It’s been a year since the pandemic shut our world down
March 17, 2021

One year ago, the world became a scary place, a place where the grocery store made me nervous and restaurants became forbidden territory. A world where I began to question every cough and sniffle and I only saw my friends via Zoom. A world where I learned to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” while I washed my hands ad nauseum and phrases like “bend the curve” became part of my everyday vocabulary.

And this week, as we mark one year since everything stopped because of the pandemic, I find myself thinking about how scared I was then compared to how much I think I’ve grown. Sure, I’ve grown. Me. Stephanie Kidd, Communications Strategist at UNeTech Institute.

But I also think we’ve grown. UNeTech Institute. We’ve grown in size, yes, by hiring more staff. But we’ve also grown in concept. And the pandemic has something to do with that.

One thing that COVID-19 brought to light was stunning gender inequality with women business owners and entrepreneurs: women took on 54% of job loss despite making up 39% of the global workforce. Since February 2020, women have lost nearly 6 million jobs in the U.S., according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data from the National Women’s Law Center.

Domestically, more than 25% of small businesses have closed since December 2020. Of those that are still open, only half state they could survive another year under current economic conditions. This is especially true in the hard-hit service industry where businesses are most likely to be owned by women, such as restaurants, personal services, and retail. Research shows women and members of the BIPOC community often lack the same access to capital as white men whose businesses are more established.

At UNeTech, this research means we need to adjust what we have been doing to find new ways to support both women and BIPOC innovators and entrepreneurs in new ways. What we were doing before the pandemic simply isn’t good enough anymore. And maybe it wasn’t good enough before the pandemic either.

But when you know better, you can do better. And the pandemic brought to the surface a lot of data that allows a lot of us to know better.

Before the pandemic, Black women especially were starting businesses in record numbers. Entrepreneurship, still, is up in the U.S. As of December 2020, there were more than 1.5 million new business applications filed domestically, up 82%. Many were filed by women, because the timing is right or both.

So how do we help them? For one, UNeTech plans to partner with The Startup Collaborative and k+r strategies for a few projects this year to ensure that some of the businesses in our incubator are led by BIPOC entrepreneurs. This will ensure that we are adding to the growing number of BIPOC businesses in Omaha with leaders who are ready to move forward. TSC has trained them; they simply need an innovative business to run.

Next, thanks to the generous support of the Economic Development Administration, we will hire a new Community Organizer to help us work with Omaha area non-profits and agencies to get the word out that we are looking for new innovators and inventors. This will help us partner with new parts of Omaha and expand our reach. The intent will be to help us recruit new types of inventions and new types of innovators to diversify our business ideas and make our incubator more accessible. We know barriers exist, and we want to eliminate them for inventors.

Finally, we plan to begin some programming for women in STEM. We have received lots of feedback to validate the research that women in the STEM fields do not have the support they need to both submit invention ideas or become entrepreneurs. We plan to create a mentorship-style program for women in the STEM field to encourage them join UNeTech on either side of the incubator system, as entrepreneurs or as innovators.

It’s been a rough year. A scary year. A year of grief, of loss, of race-based protests. A year of grocery deliveries and restaurant takeout. A year of Netflix binges in our pajamas. A year of working from home, of vaccines. A year of Zoom fatigue, of Black Lives Matter, of politics.

For UNeTech it’s also been a year of growth and learning. And we look forward to sharing our learning with you. Know better, do better.

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