At Mastercard, we are committed to supporting small business and developing innovative solutions that allow a more seamless shift online and more impactful digital operations, and encourage the rest of the technology industry to focus investment that furthers this innovation.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Sign in
  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum