Finance Small Business ‘What could go wrong?’: The upstart businesses that opened during a pandemic

‘What could go wrong?’: The upstart businesses that opened during a pandemic

A surprising number of businesses have set up shop during the pandemic. Photo: Getty
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Open a business during a global pandemic? What could possibly go wrong?

That’s the kind of attitude Rebecca O’Shea took when she decided, since her European travelling plans, had been quashed by COVID-19, she would open a restaurant instead.

Ms O’Shea and her business partners signed a lease for their Sydney restaurant while New South Wales was still under stringent COVID restrictions.

The aptly named Arms Length opened its doors in late June, by which time up to 50 people were allowed in NSW pubs and restaurants.

“It’s very silly to say this, but at the time I was like ‘what could possibly go wrong?’” Ms O’Shea said.

The 29-year-old, who quit her job as operations manager for a large restaurant brand in March, said she only really reflected on the risk she was taking after her mother pointed out her daughter’s bravery.

“We are very proud of what we’ve done at such a crazy time,” she said.

It just shows you if you really want to do something there is no good time and there is no bad time.”

Ms O’Shea said the local community was keen to support the business and the pandemic had made it easier to secure a favourable lease and good deals on point-of-sale and accounting systems.

She said the business has contingency plans to operate as takeaway or online only should there be another lockdown in NSW.

L-R: Rosie O’Shea, Jeff Sue, Rebecca O’Shea and Rhys Bailey. outside their pride and joy eatery. Photo supplied

Sydney’s COVID cluster grew to 28 on Friday, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian saying the city was on high alert and people should wear masks on public transport and in places of worship.

Meanwhile, in Melbourne’s upmarket South Yarra, the pandemic has pushed down commercial rents on Chapel Street by as much as 30 per cent – something that hasn’t happened since the global financial crisis.

Some 49 new businesses have opened in the area covered by the Chapel Street Precinct Association, while 38 have closed.

Association president Justin O’Donnell, who owns Print Express, said landlords have given tenants much cheaper rent deals and also offered rent-free periods to help businesses get established.

The cheaper rents have also opened the door to established brands that previously would not have been able to afford to trade in the Chapel Street area.

“With every crisis, there is an opportunity,” Mr O’Donnell said.

“A lot of people are being brave and taking a punt on a new business.”

And not just in hospitality.

Amigos co-founders Ashna Nain and Sitara Shetty found an opportunity in the exodus of international students. Photo supplied

Ashna Nain and co-founder Sitara Shetty secured clients in Australia and the United Kingdom for their startup, Amigos, during the pandemic and plan to roll-out their product early next year.

Amigos is a mobile application that enables tertiary students living in accommodation, either on or off, campus to communicate with each other and accommodation managers.

Ms Nain said the pandemic and ensuing exodus of international students sparked a rise in demand from accommodation managers keen to boost community engagement when international students return to Australia.

“There has been quite a clamour among the student community eco-system about how to get these guys (students) to engage with them again,” she said.

Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp noted that while trade is picking up, it’s still a tough time for many businesses.

“We are starting to see green shoots in our economic recovery,” she said.

“It’s been inspiring to see businesses innovate and adapt to different conditions during COVID-19.”

NAB’s most recent monthly business survey showed business conditions and confidence climbed last month to “above average” levels after Victoria’s lockdown ended and the state borders reopened.