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Meet the Women Who Launched Businesses During a Pandemic

Kathy Warnick

2020-2021 Chair, NAWBO Institute for Entrepreneurial Development; President, Warnick Consultants, LLC

It’s challenging enough launching a new business under ordinary circumstances, but add in a once-in-a-century pandemic and those challenges escalate to a whole new level. Still, that didn’t stop women business owners from starting their own businesses over the past year.

In fact, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), the voice of America’s more than 11.7 million women business owners, and Gusto, the all-in-one small business payroll and benefits platform, recently partnered on a survey of 1,199 women business owners across industries about their experiences during the pandemic and resulting recession.

The second in a series of reports that resulted from this survey, called “Who Started Businesses During the Pandemic? A Survey of Women Starting Businesses During COVID,” shows that 5 percent of the women business owners surveyed started a new business during this time.

Another key finding was that minority women are driving new business starts — because they’ve had to. Nearly half (47 percent) of businesses started by women in the past year are minority-owned. Many did so out of need; minority women were more than twice as likely (35 percent vs. 17 percent for others) to start a new business because of financial imperative. 

The study also found that these women business owners are carrying the bulk of financial responsibility for their families. Fifty-one percent of women who started their business last year are either the sole provider for their household or the primary source of household income.

Impeccable timing

Heather Polivka is one of those women who launched a business during the pandemic. For this NAWBO member, it was simply a case of “impeccable timing” as she decided in late 2019 to leave a successful corporate career and follow in the footsteps of her mom and grandfather, who were also entrepreneurs. 

In March, as the country was shutting down, she opened HeatherP Solutions, which was built around her belief that a company cannot be successful unless it has the buy-in of employees, because they drive the brand experience and deliver business value.

It hasn’t been easy. Polivka’s business plan immediately went out the window. The worst-case scenario she planned for from a revenue perspective quickly became reality, forcing her to have some serious conversations with her husband and board of directors. With their support and insights, she focused on what she could control. At first, that meant shifting her mindset from selling to being of service to her community and other businesses. 

Polivka’s focus ultimately became employee engagement. She launched a service offering at the request of two clients, which has grown and sustained her business over the past year. It supports brand identity, the work experience, and a company’s vision of the culture they want to create through monthly plans with content and activities.

Looking back

At the end of the year, Polivka reflected on what she had learned, what worked, what didn’t, and where she wanted to focus in 2021. This year, with the vaccine rollout and opening up of the economy, Heather’s clients are now thinking about whether or not they’ll make a full return to the office, take a hybrid approach, or remain remote.

As part of her reflection, Heather also determined it was time to hire a virtual assistant and marketing assistant. This would allow her to focus more on the growing areas of her business where she is most needed. She brought on two entrepreneurial women who she knew were also taking a leap of faith and betting on themselves.

Heather says business is still challenging, but in different ways as she now navigates growth. In many ways, the actions she’s taken have allowed her to show up with more confidence and have opened the door to more opportunities. She’s also beginning to see the “seeds” of what she planted over the past 6-9 months suddenly sprout, as more companies are ready to invest in their employees, work experience, and culture.

And that’s something that will no doubt continue long after the pandemic for this entrepreneurial woman who took a leap of faith and launched a new business during an extraordinary time.

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