What’s been your biggest business challenge? For me, it’s been navigating the uncharted waters of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I know I’m not alone. Many small business owners are dealing with unprecedented challenges right now.
Fortunately, as entrepreneurs, we’re known for our grit. Well before the pandemic broke, I had heard countless stories of business owners who overcame major obstacles on the road to success.
Some of them launched businesses while in poverty while others were managing serious health issues.
Others lost their businesses to storms and fires, only to rebuild and become even more successful.
Let’s face it. We’re living in uniquely challenging times. To help lift your spirits and remind you of your tenacity, I’d like to share 4 stories of business owners who overcame incredible odds.
So the next time you doubt yourself, remember that if they can succeed, you can rise to the occasion, too!
Growing up on First Nations reserve in Saskatchewan, Kendal Netmaker had the odds stacked against him. He was raised in a single-parent home along with his three sisters. He faced poverty, and moved from home to home, often living in emergency shelters for single moms. Finally, his family settled into their 2-bedroom home on the reserve, and he enrolled in public school.
While there, he made a good friend to say the least. Upon noticing Netmaker’s natural athletic talent, his friend encouraged him to join the soccer team and even paid the registration fees. Later, his friend’s family supported Netmaker by driving him back-and-forth to practice, so he too could enjoy soccer.
The support of a generous friend allowed Netmaker to build a lifelong love of sports. He received a college volleyball scholarship, which allowed him to attend the University of Saskatchewan. While there, he dreamed of creating an athletic clothing line that would give back to low-income students, allowing them to participate in sports.
After entering 2 campus business competitions — and earning his place as a finalist — Neechie Gear was born. Today the athletic-wear company gives 10% of its profits to help underprivileged youth participate in sports, just as Netmaker had always hoped.
In high school Emily Levy struggled with chronic pain and fatigue. She slept 18 to 20 hours per day, couldn’t keep food down, and experienced pain from the water in the shower. Once a high-energy athlete who played field hockey, Levy was dumbfounded by her symptoms.
When she turned 18, her brother was diagnosed with Lyme disease. Putting two and two together, Levy’s mother recognized her daughter’s unique symptoms and pushed for a diagnosis. After finding a specialist in Lyme disease, Levy was finally diagnosed with chronic neurological Lyme disease in her sophomore year of college.
During this time, she started using a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC line) to receive nutrition and antibiotics. But one day, a nurse asked her to protect the line from infection by covering it with a sock. Levy couldn’t believe there wasn’t a better solution—something safer and more fashionable. After all, she wasn’t the only patient in need of a PICC line on a regular basis.
This was when the idea for Mighty Well was born.
The company specializes in PICC line covers and other wellness wear products, like t-shirts and backpacks that hold pumps and medical supplies. While building the company, Levy endured extreme fatigue, juggled medical appointments, and limited her work hours. Yet, she persevered and created a successful company.
Today, Mighty Well has raised thousands of dollars in equity between winning competitions and the support of investors.
When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Texas in 2017, it hit hard. Patrice Farooq’s local bakery, Cupcake Kitchen, endured more than 4 feet of rain in just 4 days. Water seeped into her business through the roof, damaging hundreds of dollars of appliances and supplies, including a commercial freezer with perishable items.
Devastated, Farooq said the damage was about \$30,000. In addition, she shut down her bakery for three weeks to clean up and rebuild.
Fortunately, Farooq remained resilient in the face of trials. She thoroughly communicated with customers and local residents using Facebook ads, which ensured that, despite her business challenges, she was not forgotten during a community crisis.
She also shared details of the bakery’s reopening and continued to advertise, even after her business started operating normally. When Farooq realized it would take her neighborhood more time to rebuild, she relocated her Cupcake Kitchen a few miles away, where she felt more confident in the market.
Needless to say, Farooq faced Hurricane Harvey head on, navigated a closure, and did all that she could to get her business up and running fast. She even pivoted and relocated her shop to a stable neighborhood.
Today, Cupcake Kitchen is still in operation and has even expanded in size.
It was a typical Saturday night in 2014 when a guest tossed a cigarette butt onto dry mulch during one of Lakeview Pavilion's wedding ceremonies. Sadly, the long-established wedding venue erupted into flames, and its building was thoroughly destroyed. Thankfully, no one was physically hurt.
Sisters and co-owners, Anastasia Tsoumbanos and Natalia Kapourelakos, were devastated. Their parents had purchased the venue in 1989 after emigrating from northern Greece, allowing them to build an elegant venue for brides in southeastern Massachusetts. They had put their heart and souls into creating a true, best-in-class experience.
Fortunately, Tsoumanos and Kapourelakos stayed strong.
They focused on rebuilding their beloved venue, and in 2015, unveiled a stunning new building, complete with an expanded ballroom. Since its reopening, the business has been recognized with multiple awards, including The Knot Best of Weddings, WeddingWire’s Couple Choice Awards, and Best of Boston Weddings.
Not only did these sisters survive the unexpected disaster, but they took their business to the next level.
These business owners didn’t quit when the going got tough. They acted quickly and capitalized on the opportunities in front of them.
Are you wondering how you can prepare for future business challenges, aside from developing grit?
One way is to get solid business insurance. It can help protect you in the case of an unexpected disaster, injury, or illness on the job. Just imagine if these small business owners didn’t carry insurance in the face of a fire or storm.
Other than that, prepare financially. Set aside savings, continue to market your business, and run lean. Stay driven, but play it smart. When the challenges arise, you may be more likely to come out on top if you’ve prepared.
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I earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (go Bucky). After realizing my first job might involve carrying a police scanner at 2 am in pursuit of “newsworthy” crimes, I decided I was better suited for freelance blogging and marketing writing. Since 2010, I’ve owned my freelance writing business, EST Creative. When I’m not penning, doodling ideas, or chatting with clients, you’ll find me hiking with my husband, baby boy, and 2 mischievous mutts.