In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down businesses, leaving the streets of Athens empty and online businesses emerging.
Since then, student entrepreneurs at the University of Georgia have had to get creative with the ways they run their businesses due to the pandemic. The businesses that have found the most success in the pandemic are those that became comfortable with working online, according to Forbes.
As of February 2021, 10% of small business owners have shut down their businesses and have yet to reopen, and 20% of small businesses were shut down temporarily and have since reopened at limited capacity, according to CNBC. GoDaddy, the market leader of web hosting platforms, has seen a 48% increase in new paying subscribers from February to April 2020.
Local Athens businesses have adjusted to this new way of business as well. In the beginning of the pandemic, Daily Groceries Co-op operated on a strict curbside format where customers may order online and pick up their orders outside. When tasting revenue dropped dramatically, Creature Comforts created a new product called Clean Creature, which is a cleaning product they began selling at their drive through window.
Capitalizing during COVID
Senior business management major Natasha Robinson saw the challenges surrounding the pandemic as an opportunity. Robinson owns her brand Curly Strands, which she founded in June 2019. Curly Strands has over 100,000 YouTube subscribers and over 28,000 Instagram followers.
“The only thing I would do . . . differently is start earlier,” Robinson said.
Curly Strands is a place where Black women can learn how to take care of their natural locks and learn fun new styles that they can do on themselves. Not only was Robinson sharing this advice on social media, but she also does hair services for people.
Robinson earns revenue through her YouTube channel and hair services she does about once a week.
Robinson started her business on Instagram and eventually expanded to YouTube where her first video received over 1 million views. Before March 2020, she won a grant from the UGA Kickstart Fund, which gives student-led businesses the chance to expand their ideas by granting them $1,000 to $5,000 in capital, as well as provide them with future business guidance.
“[UGA Kickstart] told me the salon stuff is great, but I could really differentiate myself if I put more resources into social media and YouTube,” Robinson said. “So, with that, I took the funding, and I put it towards supplies for content creation instead of hair products. Now, I have like four videos with a million views.”
As a full-time student taking 17 credit hours while also running her business, Robinson looks forward to when she can create more consistently. As a student, Robinson said finding time to create can be hard.
“I’m not going to sacrifice my quality for that,” Robinson said. “So if that means I have to wait until I have more time in my schedule, that’s just what that means.”
Robinson was not the only one who created her own brand while still stuck in quarantine — UGA students Anna Madison and Reagan Pritchett started a business as well.
Madison and Pritchett, two seniors pursuing fashion who have been close friends since the sixth grade, decided to start their business Electric Lemonade during quarantine.
Electric Lemonade is a fully online brand that sells accessories with the aim to “give girls the chance to stand out and groove to their own beat,” according to its website. They sell accessories like earrings, necklaces and purses. Madison and Pritchett started with sales primarily in Athens, and they now send out weekly orders across the country.
Although it’s a job, Pritchett said that doesn’t stop these two from finding joy in their business.
“It’s very fun, it’s work though, it’s a time commitment. So it does feel like a job in that aspect, but I do think it’s very entertaining, and I love doing it,” Pritchett said.
Perks of social media
UGA student Gracie Banta, founder of her small jewelry business Simply Sufficient, is using the tough times of the pandemic to adjust and grow.
“I would love for [Simply Sufficient] to keep growing and if it's a possibility for me to do this for the years to come, I would absolutely love to. My dream is to have my own studio space and to be able to sell earrings and make a living off of it would be super awesome.” said Banta.
Banta is a freshman intended advertising major who started her jewelry business as a sophomore in high school to raise money for a mission trip. Since then, Banta has fallen in love with the business and sees herself continuing to grow her business even after she graduates.
Before the pandemic, Banta was selling her jewelry online and also in local markets such as the Marietta Square Artisan Market. She has noticed that because of the pandemic, the way her business is run has changed.
“Online sales have increased a lot, but I wouldn’t say that it’s solely because of the pandemic. My business started taking off during the pandemic, so I don’t really have anything to compare it to before,” Banta said. “But once the pandemic started, my business took a total 180, and my following has grown so much on social media since then.”
Even though businesses have shut down, there have also been new businesses popping up in unexpected ways.
“There are so many businesses that took off on TikTok over the course of the past year,” Banta said. “And that has really a lot of people noticing now like, ‘Oh, it's really not like that hard to start my own business. I just have to do it in the right way,’ and stuff like that. So I think we've seen success through the rise in TikTok, and businesses going viral.”