British Columbia

Some young B.C. entrepreneurs see opportunity despite COVID-19 economic downturn

Faced with bleak job prospects due to COVID-19, several young entrepreneurs are trying to make a tough year a bit sweeter by turning their business dreams into reality.

Tough job prospects forcing young people to pivot, turning hobbies into business opportunities

Brian Chen and Andy Liang made a website called GrocerCheck that uses anonymized data to determine how busy a grocery store is at any given time. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

When the pandemic began and job prospects dried up, siblings and recent graduates Jessica and Andy Nguyen did what many people started doing — baking.

Jessica, 23, was set to graduate from business school with a job lined up, but that vanished due to COVID-19. Things weren't looking good for her brother Andy, either. The 17-year-old was about to graduate high school and lost his part-time job at a pie shop due to the pandemic. 

"He was sad and he loved baking, it was his favourite thing. And my favourite thing is eating yummy treats, so I kind of conned him into making these cookies for me," Jessica said.

The economic impacts of the pandemic have been particularly harsh for youth in Canada. It's a bleak outlook that's forcing some young British Columbians to get crafty.

For Jessica and Andy Nguyen, what started out as a quest to make the best cookie ever — big, gooey and in gourmet flavours like matcha latte and s'mores — for friends and family quickly turned into a successful business they call BAK'D Cookies.

"I think it was six days, we hit [our] $1,000 goal in cookie sales. So we were like, I think we need to set better goals for ourselves," Jessica said. 

The siblings from Burnaby, B.C., now sell hundreds of cookies a week out of a commercial kitchen. They're among several young entrepreneurs trying to make a tough year a little bit sweeter by turning their business dreams into reality.

Andy and Jessica Nguyen show off some of the cookies they make through their company, BAK'D Cookies. (CBC)

Youth among hardest hit by economic impacts of COVID-19

In July, the youth unemployment rate was 29.1 per cent in B.C. In October, Canada's chief central banker warned of a long, slow economic recovery that's unlikely to get back on track until 2023. 

Canadians earning low wages have been hit the hardest, and young people report feeling like their careers have been stalled and their lives put on hold because of COVID-19. 

Brian Chen, 18, and his friend Andy Liang, 17, found a way to boost their job prospects — while using their coding skills to help their community.

Jessica and Andy Nguyen have gained a following on social media for their giant cookies. (CBC)

The Vancouver teens made a website called GrocerCheck that uses anonymized data to determine how busy a grocery store is at any given time — a handy tool for anyone wary of crowded spaces during a pandemic.

"I live with my grandparents and they're part of a vulnerable age bracket, so obviously grocery shopping comes with a certain level of anxiety," Liang said. 

The website updates every 15 minutes and shows grocery stores across the Lower Mainland and Victoria, as well as Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and some areas of the U.S., like New York City and Silicon Valley. 

The teens secured grant funding for the website but are operating as a not-for-profit at the moment.

"To date we've had over 100,000 users," Liang said.  "Our bigger goal is just to be able to help people and service our community." 

Although money is not the priority right now, they hope their experience as coders boosts their resumes and chances at a future job.

"Brian and I have both learned a lot throughout this entire experience and we developed a lot, from just being high school students to becoming software developers or even young entrepreneurs," Liang said. 

With files from Deborah Goble