Laid off college students pivot to online businesses

In the wake of mass unemployment and in-home quarantine, some South Florida college students are increasingly looking to start their own businesses.

Daniela Cadena is the director of Venture Ready Programs at StartUP FIU. The program supports student innovators and entrepreneurs in conceiving and launching their own businesses.

“As soon as we went into quarantine in March, we received more applications than we have ever had in our program for student entrepreneurs at FIU,” she said.

Cadena said that many have geared their startups toward helping their communities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, these include ways to improve online schooling and protect the elderly population from the virus.

“Most of the students that I’ve had the opportunity to work with since March have this consciousness of their environment. They want to build businesses, but they want to do good for their environment, and I think that it is extremely inspiring and gives me hope for the future,” said Cadena.

EE Mobile Accessories.(Photo courtesy of Emilio Escobar)

Cadena said that she has also noticed more and more students pursuing e-commerce opportunities.

Two people that fit that pattern locally include Emilio Escobar, 22, and Emily Valdes, 20. Both started online businesses after they stopped working due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Emilio Escobar, who attends Miami Dade College, started EE Mobile Accessories in August, after being laid off from his job as a valet supervisor at Loews Miami Beach Hotel. The business is an online accessory shop for cell phones.

He said that the pandemic actually helped him start the business.

“It gave me all the time I needed, since I wasn’t working, to really think about things and work on the website, the business and marketing it,” said Escobar.

“I had been through a process where I didn’t work for a while, and I noticed that there was a lot of spending and not a lot of income. I wanted to find a way to make money instead of spending it,” said Escobar.

He acknowledged it has been difficult to do in-person deliveries, and that he has had to take extra care to be safe. He said that although he mostly mails his products, but will deliver if the customer is close.

For her part, Valdes started Emily & Co. Crafts in April. The business does custom stickers and tumblers, among other products.

Valdes, an FIU student, said that crafting started as a hobby for her. But after friends and family started to commission her work, and being out of work for weeks, she decided to create the business. Valdes previously worked as a data entry receptionist at a medical insurance office.

“We were all home for so long. That helped me have the spare time to invest in building the brand and the company,” she said.

Valdes said that although the pandemic gave her the time to start the business, it also presented a challenge to receiving guidance on legal and financial matters such as taxes.

“It was a little bit difficult to obtain the information because of the pandemic. State and local resources were out of reach. But once I was able to get in contact with an accountant, he explained everything to me,” said Valdes.

Both Escobar and Valdes said young adults hoping to start businesses should not be afraid of the challenge.

“Don’t deter yourself, that’s most of the deterrence, it’s yourself. Goes good or goes bad, it’s a learning experience,” said Escobar

Valdes agreed.

“There’s no better time than now, just give it your best go. And if you fail, you can still get up and try again,” said Valdes.

Julio Mendez is a senior at Florida International University, majoring in Communications with a minor in Criminal Justice. His interests are politics and sports, mainly basketball and MMA.