A Brave New World — Entrepreneurs Of The COVID-19 Pandemic

While many of us were baking sourdough and scrolling through TikTok, some audacious founders launched new ventures.

When the world screeched to a halt in the spring of 2020, most people paused with it — office workers stayed home, schools closed, cities emptied. But in that moment of stillness, a brave few sprung to action to create new businesses. 

We surveyed our readers and found that more than 300 of them had started a new venture since the onset of the pandemic. Almost all of those businesses are not only still in operation, but are set to grow in 2022.

As far as why founders chose a global health crisis as the time to take on the already risky prospect of entrepreneurship — the answers varied.

For some, drastic changes to daily life signaled market shifts that could lead to unprecedented opportunities. 

“Pet adoption rates were at an all-time high, and I knew that once the country opened back up, people would need sitting services,” says Amber Kelly, who owns Beach Buddies Pet Services in Delaware. 

Brett Ottley, who founded Cantilever Inspection in Kansas, echoes the same sentiments. “With record home sales, I saw a need for more home inspectors to keep up with demand.”

For others, it was disruption in their personal lives, not the market, that served as the impetus for becoming their own boss. Many founders reported that the hardships caused by the pandemic catapulted them into entrepreneurship.

“Both my wife and I were laid off [during the pandemic] and we had always wanted to start our own business, so it was the perfect time,” says Brad Abell, owner of Littlest Babe, a baby products company. 

“The pandemic was very tough on my mental health because I am a social guy who loves to go out and meet new people,” says Pratham Doshi, who founded professional skills development tool Worthi. “Being at home, I needed something to keep me busy. Having Worthi during the pandemic turned into my silver lining and I was able to stay sane.”

The businesses themselves were as varied as the inspiration behind them.

The food and beverage industry represented 10.8% of the companies. Retail came in next with 7%, followed by apparel and fashion (5.1%), internet (4.8%), and marketing and advertising (4.8%). 

The most common sources of capital to get started: 

  • Personal savings — 82.9% 
  • Friends and family — 14.6%
  • Angel investors — 10.5%
  • Loans — 8.6%

Regardless of how they gathered the initial funds, founders went on to innovate across industries. 

Some standout ideas:

  • Made by Koa: a bedding company solving the age-old problem of changing duvet covers 
  • Deskvana: a meditation and breathwork app that integrates with Slack
  • Hampr: an on-demand app for laundry service
  • Dovey: a virtual dating site for long-distance couples 
  • Minimalist Chocolate: an ethical, guilt-free chocolate company
  • Terra Karta: a company that flips and sells lots of vacant land  

Starting a business during the pandemic begs the question: Is a global crisis actually a good time to make money? The answer, it turns out, is often yes. 

Business owners reported an average 1st-year revenue of $522,670 across sectors. For projected 2nd-year revenue, the average was a whopping $1,381,292.

Not only did some of these founders make some serious dough, they also learned valuable lessons along the way:

Ryan Morris, who founded Vélographs, discovered that “constraints are key to creativity.” 

“Behavior changes — distributed teams, remote meetings, and speed — are there to be leveraged, not feared,” says Jacob Dutton, founder of Future Foundry.

“Follow your gut and be willing to take risks without having all of the answers,” says Chris Viola, founder of Bardega Cocktail Club.

Kelsey Barr, founder of Hcubed Candles, says, “There’s beauty in starting something when the world is going insane. It’s like the flower that rises from the ashes.” 

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