7 Women Who Started Their Own Businesses In Lockdown

Katie Bishop
·11-min read

At midnight on New Year’s Eve 2019 I was one of many to raise a glass of prosecco, my eyes glinting in the glow of fireworks as I declared that 2020 was going to be my year. I had big plans for a career revamp and surely nothing could stop me.

Yet for me, as for thousands of women, the COVID-19 pandemic wrought havoc on my carefully laid plans. As the year creeps to a close I certainly won’t be the only one eyeing 31st December 2020 with some despondency. Furloughs and widespread redundancies have meant that for many of us the last 12 months haven’t offered up much reason to celebrate. But some women have managed to turn the challenges of the year into a success story.

For these women, the uncertainty of 2020 turned out to be an opportunity. Whether transforming a redundancy into a brand-new career or persevering with a long-held plan in spite of the odds seemingly stacked against them, they all managed to launch a business during lockdown (pretty impressive, considering that my finest achievement turned out to be bingeing all of Tiger King in one bizarre sitting). In tough times it can be uplifting to celebrate success so we asked these women how they made it work. These are their stories.

<strong>Benedicta Banga, 39, is a former product manager from the Midlands. She launched </strong><a href="https://app.blaqbase.co" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Blaqbase" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>Blaqbase</strong></a><strong>, a shopping app that curates brands owned by Black women, during lockdown after realising how difficult it was to find the products that she wanted to buy.</strong><br><br>At the start of lockdown I realised that brands by <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/unbothered-uk" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Black women" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Black women</a> weren’t always visible online. Their ability to be discovered impacted their growth, and I wanted to create a solution. I started off with a prototype for a lifestyle app that quickly turned into a brand discovery app as I made changes based on feedback until <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/weekly-fashion-news#slide-7" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Blaqbase" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Blaqbase</a> was born. I spent a lot of time looking into different funding routes such as grants and crowdfunding but, in the end, I decided to use my <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/pandemic-savings-impact" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:own savings" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">own savings</a>. It meant that I would have more control over what I did. <br><br>I launched the shopping app on Sky News and with everyone working remotely I had to do a video interview. That morning I’d seen a meme about glitches in <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/virtual-job-interview-tips" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:video interviews" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">video interviews</a> so I was terrified of technical problems – and that was exactly what happened to me! I ended up missing the first question and having to ask for it to be repeated, but fortunately I just laughed it off. As a new business owner I don’t have time to be embarrassed by the little things.<br><br>I’ve recently been given an opportunity to host some pop-ups in John Lewis and I’m looking forward to understanding a different route to connecting my brand with different customers. I’m hoping that the app and community will continue to grow through word of mouth, and that I can build a strong brand in a competitive environment.<span class="copyright">Photo Courtesy of Benedicta Banga.</span>
Benedicta Banga, 39, is a former product manager from the Midlands. She launched Blaqbase, a shopping app that curates brands owned by Black women, during lockdown after realising how difficult it was to find the products that she wanted to buy.

At the start of lockdown I realised that brands by Black women weren’t always visible online. Their ability to be discovered impacted their growth, and I wanted to create a solution. I started off with a prototype for a lifestyle app that quickly turned into a brand discovery app as I made changes based on feedback until Blaqbase was born. I spent a lot of time looking into different funding routes such as grants and crowdfunding but, in the end, I decided to use my own savings. It meant that I would have more control over what I did.

I launched the shopping app on Sky News and with everyone working remotely I had to do a video interview. That morning I’d seen a meme about glitches in video interviews so I was terrified of technical problems – and that was exactly what happened to me! I ended up missing the first question and having to ask for it to be repeated, but fortunately I just laughed it off. As a new business owner I don’t have time to be embarrassed by the little things.

