Every week earlier than the coronavirus pandemic hit Maine arduous in March, the company that employed Jennifer DeChant determined to remove her place in authorities relations.
Truly, she was given a selection: She may hold her job on the situation that she relocate to upstate New York. She declined.
DeChant took inventory of her state of affairs and her choices. Throughout her, eating places and outlets have been closing. Folks have been being furloughed or laid off. One in every of her two sons had a well being scare.
All of it brought on her to guage her priorities. She wished to proceed working, however nearer to house. She wished one thing that will contain her household and, as the previous government director of Tub’s Chocolate Church Arts Middle and a former Maine legislator, “one thing that works with my deep love and affection for town of Tub.”
Which is how, in late June, she discovered herself signing papers to take possession of the Tub Candy Shoppe on Centre Avenue.
“Opening a sweet retailer in a pandemic is type of a loopy thought,” she mentioned. “However the different a part of that is that sweet and candies are, for a few of us, a coping mechanism.”
Beginning any type of enterprise within the midst of a pandemic is actually not for the faint-hearted. Even so, extra Mainers appear to be forging forward regardless of the delicate state of the economic system and the uncertainty surrounding the speedy unfold of a virus that may be lethal.
New enterprise functions are rising. Based on the U.S. Census Bureau, Maine entrepreneurs filed 3,132 functions for Employer Identification Numbers within the third quarter. That’s a rise of 60 p.c from the second quarter and, maybe extra tellingly, a soar of 42 p.c over the identical three-month stretch in 2019.
The variety of restricted legal responsibility firm, or LLC, filings between mid-March and late October rose by 329 over the identical interval final 12 months and 680 over the identical interval of 2018, to a complete of 5,612, in line with the Maine Secretary of State’s Workplace.
The rise in enterprise startups is a nationwide development, and its individuals have even earned their very own nickname: “covidpreneurs.”
“Some circumstances are very favorable,” mentioned Nancy Strojny, a 10-year volunteer with the Portland chapter of SCORE, a nonprofit group that gives free and confidential enterprise mentoring companies. “You probably have credit score rating and you’ve got some collateral, banks are prepared to place cash in your palms. As well as, nearly all of the financial improvement engines within the state are providing grants or loans of as much as $10,000.”
One other issue, Strojny mentioned, is that with some exceptions – good day, working dad and mom – loads of people are discovering themselves with extra time on their palms. With that point, they’re taking inventory. Is their present job steady? Is it fulfilling? Do they aspire to one thing else?
Beginning a web-based enterprise doesn’t require the identical quantity of funding essential to get a brick-and-mortar enterprise underway. Past the price of forming an LLC ($175 with an annual renewal payment of $85), a web site or perhaps a Fb web page may get the ball rolling.
“There’s little or no overhead,” Strojny mentioned of a web-based operation. “If you will get some market traction and social media presence, you possibly can just about begin a enterprise with none market capital.”
On-line gross sales are at present the main focus of The Candy Sea Co., a vegan cookie enterprise launched final month by Leigh Kellis, who based and stays co-owner of The Holy Donut, now in its ninth 12 months. A portion of Candy Sea’s income are earmarked for Much less Plastic Portland, a company Kellis began to assist cut back the quantity of plastic within the ocean.
Plans for the cookie enterprise have been within the works since June 2019. Kellis, whose teenage daughter is a aggressive surfer, packages her cookies in a transparent wrapper that appears like plastic however truly is made from plant-based cellulose. At $9.95 for 3 cookies, the treats don’t come low cost. They’re additionally accessible at choose native eating places (El Rayo, Monte’s High-quality Meals) and markets (Lois’ Pure, GoGo Refill).
“I’m making an attempt to determine the right way to get the prices down and provides away more cash to our mission,” Kellis mentioned. “Proper now, it’s a bit out of steadiness.”
She just lately rented house at 89 Market St. (previously the Outdated Port Sandwich Store) for her cookie enterprise. There can even be items, a piano and an artwork instillation. As a result of the pandemic has pressured so many companies to shut, retail house is extra plentiful. Kellis mentioned she’s been in a position to negotiate higher phrases with potential landlords, together with what would occur if the governor sees match to problem one other enterprise shutdown on account of rising coronavirus transmission charges.
“If in six months we are able to’t have clients within the retailer in any respect and I can’t pay hire, let’s discuss that now,” Kellis mentioned. “It truly offers folks the chance to begin one thing now with out an enormous threat.”
Karen Wealthy of Malone Industrial Brokers mentioned pandemic-induced turnover has created extra alternatives for incoming companies, “and in excellent areas that you simply couldn’t usually discover,” akin to Portland’s Outdated Port.
Wealthy additionally pointed to low rates of interest for folks seeking to purchase a constructing and arrange store inside it. The relocation to Maine by out-of-staters leaving city areas with greater transmission charges is one other issue. If they’ll’t work remotely, they could look to purchase an area enterprise.
“If I’m seeking to begin a enterprise and I need to be on the Portland peninsula, that is undoubtedly the time to do this,” Wealthy mentioned. “I hate to sound too optimistic, as a result of it’s arduous on some companies now. Some companies are going to be closing. However there’s at all times somebody coming in who’s saying, ‘I can do this. I can run my restaurant right here. I can climate the storm.’ ”
Again in March and April, Aury Memento questioned whether or not his new enterprise would even get off the bottom, a lot much less climate the storm. He launched GSD Residence Enchancment in February and had just one job lined up earlier than the pandemic hit, and that job wasn’t on account of start till July and would take solely two days to finish.
