Published on Oct. 22, 2020
Young entrepreneurs share their thoughts on the reason behind the sudden emergence of student businesses during a pandemic
By Alexis May Go
San Lorenzo High School senior Catherine Gonzalez’s parents both lost regular income due to the shelter-in-place order enforced by Alameda County on March 15. Her father sold soccer gear at the local flea market every weekend while her mother formerly worked at a food packaging factory. Despite this hardship that many such as her parents are facing, Catherine decided to start her business during a time where many small shops have been forced to shut down.
With the loss of money flowing into the household, Catherine experimented on an idea and asked her followers on Instagram if they would buy chocolate strawberries for their mothers for Mother’s Day. That experiment has now escalated into an operating business.
Gonzalez is one of a number of students who have taken the time this summer and community quarantine to start their own businesses, in a time when so small businesses have been forced to permanently close. Gonzalez believes that the reason why students are doing so is because students are itching to do something that will motivate them during this time.
“I feel students like my age [...] start a business because they want something to look forward to the next day; to look forward to in five months, five years,” Gonzalez said.
Entrepreneurship teacher Christina Charlton has been teaching entrepreneurship class at AHS for the last 17 years now. Charlton agrees that the reason why so many students have been starting their “cottage” or “bedroom” businesses during this time is because many have the need to find a purpose. She believes that students want to find ways to be apart from the screen and by doing so, their creative minds begin to flow.
“We all wish that we could be away and apart from the screen more. But because of that reason, we are giving ourselves more permission to think creatively. [...] We’re wanting to break out, we have so many restrictions on us right now that we want to kinda explode. And some of that explosion has to do with ideas and a lot of the challenges, difficulties, and problems right now and we can’t help but to think of solutions,” Charlton said.
Photos Courtesy of Catherine Gonzalez
Senior Malila Seko on the other hand, started a mask business for a cause. Seko’s mother works at an emergency veterinary hospital where masks run low. Originally, her mother suggested that Seko should put her sewing skills to use and create extra masks for her and her coworkers.
“My mom, she came up with the idea of making masks for her hospital because they are running low. [...] Ever since then, I have started this mask business,” Seko said.
Much of her profits go to purchasing supplies to create masks that she donates to the hospital. In addition to masks, Seko also paints water bottles for customers but paints those of her mother's coworkers for free.
As for her belief on why students are choosing to start their own businesses during a pandemic, Seko thinks that students want to help out their parents during this difficult time.
However, both Gonzalez and Seko can agree that running their businesses can be time consuming. Gonzalez did not want to stop her business because of school. So she set a quota for herself that she cannot go over so that she will have time to do homework.
“I like balance [school and work] out and I only take certain orders a day so I can have time for myself,” Gonzalez said.
She also says that her customers are very understanding of her situation whenever she is behind on orders.
Seko on the other hand, has to manage her time wisely because a custom mask can take her between two and three hours.
“I work on [homework] ahead of time so that I have time to work on masks,” Seko said.
Hand-painted and hand-sewn masks by Lila Seko
For some, small businesses have become a side hustle but Gonzalez’s current platform has allowed her to view her hobby as a possible career one day and dreams of opening her own sweets shop. Charlton believes that small businesses like hers will contribute to the revival of the economy when the pandemic passes.
“Because of the situation that we are going through right now, people are looking for an outlet and entrepreneurship and small businesses are literally the backbone of our economy [...] we’re being forced into a situation right now that is helping us recognize where we started, where we’ve come from, and where we need to go, ” Charlton said.
Gonzalez is proud of how far she has come and encourages those who have an idea and want to make a profit out of it, to go ahead and start a business as well.
“ I’m honestly so happy for myself because I felt like I couldn’t do this, I felt like this was something that was gonna be for like a month or two and I wasn’t gonna get any orders,” Gonzalez said. “But I did not give up. None of my family let me give up. They all supported me. They told me everything was gonna get better, just trust the process… which I did.”
Junior Jimena Guzman comes from a family that loves cooking. During the community quarantine however, she committed to learning how to bake. One of the recipes she studied was a recipe for conches.