EletiofeEveryone Wants to Be an Entrepreneur

Everyone Wants to Be an Entrepreneur

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Angela Muhwezi-Hall had a startup idea long before the pandemic—it just never seemed like the right time. She had a steady job at a university, a 401(k), and the ability to take paid time off. Then came March 2020. As the university shut down and Muhwezi-Hall retreated to work from home, she started to think about making the leap.

What she wanted to build was a job platform for service workers. While the idea was old, the timing was suddenly perfect: Millions of service workers had just been laid off and were looking for new jobs. She recruited her sister, Deborah Gladney, to help build a prototype. By August, the sisters had quit their full-time jobs to work on the startup, QuickHire.

Muhwezi-Hall and Gladney are part of a rising tide of first-time entrepreneurs. In 2021, more than 5.4 million applications for new businesses were filed, according to the US Census Bureau. That’s 23 percent more than in 2020, and about twice as many as a decade ago. The sudden burst of startup activity reverses a decade-long slump, and it has created the biggest entrepreneurship boom in half a century.

“People have become disaffected with what they’re doing, and might as well do the thing they’ve been wanting to do for a while,” says Stewart Thornhill, executive director of the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Michigan. Some people who were furloughed or laid off near the start of the pandemic became entrepreneurs out of necessity. Others took stock of their good-enough jobs and decided they could do something better.

When lockdowns began, Harsh Khurana came up with the idea for a browser extension to show consumers American-made alternatives to goods they search on Amazon. “The idea absolutely came out of the pandemic,” he says. He had noticed the effect of lockdowns on small businesses; meanwhile, Americans seemed to be spending more money than ever on Amazon. Khurana cold-emailed the idea to Mark Cuban, who decided to invest, prompting Khurana to quit his job as a consultant. “There was no ‘one foot in and one foot out,’” he says. “It was more like, ‘This is my life now. There is no looking back.’”

The pandemic prompted people to ask themselves, “Am I just supporting a company that makes widgets, or can I do something that actually has an impact?” says Felena Hanson, the founder of San Diego-based business accelerator Hera Hub, which saw a 50 percent increase in first-time entrepreneurs last year. Most of Hera Hub’s members have gone the consulting or freelancing route—they’re doing similar work as before, just without the oversight of a boss. Hanson tries to coach them through the challenges of working for themselves. “When you leave corporate and you’re on your own, it’s like, who do I call? I don’t dial extension 3 for Jim to come fix my laptop.”

Starting a business is rarely easy. Muhwezi-Hall and Gladney say they had to learn on the job, figuring out how to find developers and fundraise. They bootstrapped the first year of QuickHire, borrowing money from their 401(k)s to cover startup costs. But the pandemic also made some things easier. At one point, Muhwezi-Hall and her husband moved into Gladney’s basement, saving on rent. And by working remotely from home, Muhwezi-Hall’s husband was able to keep his job in another city.

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