I’ve recently been given an opportunity to host some pop-ups in John Lewis and I’m looking forward to understanding a different route to connecting my brand with different customers. I’m hoping that the app and community will continue to grow through word of mouth, and that I can build a strong brand in a competitive environment.Photo Courtesy of Benedicta Banga.
<strong>Liz Johnson, 34, is a Paralympic gold medallist and disability campaigner. During lockdown she launched </strong><a href="https://marketplace.appbytap.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Podium" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>Podium</strong></a><strong>, a jobs marketplace for disabled freelancers which helps them to access meaningful remote work.</strong><br><br>I already run a business called The Ability People, a <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2020/07/9932576/black-poc-disability-photos-jillian-mercado" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:disability-led" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">disability-led</a> employment consultancy that started a couple of years ago. I always had in mind that I wanted to evolve and continue to develop new services to help reduce the <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2020/07/9938371/models-with-disabilities-fashion-zebedee-management" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:disability employment gap" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">disability employment gap</a>. Podium is a jobs platform aimed uniquely at connecting disabled freelancers to remote work opportunities, and so it was a happy coincidence that we launched this at the same time the nation found itself working from home.<br><br>The support that Podium has received has proven that there’s hope for disabled freelancers to access the opportunities that they deserve. The freelancers who have already signed up to the platform are the greatest marker of our success, and we’ve already connected a digital marketing specialist based in New York to a company based in London. Seeing the meaningful work which fulfils the needs of both parties come out of examples like this makes it all worthwhile.<span class="copyright">Photo Courtesy of Liz Johnson.</span>
Liz Johnson, 34, is a Paralympic gold medallist and disability campaigner. During lockdown she launched Podium, a jobs marketplace for disabled freelancers which helps them to access meaningful remote work.

I already run a business called The Ability People, a disability-led employment consultancy that started a couple of years ago. I always had in mind that I wanted to evolve and continue to develop new services to help reduce the disability employment gap. Podium is a jobs platform aimed uniquely at connecting disabled freelancers to remote work opportunities, and so it was a happy coincidence that we launched this at the same time the nation found itself working from home.

The support that Podium has received has proven that there’s hope for disabled freelancers to access the opportunities that they deserve. The freelancers who have already signed up to the platform are the greatest marker of our success, and we’ve already connected a digital marketing specialist based in New York to a company based in London. Seeing the meaningful work which fulfils the needs of both parties come out of examples like this makes it all worthwhile.Photo Courtesy of Liz Johnson.
<strong>Anishka Prasad, 31, is the founder of LawTech startup </strong><a href="https://www.theresolv.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:RESOLV" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>RESOLV</strong></a><strong>. She designed the app, which provides working from home solutions for lawyers and mediators, after working as a barrister and solicitor for six years.</strong><br><br>The idea of RESOLV came from shortcomings that I’d spotted when working as a barrister. The admin side of mediation processes was not being managed efficiently because most practices didn’t have the right software to achieve this. During COVID we trialled some simulation mediations to better understand these problems, and the development of RESOLV was the result.<br><br>Raising funds and gaining investor confidence in a time where financial markets are going through challenges has been really tough. Every industry suffers during an event such as a pandemic, yet new ideas and innovations probably suffer more than others. If I was starting over, I probably would have planned for multiple funding backups and collaborations – it definitely would have helped the app go to market more quickly.<span class="copyright">Photo Courtesy of Anisha Prasad.</span>
Anishka Prasad, 31, is the founder of LawTech startup RESOLV. She designed the app, which provides working from home solutions for lawyers and mediators, after working as a barrister and solicitor for six years.

The idea of RESOLV came from shortcomings that I’d spotted when working as a barrister. The admin side of mediation processes was not being managed efficiently because most practices didn’t have the right software to achieve this. During COVID we trialled some simulation mediations to better understand these problems, and the development of RESOLV was the result.

