Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Bakery owners Mike Livingstone and Annie Hoare, in a March 2021 handout image.

HO/The Canadian Press

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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.”

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Story continues below advertisement

“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.

Story continues below advertisement

“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.”

Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies