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COVID-19 pandemic paves way for entrepreneurial endeavors in Huntsville

Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 10:34 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The COVID-19 pandemic stopped millions of people in their tracks, but it also inspired individuals to switch careers and even start their own businesses.

According to Hilary Claybourne, director of the UAH Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which serves seven counties in N.E. Alabama, more than 2,800 business licenses were filed from Jan. 1, 2020 to May 2021, just in the city of Huntsville. The bottom line is, entrepreneurial endeavors in the city soared in 2020 and that trend has not slowed.

“There are a lot of businesses, a lot of individuals, trying to reinvent themselves and do some pretty sensational things,” Claybourne said.

The Alabama SBDC Network provides existing and aspiring entrepreneurs with expert assistance, training, and no cost one-on-one advising. The UAH SBDC/PTAC serves Madison, Morgan, Marshall, Cullman, Dekalb, Limestone and Jackson Counties in particular. When the pandemic hit, the UAH SBDC/PTAC transitioned to virtual services, which actually expanded their reach. The goal was to serve as many clients as possible in N.E. Alabama amid the COVID-19 shutdown.

After businesses were forced to close or restrict occupancy in 2020, Claybourne noticed many workers take matters into their own hands. She helped several restaurant owners open new businesses and execute new concepts.

“Necessity is the mother of invention, when the going gets tough, Americans get going…people needed cashflow, needed to feed their families and needed to take charge of their own futures...American ingenuity and innovation is flourishing,” Claybourne said.

The food and beverage industry was one of the hardest hit during the pandemic. Claybourne believes that’s why so many workers in that field have shown a desire to go on their own ventures.

“At some point during the pandemic, there was no in-person dining,” Claybourne said. “So can you imagine what that does to a restaurant who is dependent on 70 percent of capacity just to break even?”

Even as the pandemic subsides, the entrepreneurial trend has not slowed. In fact, since Jan. 1, 2021, more than 800 varying business licenses have been filed in Huntsville. Claybourne believes our city is on the precipice of an entrepreneurial tsunami.

“Although the United States is a melting pot, Huntsville is even more so of a melting pot because we truly have people from everywhere here. And so that is going to bring additional things we haven’t seen before,” Claybourne said. “So we are anticipating a huge upsurge in entrepreneurial endeavors starting in growing businesses.”

Claybourne has some simple yet key pieces of advice for anybody interested in starting and growing a business.

Step one: Do your homework and research.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail. We have a lot of people coming with great ideas, but just thinking of a great idea does not make you a successful entrepreneur,” Claybourne said.

The SBDC offers a monthly class on “How to Start a Business in Alabama,” which provides the nuts and bolts. Claybourne said the class is a great way to plan and strategize.

Step two: seek out knowledgeable advisors.

“We have a host of really expert advisors who are mandated to do continuing education to provide the absolute best services possible,” Claybourne said. “So you want some of those types of people on your team. And you can’t beat no cost advising because we are funded in part by the Small Business Administration.”

If you are interested in taking part in SBDC’s monthly business class or other training events, visit: https://www.uah.edu/sbdc/events.

You can also email sbdc@uah.edu.

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