2020 was a year for unexpected creativity. Zoom weddings brought families together from their homes, curbside pickup became a staple in small businesses, and new businesses launched to meet new demands and improve outdated inefficiencies.
They say the greatest ideas are spurned from problems and challenges—and there was no shortage of problems and obstacles in 2020.
One group of people has shined despite the challenges of 2020: entrepreneurs. These are people who went into business in 2019 or 2020 and have adapted to the various challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown at them.
We’re all a little battered by last year, but many entrepreneurs are standing tall. Here’s what you need to know about America’s current entrepreneurial spirit.
The COVID-19 pandemic created challenges for companies of all sizes, from some of the largest enterprise brands in the world to your local small businesses. Despite these obstacles, many companies have adapted, proving that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
According to the “Entrepreneurial Spirit Index” from American Express, which surveyed 1,000 small and midsized business owners, 81% of business owners believe that the benefits of owning their business outweigh the challenges. Many of these entrepreneurs have followed their business plans through the pandemic, though 76% have pivoted their operations in some way.
AmEx profiled a bakery owner in Seattle whose brick-and-mortar retail sales were down by 90%. After pivoting online, she was able to drive her e-commerce sales up from $200 to $5,000 daily.
Entrepreneurs by nature are creative thinkers and strategic problem-solvers. For many, the pandemic has presented unthinkable challenges—but also unique solutions. And many of these entrepreneurs will move forward with their new business models and income streams even after the pandemic ends.
The pandemic presented the workforce with a flurry of new and unique problems unlike anything we’ve ever seen. While some workers were already working from home, demand for remote work solutions and tools skyrocketed as businesses across the globe closed their physical doors and went digital. Some business owners are using the pandemic to launch new branches of their companies, while entrepreneurs are setting out on their own with brand-new companies.
“The best innovations are created in response to specific, urgent, and sizable problems,” Dirk G. Schroeder, associate professor of Social Entrepreneurship and Global Health at Emory University, writes. “In some ways, the COVID-19 crisis has made our most urgent problems and their potential solutions more obvious.”
Schroeder uses the example of an entrepreneur realizing the importance of masks and the inability to get them. This person could then enter the mask market with a manufacturing and distribution company and create local jobs for people who were laid off because of the pandemic.
However, one of the challenges moving forward will be to maintain jobs when demand drops after the pandemic. What will happen to a mask company if people no longer need to wear face coverings? How can a restaurant that hires several delivery drivers keep these staff members on if demand for at-home dining drops?
Today’s entrepreneurs need long-term plans to stay successful in the years to come. For example, the mask-making company might use the short-term income to build up capital to enter the global medical supply market or to create PPE for manufacturing enterprises.
Someday this pandemic will subside, and the companies that thrived because of coronavirus ideas will either need to return to their previous operations or adapt to new market demands.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, layoffs have soared. With restaurants and other businesses closed, teams have had to slash their budgets and reduce their payroll costs to stay operational. While most people hoped these layoffs would be temporary, the cuts keep coming—with enterprise brands like Disney and Universal cutting workers in Q4 to stay in the black.
These layoffs have pushed some people into entrepreneurship. This loss is the motivation that many entrepreneurs needed to strike out on their own and start their new business ideas. They have the time and are using the lack of a parachute to drive themselves forward and turn their big ideas into realities.
Well, most entrepreneurs are. Joe Procopio, who brands himself as “a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur,” has been consulting with would-be business owners during the pandemic. He says that while entrepreneurial excitement might be enough to drive some workers forward, hard work and skill need to accompany these new business efforts.
“I’ve seen this happen too many times: A person gets laid off, isn’t desperate, has severance or an emergency fund set aside, and so they jump right into their startup idea,” Procopio writes. This entrepreneur will spend weeks networking, developing use cases, and mapping out their ideas. “They wind up doing everything but making something and selling it.”
Having an idea is a good start, but for entrepreneurs to survive the first 6 months of business—or even the first 3 months—they need a plan of action and the dedication to make their dreams realities. Now may be a better time to grow your business acumen by returning to school or finding a business partner who knows the ropes instead of immediately striking out on your own.
People across the world hoped the COVID-19 pandemic would be a blip on the radar of 2020—an unfortunate season where schools were closed and travel plans delayed. However, the coronavirus will likely be a part of our lives through 2021 as countries work to contain outbreaks.
While the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well through the pandemic, it still remains to be seen how most business owners will fare in the coming months. Will most entrepreneurs survive this year with their businesses intact? Will the “COVID-preneurs” who turned layoffs into opportunities succeed? These are all questions to keep asking as we keep fighting to end the pandemic.