It’s been more than a year since the Covid-19 pandemic first swept across the United States, and tens of millions of Americans remain out of work. Those who bear the brunt of this economic downturn are also those who can least withstand it: low-income and underserved communities, employees in entry-level jobs, and women and BIPOC, or black, Indigenous and people of color, who make up a disproportionate segment of the hardest-hit industries.
But recessions can also present an opening for innovation. The past proves that downturns can trigger entrepreneurship. Giants like Uber, Venmo, and Airbnb, all of which have changed how Americans travel and do business, were founded during the 2008 recession. Our current economic downturn will likely result in a similar burst of innovation.
Employers are already rethinking the traditional 9-5 office workweek, while furloughed employees are revamping their skills for a changing workforce. Two thirds of American adults say they’ve thought seriously about changing their profession since losing their jobs. In 2020, applications for new businesses hit a 13-year high. But many, especially in groups hit hardest by the pandemic, need support. The American wage gap between high-wage and low-wage jobs is only expected to grow, deepening the need for an open pathway to entrepreneurship.
In response, Stand Together Ventures Lab is investing in solutions that keep people competitive in the workforce and lower the barrier for entrepreneurship. “We’re big on solutions that ultimately give individuals greater flexibility and choice,” says Managing Director Sihyun Choi. “We think entrepreneurship is one manifestation of that, and we want to aggressively eliminate unnecessary barriers for entry.”
Over the past year, we’ve teamed up with ventures that empower would-be entrepreneurs, particularly those whose potential tends to get overlooked. “There are entire segments of the market that have been left behind by innovation because it hasn’t been lucrative to serve them,” says Sihyun. “We want solutions that serve those who have been overlooked”
That’s why we’ve invested in West Tenth, a women-led company that provides independent, home-based businesses with a digital marketplace. West Tenth’s online platform supports the millions of women who turn their skills into businesses—from family photography to home organization—and connects them to communities that can benefit from these services.
Or take our support of Skillup, which trains COVID-displaced workers to advance their careers. Because many displaced workers can’t afford to enroll in training classes, Skillup provides grants to cover the cost. We’ve also invested in BeGreat, an online “edutainment” platform that exposes young people to personal and career growth opportunities through lessons taught by Black innovators.
“These founders’ imaginative approaches to breaking down barriers is what excites us about the future,” Sihyun said. “We want to help changemakers push beyond the limits of today.”
We believe innovation will lead to a stronger economic recovery in our post pandemic world, and our team is uniquely positioned to help start-ups with novel solutions that change the way Americans work. While economic recovery is just one part of the Stand Together Ventures Lab portfolio, it’s more essential than ever as the economy regains its upward climb. We’re working hard to make sure no one—especially the vulnerable members of our workforce—is left behind.
If you have an idea to advance economic recovery for those who need it most, we want to hear about it. Let’s work together to turn your vision into reality.