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

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

The property on which a residential school (pictured) that was torn down years ago in Lower Post is to be the location of a cultural centre. (Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre photo)
Lower Post residential school building to be demolished, replaced with cultural centre

Project to be funded by federal and provincial governments, Daylu Dena Council

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

Most Read