Pandemic sparks creativity for some entrepreneurs

Necessity is the mother of invention, and while the COVID-19 sank some small businesses, it also sparked creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. CBC checks in with four people who've managed to make the best of a bad situation.

Necessity really is the mother of invention, as these 4 have shown

Potter-turned-baker Bill Reddick at work on his new craft in Peterborough, Ont. (Bradley Boyle)

Necessity is the mother of invention, and while COVID-19 has sunk some small businesses, it has also sparked creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

CBC checked in with four people who've managed to make the best of a bad situation.

Potter turned baker

Bill Reddick is a ceramic artist and potter whose work graces Canadian embassies and the Governor General's residence. He treasures a picture of former U.S. president Barack Obama sitting at a table covered in Reddick's plates at a state dinner in Ottawa.

But when COVID-19 struck, the market for his pieces dried up, as did Reddick's income from studio pottery lessons and sales to galleries. Craft shows were cancelled, too.

At first, he didn't qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, or CERB. "That was a pretty dark moment where I thought I'm just going to lose everything," Reddick recalled. "All my means to make a living had been taken away from me."

Then it occurred to him that his hobby, baking sinfully rich chocolate cakes for friends and family, could be ramped up into a side gig with the potential to pay at least some of his bills.

One of Reddick's delicious creations, served on a plate also made by Reddick. (Bill Reddick)

Reddick spread the word to his network of more than 2,000 pottery clients and posted ads on Instagram and Facebook. "Suddenly, I was putting in 16-hour days making cakes," first at his Peterborough, Ont., home, then in a commercial kitchen.

Reddick even uses some of his pottery equipment to put the finishing touches on his cakes. Now, instead of using his wheel to decorate porcelain, he uses it to spin icing.

His goal is to sell up to 200 cakes a month. He's already at 40 cakes a week, which sell for $50 each. 

"What I've been surprised by is how little I miss making the pottery," Reddick said.

When the pandemic ends, Reddick hopes to continue baking. "It takes some of the burden away from my porcelain to pay all the bills, [and] it opens up the possibility of pursuing more creative channels with my work," he said. 

"And so [COVID-19] allowed me for the first time in 40 years to get off of the treadmill," Reddick said. "I've never had the chance to step away from it."

From kombucha to clearing house for local vendors 

Before COVID-19, Patricia Larkin and her partner operated Buchipop, a kombucha beverage business out of their warehouse in Ottawa's Little Italy, selling primarily to restaurants.

Then COVID-19 struck. "All of our wholesale accounts stopped ordering," Larkin said. "We went from ramping up to our busy season to almost a complete halt of operations in a week."

They also had to lay off all their staff, but they still had to pay rent on their warehouse.

"I spent five days at home without much to do. I was bored," Larkin said. "The wheels were turning on what we could do to contribute and how we could also stay afloat."

COVID-19 all but decimated Patricia Larkin's kombucha business, Buchipop. But within a week, she and her partner regrouped and Burrow Shop was born. (Submitted by Patricia Larkin)

That's when the idea came for Burrow Shop, a one-stop market featuring the wares of local producers and artisans. Larkin quickly attracted seven other vendors.

"Then the ball started rolling. They started telling their peers, and then it just snowballed." There are now more than 50 vendors linked to the store, selling more than 500 products.

Larkin expected sales to diminish as pandemic restrictions begin to lift, but for now they remain strong.

"I had zero plans of making this market," Larkin said. "So it was 100 per cent downtime that created this. And necessity, for us and for other people like us."

Artist rediscovers her groove

"Up until quarantine I was … making art for other people," said visual artist Astral Orphan, who uses the first name Carmel. "Once quarantine started I went back to art in a way that I used to when I was younger. It was my coping mechanism for dealing with everything."

But then she noticed her productivity triple. "Letting go of these imaginary expectations I'd put on myself and just making art for me helped," Carmel said. "It let me just create more."

Ottawa artist Astral Orphan found herself with time on her hands after she was laid off from her day job because of COVID-19. Time was just what this artist needed to rediscover her groove. (Jen Bernard Photography)

The irony is that prior to COVID-19, Astral Orphan had started to step back from her art. These past three months have allowed her to rediscover her muse.

"The flow was much easier. Painting whatever I wanted allowed it to happen much faster and just much more smoothly, from beginning to end."

Elite athlete makes a change

Rowan Harris was supposed to be gearing up for next month's Olympic Games in Japan as goalkeeper for Canada's women's field hockey team. 

And it wasn't just COVID-19 that shelved that plan. A high-stakes Olympic qualifying match versus Ireland in November didn't exactly help.

"The team who scored the most goals would go to the Olympics. It came down to a sudden death shoot out and we lost," Harris explained. 

Harris went back to her club team in Cambrai, France, but returned to Canada before the borders closed due to COVID-19.

Back living with her parents and two younger brothers in Ottawa, Harris realized she needed a job that would allow her to continue to train, despite COVID-19.

Finished university but unable to play elite-level field hockey due to the pandemic, Rowan Harris and her two younger brothers started a business changing winter tires. (Submitted by Rowan Harris)

They came up with the idea for Front Line Tire Changers, a come-to-your-driveway, contact-free option for people stuck with their snow tires still on their vehicles.

"Luckily, my dad is a bit of a tool junkie," Harris said. "So we had a hydraulic jack … and all of the grease we needed."

Harris and her brothers left flyers on cars that still had winter tires. They posted to community groups and tapped into their family's social networks. "Half the people making appointments were people we knew," Harris said. "Then from there it's grown."

They charge $60 a car, with $10 going to the Ottawa Food Bank.

They get fewer bookings these days, as even the worst procrastinators have gotten around to their tires. "I keep trying to put the equipment away … and then I get another call," Harris said.

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