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Innovation, free time help Edmontonians launch online businesses during COVID-19

New Edmonton entrepreneurs emerge during COVID-19 pandemic
WATCH: Some Edmontonians can now add "small business owner" to their resume thanks to the pandemic. Community reporter Morgan Black shows us how extra free time has turned a profit for some.

A keen business sense — mixed in with some unexpected free time — has helped a few young Edmontonians launch small businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Melissa Cook saw her Instagram-based illustration business launch following an afternoon of doodling.

“I posted [the drawing] on my Instagram and I got lots of replies. People were saying they liked it and they wanted a drawing of their own. So I thought I should make a different account for it,” explained Cook. “I was telling my dad, ‘A lot of people are messaging me and they are people I don’t even know!'”
A piece from Maybe Illustrations
A piece from Maybe Illustrations. Courtesy: Melissa Cook

Maybe Illustrations, which started in mid-April, quickly became a budding business.

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“It was a full day of work! Each piece at the beginning was taking me five hours and I was trying to do two illustrations a day. Then I thought ‘Hmm…maybe I need to be charging more than $10 for these,'” she laughed.

READ MORE: ‘They need us to survive’: Small business owners feel impacts of COVID-19 pandemic

The success of the business was unexpected, but Cook quickly got to work creating branding and a business plan for her venture.

“I always thought I would start my own business one day. I just didn’t know what it was going to be,” Cook explained. “My friend is a graphic designer so she helped me make my logo. That’s a whole other part of the job that takes a lot of work and time.”

Elsewhere, a group of friends have started a digital consignment store. Abby Kohler, Kiki Yamada and Jordan Pitman run The Collective Closet.

Delivery day for The Collective Closet
Delivery day for The Collective Closet. Courtesy: Jordan Pitman

Kohler came up with the idea while working at a local boutique.

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“My boss was talking about how she had so many clothes, but didn’t have the time to consign them,” said Kohler. “It was just when the COVID-19 pandemic was starting and I was realizing I wasn’t going to have a summer job. So I asked her if I could sell her clothes and take a portion of that. It took off from there.”

Grade 12 students start small business during COVID-19 pandemic
Grade 12 students start small business during COVID-19 pandemic
“We were comparing last month to this month [for sales]. We went from being so pumped from making one sale…and now we’re making 20-25 in a week,” said Yamada.
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READ MORE: Life Lessons: Grade 12 students start small business during COVID-19 pandemic

The trio says they are still getting comfortable with a new job title.

“I didn’t see myself ever as an entrepreneur,” said Kohler. “At first it was a hobby and something to keep me busy.

“I thought I was going to be bartending this summer,” said Pitman. “Now my basement is full of clothes and I’m doing photoshoots in the backyard!”

A backyard photoshoot from The Collective Closet
A backyard photoshoot from The Collective Closet. Courtesy: Jordan Pitman

According to a professor at the University of Alberta’s School of Business, the pandemic has changed the way we live, play and work while also creating new opportunities.

“In this new economy, when people start new businesses there’s often a push or pull factor,” Lloyd Steier said. “Some people are pushed into entrepreneurship, because they’ve been laid off and they embrace opportunities they never thought of before. Others have always wanted to start a business.”

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Can small businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic?
Can small businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic?

Steier said both businesses heavy use of Instagram also signals another shift in the way people do business.

READ MORE: Edmonton entrepreneurs take on challenge of launching businesses during COVID-19

“We’re seeing a lot of activity on social media. We were in the midst of a digital transformation prior to COVID-19. What COVID-19 has done is accelerate that transformation.”

On top of the thrill of creating their first business, these Edmontonians said they also feel a deep sense of accomplishment.

“I’m so happy,” said Cook. “I’m definitely proud of myself.”

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