Raising funds and gaining investor confidence in a time where financial markets are going through challenges has been really tough. Every industry suffers during an event such as a pandemic, yet new ideas and innovations probably suffer more than others. If I was starting over, I probably would have planned for multiple funding backups and collaborations – it definitely would have helped the app go to market more quickly.Photo Courtesy of Anisha Prasad.
<strong>Danielle Neah, 25, is the cofounder of digital PR agency </strong><a href="https://www.handnote.co.uk/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:HANDNOTE" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>HANDNOTE</strong></a><strong>. She and her sister launched the business together after they were both made redundant during lockdown.</strong><br><br>At the start of the pandemic I was working for a search engine optimisation agency in central London. One Wednesday we all received a Slack notification telling us that there would be an important meeting after lunch. I had a gut feeling that job cuts were coming and sure enough, on a Zoom call with everyone in the business, my boss broke the news that we’d almost <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/redundancy-everything-to-know-if-youve-lost-your-job" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:all been made redundant" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">all been made redundant</a>.<br><br>My sister was made redundant at a similar time so we decided to set up HANDNOTE to allow us both to <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/freelance-covid-money-saving-spending" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:freelance" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">freelance</a>. We didn’t have much money to splurge on subscribing to digital marketing tools so we started out looking for free versions or trials. The pandemic made everything very uncertain so it was a pretty slow start getting clients, but after many pitches and advice from fellow business owners we managed to nail the right tactics to get some great leads. I’ve learned to be more assertive with my decision-making, building client relationships and goal-setting. <br><br>So far things are going well and we’ve worked with a range of companies spanning from beauty and lifestyle to education and entertainment. We were also able to take on two amazing interns and it was great to see them start off with little to no knowledge and leave confident in this field of work.<span class="copyright">Photo Courtesy of Danielle Neah.</span>
Danielle Neah, 25, is the cofounder of digital PR agency HANDNOTE. She and her sister launched the business together after they were both made redundant during lockdown.

At the start of the pandemic I was working for a search engine optimisation agency in central London. One Wednesday we all received a Slack notification telling us that there would be an important meeting after lunch. I had a gut feeling that job cuts were coming and sure enough, on a Zoom call with everyone in the business, my boss broke the news that we’d almost all been made redundant.

My sister was made redundant at a similar time so we decided to set up HANDNOTE to allow us both to freelance. We didn’t have much money to splurge on subscribing to digital marketing tools so we started out looking for free versions or trials. The pandemic made everything very uncertain so it was a pretty slow start getting clients, but after many pitches and advice from fellow business owners we managed to nail the right tactics to get some great leads. I’ve learned to be more assertive with my decision-making, building client relationships and goal-setting.

So far things are going well and we’ve worked with a range of companies spanning from beauty and lifestyle to education and entertainment. We were also able to take on two amazing interns and it was great to see them start off with little to no knowledge and leave confident in this field of work.Photo Courtesy of Danielle Neah.
<strong>Bethany Fisher, 30, is the founder of </strong><a href="https://www.getfussy.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Fussy" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>Fussy</strong></a><strong>, a refillable deodorant which she designed after becoming increasingly concerned about the environment during lockdown. She previously worked as a fashion designer for a high street brand while also designing wedding dresses for extra income.</strong><br><br>I’ve always been <a href="https://www.vice.com/en/article/ep43bn/climate-uprise" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:environmentally minded" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">environmentally minded</a> but once my daughter Orla was born and a global pandemic hit I started to think more about our <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2020/09/10052833/climate-change-health-effects-crisis" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:impact on the planet" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">impact on the planet</a>. I want my daughter to be able to see and experience the things that I’ve been able to. But when I started to look for a <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2017/04/147184/best-natural-deodorants" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:deodorant" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">deodorant</a> that was good for the environment, I couldn’t find a natural product that was easy to use. I started to research existing products and decided that a refill made sense for people who want to make a <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/sustainable-fashion-guide" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:sustainable" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">sustainable</a> choice. I sold a few <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/best-secondhand-preloved-vintage-used-wedding-dresses" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:wedding dresses" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">wedding dresses</a> and used the income from that to get going, and also borrowed a small amount of money. I pulled favour after favour, and fortunately my husband works in advertising and so was able to help out with the branding. <br><br>We’ve not so much had a social bubble as a massive stress bubble. Delays in postage and factory closures have been a challenge, and the prices of ingredients have also gone up due to COVID. The worst moment was Orla eating our first refill packaging samples – they are quite an innovative part of our product and initially we only had one, and she ate it! Luckily though they are made from sugarcane so harmless. However there have also been successes – we recently won the European Product Design Award. It’s little boosts like that that make us feel like we’re on the right track.<span class="copyright">Photo Courtesy of Bethany Fisher.</span>
Bethany Fisher, 30, is the founder of Fussy, a refillable deodorant which she designed after becoming increasingly concerned about the environment during lockdown. She previously worked as a fashion designer for a high street brand while also designing wedding dresses for extra income.

