Many who launched businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic say they’ve achieved personal satisfaction they never got at 9-to-5 jobs. And many are not going back.
Among Alaskans, one Anchorage woman started a microgreens business in a garage after her job didn’t give her the flexibility she wanted. Another launched a clothing boutique after she saw friends starting their own companies.
One Anchorage man pursued three business ideas — and committed to the one where he earns double what his prior corporate paid him.
Even as some businesses struggle, some entrepreneurs say the businesses rhey launched during COVID-19 are thriving.
Nationwide, the U.S. is experiencing an entrepreneurial surge unseen since the 1990s tech boom, said Kenan Fikri, research director for the Economic Innovation Group in Washington, D.C.
Rising household wealth and shifting life priorities, atop millions of Americans losing jobs during the pandemic, have fueled the surge, experts say.
Companies and organizations that help small businesses start up say they’ve seen increased interest from entrepreneurs.
Attorney Andrew Mitton, who serves small businesses, said he has seen more people starting new ones during the pandemic.
“The pandemic is just forcing people to look at their lives and say, ‘We are going to make some changes here,’ ” he said. “And maybe the business they always wanted to start they decide they will do it, whether it’s a side hustle or a full-time business.”
New business licenses soar
At the start of the pandemic, Alaska eliminated business licensing fees intended to help stabilize the economy. Business license creation has flourished. More than 26,000 were created over the fiscal year ending in June 2021, thousands more than in previous years, state records show.
But not all business licenses lead to active businesses. Economic observers say they’re watching that and other data to sort what’s happening in the economy.
Seth Stetson of Anchorage created three business licenses after receiving a furlough from his job in March 2020.
The former marketing director for Kaladi Brothers Coffee and related companies said he had to make ends meet, with three daughters and looming college costs.
A chemical cleaning company Stetson tried to start never really launched. A grocery delivery business lasted a short while.
So Stetson went back to what he knew. He launched Orange Slice Marketing last summer. It now has three employees, including a business partner.
“I effectively doubled my salary from what I was making, without a ceiling on revenue,” he said. “And I have the ability to hire people, give back to the community and help other businesses.”
He plans to work for himself as long as possible.
“I always thought security lied in a good, salaried position with benefits, and then I realized someone has my livelihood in their hands and I don’t want that anymore,” he said. “The security we have is what we make for ourselves.”
It’s counterintuitive to think more businesses are being created than before the pandemic, since so many people remain out of work, said Rob Kreiger, an Alaska Labor economist.
But he said people creating their own businesses, and not going back to work, could help explain some of the labor shortage.
Looking for a change
New business owners interviewed for this article often said they wanted something different in life.
Hannah Schruf opened the Weather Boutique, a downtown Anchorage women’s contemporary clothing store, early this year.
She had just left her job as a bookkeeper at a law firm, where she initially worked from home during the pandemic. Removed from the office hustle, she considered her future, she said. She’d seen some friends take the entrepreneurial plunge, and decided it was her turn.
“My job wasn’t bad, I just knew I wanted more,” she said. “There are so many people, maybe because of the pandemic, who have started to focus on fulfillment from jobs.”
Amber Rochon launched her own microgreens business over the winter, in the garage of a business partner she has since bought out. Petite Bloom grows baby sprouts of broccoli, peas and other vegetables to add to salads, burgers and other meals.
She was pregnant with her third child last year, when she left her job at a home remodeling company in Anchorage. They couldn’t give her the flexibility she wanted, she said. It was the early days of the pandemic, and she was concerned about being pregnant and getting sick.
“It’s been very awesome ever since,” she said.
Sales at farmers markets were so good this year, she’s looking for commercial space to expand, she said.
Savings and soaring home values brew confidence
Economists say a robust stock market, growing home values and increased family savings have helped some people take risks and start a business.
Unable to take big family vacations during the pandemic, Doug Franklin said he saved enough that in October he left his longtime job as an information technology manager.
“I had a great career,” Franklin said “I loved folks there, it was just time for me to do something else.”
He said he wants to make a positive difference in the world. He and his 28-year-old son, Max, have launched an air quality detection company in Anchorage, Airhounds.
They want to become the Yelp of indoor air quality reviews, with an online platform where citizen scientists can post data about air quality in businesses, using small carbon dioxide detectors.
Franklin said the money he saved gave him the confidence to launch the business.
“When that’s gone, if I can’t make money any other way, I’ll be rejoining the workforce,” he said.