“I wasn’t positive I used to be going to make it,” mentioned Memento, a 25-year-old graduate of Deering Excessive and the College of Southern Maine who’s initially from Burundi. “It was troublesome dropping the 2 months.”
By late spring, nonetheless, people caught at house have been clamoring for Memento’s companies, which embrace exterior portray, common carpentry and landscaping. He had deliberate on utilizing cash earned in Could to purchase paint sprayers, two using mowers and a bigger trailer, however with none revenue that month, he as an alternative wound up getting a $25,000 U.S. Small Enterprise Administration mortgage from Coastal Enterprises Inc., or CEI, supported by the federal CARES Act.
Memento had begun working for a portray firm when he was a university sophomore and finally grew to become an unbiased contractor. Had his enterprise fallen flat, he may have returned to that.
However GSD, which stands for Get Stuff Accomplished, didn’t fall flat.
“In June, that’s when lots of people began calling me again,” he mentioned. “I did a bunch of estimates, lined up sufficient work, and in July we have been in a position to get began and now we’re nonetheless working.”
Memento has one different worker on his payroll and half a dozen unbiased contractors. Finally, he plans to broaden to full-house renovations excluding roofing, basis, electrical or plumbing work. His first-year objective was to succeed in $200,000 in income.
The pandemic thwarted that objective, however he’s closing in on $145,000 as he winds up one closing exterior mission and is already planning for subsequent 12 months. He’s contemplating a transfer into new development and shifting extra of his landscaping operations to industrial entities, akin to condominium developments.
After making cautious plans for income, bills and hiring with assist from a enterprise mentor at CEI, Memento needed to be nimble.
“We needed to change every part,” he mentioned. “It’s been traumatic, however development is one business that actually didn’t get hit that a lot. We ended up receiving loads of demand.”
UP FOR A CHALLENGE
Zainab Alrammahi, who earned a level in enterprise administration from Southern Maine Group School in 2018, launched Biddeford-based International Residence Healthcare in late Could after three months of finishing all vital paperwork to obtain licensing and approvals. Her enterprise offers house well being aides for a largely aged shopper base, helping with meals, laundry, dressing and train.
It was one thing Alrammahi had completed as a scholar, so she knew the ropes. She began with two staff and now has 10, together with her husband.
“I really feel like there has by no means been a neater or a greater time to begin a enterprise,” mentioned Alrammahi, 27, who was born in Iraq and spent seven years in Syria and two extra in Turkey earlier than coming to Maine when she was 20. “I’m actually blissful to be a part of Maine. It’s a good place to check and to do enterprise.”
She mentioned her largest problem was discovering succesful and certified staff, significantly throughout a time when a federal aid package deal offered a further $600 per week in unemployment advantages. Alrammahi mentioned she plans to double her employees within the subsequent 12 months and can be mulling different enterprise alternatives.
“I’m actually pleased with the outcomes thus far,” she mentioned. “I can see much more issues to do.”
Final winter, Karla Brannen of Falmouth thought of leaving the Portland accounting agency the place she had been a senior tax supervisor in an effort to begin up her personal apply. The pandemic’s arrival gave her pause. Accounting was declared a necessary service, however there have been nonetheless loads of unknowns.
Going from an everyday paycheck with a well being plan and retirement advantages to producing your personal revenue and delving into the well being care market was a problem, however one which Brannen finally determined to embrace. After serving to her earlier employer by way of the Oct. 15 tax deadline, Brannen opened her accounting enterprise the next Monday.
“I wished to have a bit bit extra management over my work schedule and being accessible for my household,” she mentioned. “I made a decision that working for myself was a greater possibility than making an attempt to work for anyone else.”
Brannen, 37, grew up in Smyrna Mills, the place her father had a logging firm and the place her dad and mom now run a maple syrup and honey enterprise. The concept of being her personal boss was a well-recognized one.
“I’ve at all times been an worker,” she mentioned, “however having grown up with dad and mom who’re self-employed and having a number of associates who’ve gone out on their very own and have been profitable doing so, everybody at all times says it’s the perfect factor they’ve ever completed.”
LEARNING ON THE JOB
Again on the Tub Candy Shoppe, Jennifer DeChant stays optimistic. When her son was a lot youthful, she would convey him to the store and purchase foil-covered milk chocolate within the form of automobiles. After shopping for the place in June, that was the primary merchandise she added again to the stock.
Her son, now 16, now works the register and at this level is the one member of the family getting paid. His 12-year-old brother dusts and packages. Her husband retains the web site operating whereas DeChant, 52, handles taxes, merchandising, stock, distributors, credit score and personnel. They saved the store open seven days every week in July and August, and shall be doing so once more after Thanksgiving.
“We’re studying on the job,” she mentioned. “I take suggestions from clients very critically. I take pleasure in studying in regards to the distinction between Swiss fudge and common fudge and I can discuss that type of stuff all day. And my household is having time, too, and we’re all concerned in it.”
Already, DeChant has partnered with an area florist for a flowers-and-candy package deal deal and an area photographer for present playing cards. For Halloween, given the continued pandemic, she made the aware resolution to keep away from something overly creepy. She didn’t carry gummy physique components or sweet eyeballs. She opted for cute and blissful.
“I spotted it was a dangerous time to begin a enterprise, however I additionally decided that the danger was price it,” she mentioned. “We’re going to white-knuckle this like everyone else this 12 months, and subsequent 12 months with vacationers, however this shall be a possibility. I’m studying a lot now, and I’ll be capable to apply it in an even bigger scope when the economic system recovers or adjusts itself once more.”
In addition to, she mentioned, “if you happen to’re not having time in a sweet retailer, one thing’s not proper.”