I’ve always been environmentally minded but once my daughter Orla was born and a global pandemic hit I started to think more about our impact on the planet. I want my daughter to be able to see and experience the things that I’ve been able to. But when I started to look for a deodorant that was good for the environment, I couldn’t find a natural product that was easy to use. I started to research existing products and decided that a refill made sense for people who want to make a sustainable choice. I sold a few wedding dresses and used the income from that to get going, and also borrowed a small amount of money. I pulled favour after favour, and fortunately my husband works in advertising and so was able to help out with the branding.

We’ve not so much had a social bubble as a massive stress bubble. Delays in postage and factory closures have been a challenge, and the prices of ingredients have also gone up due to COVID. The worst moment was Orla eating our first refill packaging samples – they are quite an innovative part of our product and initially we only had one, and she ate it! Luckily though they are made from sugarcane so harmless. However there have also been successes – we recently won the European Product Design Award. It’s little boosts like that that make us feel like we’re on the right track.Photo Courtesy of Bethany Fisher.
<strong>Johanna Grace, 28, from Canterbury decided to pursue her dream of launching an </strong><a href="https://www.instagram.com/jo_grace_events/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:events company" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>events company</strong></a><strong> after taking voluntary redundancy from her job as a physics teacher. After her own wedding was postponed due to COVID she hopes to </strong><a href="https://www.jograceevents.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:help other brides" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>help other brides</strong></a><strong> to plan their dream days once social distancing permits.</strong><br><br>As a result of the pandemic, the boarding school that I worked at offered a voluntary <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/money-diary-redundant-brighton-50k" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:redundancy package" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">redundancy package</a> to all staff. I’d been considering the idea of working for myself for a while, so the opportunity to use the redundancy pay to fund starting my own business seemed too good to turn down.<br>Starting an events business when social distancing has shut down the industry has definitely been incredibly challenging but after having my own <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/eco-wedding-coronavirus" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:wedding" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">wedding</a> postponed, I suspected that there would be an influx of people hoping to get married in 2021 like me, and wanted to be able to help other couples achieve their dream day. <br><br>I’m currently working long hours and not earning much but I feel like I’m building a foundation for myself, which is exciting. My mum owned her own hair salon for years and she always used to tell me "you are your business". That really resonated with me and so I’ve been focusing on building my brand and making a good impression on people. I can’t really think of a trickier time to start in this business but it’s forcing me to be creative and think outside the box, and the camaraderie in the industry is amazing. It’s been a bumpy start but, as the physicist in me keeps saying, when the pressure is on you either bend or snap – I like to think that I’m flexible, can see what opportunities come and work incredibly hard. I’m excited for what’s to come! <span class="copyright">Photo Courtesy of Johanna Grace.</span>
Johanna Grace, 28, from Canterbury decided to pursue her dream of launching an events company after taking voluntary redundancy from her job as a physics teacher. After her own wedding was postponed due to COVID she hopes to help other brides to plan their dream days once social distancing permits.

As a result of the pandemic, the boarding school that I worked at offered a voluntary redundancy package to all staff. I’d been considering the idea of working for myself for a while, so the opportunity to use the redundancy pay to fund starting my own business seemed too good to turn down.
Starting an events business when social distancing has shut down the industry has definitely been incredibly challenging but after having my own wedding postponed, I suspected that there would be an influx of people hoping to get married in 2021 like me, and wanted to be able to help other couples achieve their dream day.

