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COVID-19 was a setback for working women. These first-time entrepreneurs prevailed

Samantha Masunaga, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

A Facebook group called The Female Entrepreneur Community also exploded in membership during the pandemic, from 880 members at the beginning of the year to nearly 45,000 by August, said Whitney McQuade, the group's founder and a business coach.

McQuade said she started the group to provide an inclusive community online because she and other Black and biracial women she spoke with felt "we were not represented in the online space."

Women of color were hit harder by job losses during the pandemic than white women, and many struggle to rebound professionally, with families disproportionately hit by COVID-19 and juggling child- or family-care obligations. Other online groups shied away from discussing racial justice and its effect on businesses, and McQuade wanted to create a space where a diverse community felt it was seen and heard.

"It was creating a really safe space for women to come together during these trying times," McQuade said. "There were a lot of people who had no idea how to run a business but needed to receive feedback, support and guidance to make it work so they could provide for themselves, provide for their families."

A March survey conducted by Gusto and the National Assn. of Women Business Owners found that of the women who started new businesses during the pandemic, nearly half were women of color. They were more than twice as likely as white women to say that they started their new businesses because they were laid off or worried about their financial situation.

"This is a very inspiring trend of women of color turning obstacles into opportunities and creating new businesses, but the conversation can't end with, 'This is an inspiring trend,'" said Luke Pardue, an economist at Gusto who wrote the survey report. "We have to find ways to support these new business owners and make sure their businesses don't fail."

Economic and entrepreneurship experts say that would require more investment in small-business development centers, low-cost consulting and other programs that give women the education and tools to learn and grow their businesses.

"Women are very, very strong in terms of gaining social support, family support, informal social networks," said Lois Shelton, a professor at Cal State Northridge who specializes in entrepreneurship and strategy. "Where women have somewhat of a disadvantage ... are accessing these business networks. That's where men are very strong."

 

Spurred by the setback women have faced in the workplace during the pandemic, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Brit Morin started Selfmade, a 10-week online entrepreneurship seminar for women.

Since June 2020, nearly 2,000 women ages about 20 to 70 have gone through the program. Of those who attended, about half had recently become unemployed or furloughed, and the other half had a side job that they hoped to make into a full-time gig. Many women wanted to join the program to work on what they're most passionate about, Morin said.

"With the pandemic, a lot of people have reevaluated their life," Morin said. "They want to have a job that's meaningful to them."

Esmeralda Jimenez recently went part-time at her property administrator job to focus on growing her Mexican pastries and bread business, Clementina's Sweets. She founded it in San Diego in late 2019 as a passion project for weekends and off-hours. After the recent deaths of family members and friends, Jimenez decided to take the leap and focus more on what she loves.

Although it was difficult to leave the security of her job, Jimenez knew she had to give up something to keep growing the success of Clementina's Sweets, which is named for her grandmother.

"Life is not easy," she said. "Doing what you love, that's what makes life."

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