Bakery owners Mike Livingstone and Annie Hoare, shown in this March 2021 handout image, opened the first COBS Bread bakery in Georgetown, Ont., in December. “I didn’t have as much to lose,” Livingston says of launching a business in the midst of a pandemic after he was laid off as a transportation executive. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

Bakery owners Mike Livingstone and Annie Hoare, shown in this March 2021 handout image, opened the first COBS Bread bakery in Georgetown, Ont., in December. “I didn’t have as much to lose,” Livingston says of launching a business in the midst of a pandemic after he was laid off as a transportation executive. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

Side hustle, necessity or too late to turn back: Meet Canada’s newest business owners

While some startups will stick around, others will fade away with the novel coronavirus

For Mike Livingstone, a pandemic-related job loss offered a chance to chase after a long-held dream. When he was laid off last spring, the transportation executive switched gears and became his own boss, following his passion and opening a bakery.

“We’d always wanted to have our own business, but the timing was never right,” he said in an interview. “Our kids were little and we just needed stability. But when I lost my job, it was a lot easier to take a risk because I didn’t have as much to lose.”

A rare silver lining has emerged a year into the COVID-19 pandemic that has otherwise caused widespread economic devastation.

As thousands of businesses shut down and millions of workers were laid off, some Canadians seized the opportunity to strike out on their own.

According to Statistics Canada’s most recent data, the number of new business openings in November exceeded the number of business closures for the fifth month in a row.

The unexpected burst of entrepreneurship seems to defy a year largely defined by the grim economic fallout of rising infections and tightening restrictions.

For some, starting a business was a matter of necessity, a side-hustle to make ends meet and stay busy until the economy rebounded.

These could include opportunistic startups that took advantage of the so-called COVID-19 economy like cleaning services, homemade masks, online fitness and delivery services, said James Bowen, adjunct professor in the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa.

While some will stick around, others will fade away with the novel coronavirus, he said.

“2020 accelerated some trends we’ve been seeing build up over time but it also changed a number of business models,” Bowen said. “The cost of entry has dropped and we see more people starting companies on the side, but the failure rate might be different as the economy and society has transitioned and is looking for a better future.”

Meanwhile, some new businesses were in the works even before the pandemic hit, while others – like Livingstone – found the crisis sharpened their focus on what they really wanted in life.

“We talked about what the future looked like for us and decided to make a change,” said Livingstone, now the owner of Cobs Bread Bakery in Georgetown, a community northwest of Toronto, along with his wife, Annie Hoare.

“This was a business opportunity but it was really about a passion.”

While it might seem unorthodox to open a new business while so many others went under, Livingstone is not alone.

Toronto cannabis retail store Forever Buds opened in January while the city was under lockdown.

“We could have stopped and waited until this was all over but with no end in sight, we decided to roll with the punches and move forward,” said Vish Joshi, the CEO of Forever Buds.

“It’s a bit of a downer that we couldn’t actually open our doors to customers for a grand opening. But we worked hard to create a buzz online.”

In Nova Scotia, Chanoey’s Pasta opened in June while COVID-19 restrictions were in place.

Catherine Paulino, co-owner of the Dartmouth restaurant along with her husband and chef Carl Mangali, said they had already leased a space and taken out loans and “couldn’t turn back.”

But the entrepreneurs had come up with a nearly pandemic-proof business, she said.

“We hit the jackpot with our business plan because we were focused on takeout anyways,” Paulino said. “We pay all our bills on time and we even take a day off a week now.”

While there are challenges to opening a business during a pandemic, she added that there are benefits too.

“We found some of the rates lower than we expected and we received some discounts on our (point-of-sale) system.”

Indeed, some real estate lease prices have dipped during the pandemic as sublets flood the market, while e-commerce and online ordering has thrived.

Yet the startup surge over the last year could be followed by a wave of closures post-pandemic, Bowen said.

“The failure rate is probably going to be higher for two reasons,” he said. “One is that there’s going to be people starting companies that don’t have the background.”

“The other is second-mover advantage and that is when somebody starts a business and demonstrates that there’s a market for something new, maybe it’s a niche market or an emerging market, and then an established big player … takes over.”

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

BusinessCoronavirusEntrepreneurs

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

Photo courtesy of Abbotsford Police Department.
‘Vehicle Maintenance 101 for Teens’ to be hosted by Abbotsford Police traffic officers

Virtual meetups with Q&A period held on April 23, May 11, May 25

Stock photo from Unsplash.com
Free online workshops on ‘advance care planning’ hosted in Abbotsford

3 sessions hosted by Abbotsford Hospice Society and Association for Healthy Aging

People stroll through rows of tulips in bloom during the Tulips of the Valley Festival on May 2, 2017. The colourful spring event, now called Chilliwack Tulips, opens on Sunday, April 11, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Chilliwack tulip attraction open this weekend after being closed last year due to COVID-19

More than 6.5 million bulbs in all at this year’s colourful Chilliwack Tulips event

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Emergency crews on scene after a small plane crashed in a grassy area on the northeast side of Boundary Bay Airport Saturday morning (April 10). A freelancer said the plane caught fire and one person was transported to hospital by BC Emergency Health Services. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
1 taken to hospital after plane crash at Metro Vancouver airport

Plane appears to have suffered ‘significant’ damage, says freelancer

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, was filming near Prospect Lake in Saanich last month. (Photo courtesy Fred Haynes)
Province announces $150,000 towards film studio, fulfilling B.C. NDP promise

Investment to fund movie studio feasibility study at Camosun College

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read