When $850 billion in pandemic-related stimulus money hit personal banking accounts in three waves, many U.S. households used it for immediate needs, paid down debt or stashed it away for rainy days.
But others with a more entrepreneurial spirit chose to use the money to start new businesses.
Kit Creemer is among those who saw possibility when the payments came.
While Creemer hasn’t yet created an LLC, she invested stimulus money in training and supplies to get her on the path to launching Agape Apothecary.
The registered nurse hopes one day soon she’ll be able to scale back her hours at Mercy Springfield Communities and, eventually, make a full-time job out of Agape Apothecary and creating medicinal products.
But first, she needed a cash infusion.
“It’s helped with expenses,” Creemer said. “I have to have the stuff on hand in order to create, so you have to have the money to invest.”
A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found 21% more businesses were started in 2020 than in 2019. According to reports from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, the number of U.S. small businesses increased by a net of nearly 1 million last year to 31.7 million.
Additionally, a study from the Peterson Institute for International Economics showed that of those businesses, 4.4 million in 2020 were startups, up from 3.5 million the year prior.
Ram Basnet, manager of the SBA’s Springfield branch, said that while he doesn’t have hard data, he has noticed an increase in the number of calls from people looking to start a business in lieu of employment.
Basnet said the reasons vary from those who got a taste of working from home and want to continue that flexibility to those who suddenly found themselves without a job. “Maybe they had resources from unemployment and time to think, to work on ideas they’ve had in the past,” he said.
Paige Oxendine, assistant director at the Efactory, said the business incubator has experienced a similar uptick in people asking for assistance to launch new businesses.
“We’ve seen the full spectrum in terms of what types of businesses people are interested in starting,” Oxendine said via email. “Local entrepreneurs are exploring everything from online-based businesses to traditional brick-and-mortar establishments.”
For Creemer, time and experiences of the past 18 months got her entrepreneurial wheels turning.
She’s been interested in herbal remedies for a long time. “But when COVID hit, I thought, I wasn’t taking my kids anywhere and I wasn’t doing anything – I have time on my hands,” she said.
She took her first training class via Zoom from an apothecary in Fort Collins, Colorado, on the use of herbs in a time of stress. That led to a yearlong herbalism certification course from an herbalist in Denver.
“I just came upon it at the right time and there was a little nudge – I’m doing that, I’m following that,” she said.
Creemer is still working on learning how different teas and tinctures can be used for health benefits. She recently used yarrow leaves – a natural coagulant – to stanch profuse bleeding when her daughter sliced a finger while cutting a bagel.
Creemer drinks a tea every day made from nettles and oat straw to ease anxiety. She’s also created an all-natural mosquito repellant she said is highly effective. Other products include lip balms and lotions.
“I would never say, take these herbs and they’ll cure your cancer. But there are things herbs do help with and you should use them for that,” Creemer said.
This isn’t the first time Creemer has changed careers. While she’s been a nurse for 30 years, she graduated from Missouri State University with a degree in communications and journalism. She got into nursing after working in communications first for Mercy and later Lakeland Behavioral Health System.
“When they shut down my department, I thought this is my sign to change lanes,” she said of her communications work at Park Central Hospital.
Basnet said he’s seen this sentiment bear out in his personal life.
His wife, also an RN, has friends looking to get into short-term rentals or a side hustle that could grow into a microbusiness.
He said she and her friends “have started to believe they don’t have to stick to their own education, their field of expertise. They can move out of that field and follow a passion.”
Crises create opportunities
The Efactory’s Oxendine said crises such as the global COVID-19 pandemic can fan the flames of entrepreneurship.
“History shows that the rate of entrepreneurship increases during times of great change and economic uncertainty like we have experienced across the U.S. over the last 18 months,” she said. “The pandemic has prompted many to launch new businesses as well as new products or services within their existing business.”
Earlier this year, the Peterson Institute think tank reported the startup boom is not limited to the United States. Other countries where businesses are fairly easy to start also saw increases. The United States and Turkey are both up 23%, but Chile, the United Kingdom and others recorded startup growth as well. The report referred to crises as periods of “creative destruction” in which new ideas sprout.
According to Oxendine, that’s understandable.
“Entrepreneurs are innovators and problem-solvers by nature,” she said. “These community members are inspired by a challenge and are motivated to improve the world around them. While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly presented challenges, many have seen these challenges as an opportunity to provide a solution. When you can create or provide a solution and find that there is market fit or need, many realize they have a new business idea.”
Creemer said she thinks the time is right for her change.
“I feel it’s the thing I’m supposed to be doing,” she said.
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