I’m currently working long hours and not earning much but I feel like I’m building a foundation for myself, which is exciting. My mum owned her own hair salon for years and she always used to tell me "you are your business". That really resonated with me and so I’ve been focusing on building my brand and making a good impression on people. I can’t really think of a trickier time to start in this business but it’s forcing me to be creative and think outside the box, and the camaraderie in the industry is amazing. It’s been a bumpy start but, as the physicist in me keeps saying, when the pressure is on you either bend or snap – I like to think that I’m flexible, can see what opportunities come and work incredibly hard. I’m excited for what’s to come! Photo Courtesy of Johanna Grace.
<strong>Stephanie Marshall, 31, is the Manchester-based founder of </strong><a href="https://www.thetreehousebakery.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Treehouse Bakery." class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>Treehouse Bakery.</strong></a><strong> The vegan recipe kit service delivers weighed out ingredients to people’s doors to allow them to create plant-based bakes at home.</strong><br><br>I had actually made up my mind to leave my previous job at a wholesale bakery before COVID. I had handed in my notice and had a job offer at another company. It was colossally bad timing on my part – lockdown hit and the job offer fell through, leaving me unemployed.<br><br>The idea for <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2020/10/10070827/when-was-great-british-bake-off-show-filmed-2020" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:baking" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">baking</a> recipe kits is one that I first had about six years ago but I’d just never had a reason to give it a proper go. Of course, during the pandemic home <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/food-and-drinks" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:recipe" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">recipe</a> boxes have been a huge success and I found myself thinking that I should have started my business years ago. Luckily, my husband and I had some savings for a rainy day – it took a bit of consideration to decide whether to use this up to start my business but if a global pandemic doesn’t count as a rainy day, then I don’t know what does. I’ve also been working part-time at a supermarket and put all my earnings from that into funding the bakery.<br><br>My husband insisted that a Bakewell flavour cake went on the menu and I must have tested about 10 different recipes (all disasters) before I accepted that I'd just have to shelve that idea for now. On the flip side, I had a dream one night about a Biscoff blondie and I got up the next day and made the recipe totally from instinct and it worked out perfectly the first time. I also did a test postage to a friend of mine for a recipe that required plant milk which I put in a tub, sealed as best as I could, and posted off. <br><br>The parcel arrived to her in a plastic bag dripping oat milk all over her kitchen floor. So that recipe got ditched! It just goes to show how much trial and error is involved with the process of perfecting a product.<span class="copyright">Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Marshall.</span>
Stephanie Marshall, 31, is the Manchester-based founder of Treehouse Bakery. The vegan recipe kit service delivers weighed out ingredients to people’s doors to allow them to create plant-based bakes at home.

I had actually made up my mind to leave my previous job at a wholesale bakery before COVID. I had handed in my notice and had a job offer at another company. It was colossally bad timing on my part – lockdown hit and the job offer fell through, leaving me unemployed.

The idea for baking recipe kits is one that I first had about six years ago but I’d just never had a reason to give it a proper go. Of course, during the pandemic home recipe boxes have been a huge success and I found myself thinking that I should have started my business years ago. Luckily, my husband and I had some savings for a rainy day – it took a bit of consideration to decide whether to use this up to start my business but if a global pandemic doesn’t count as a rainy day, then I don’t know what does. I’ve also been working part-time at a supermarket and put all my earnings from that into funding the bakery.

My husband insisted that a Bakewell flavour cake went on the menu and I must have tested about 10 different recipes (all disasters) before I accepted that I'd just have to shelve that idea for now. On the flip side, I had a dream one night about a Biscoff blondie and I got up the next day and made the recipe totally from instinct and it worked out perfectly the first time. I also did a test postage to a friend of mine for a recipe that required plant milk which I put in a tub, sealed as best as I could, and posted off.

The parcel arrived to her in a plastic bag dripping oat milk all over her kitchen floor. So that recipe got ditched! It just goes to show how much trial and error is involved with the process of perfecting a product.Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Marshall.

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