The devastating toll of the pandemic is all too clear on our families, our cities, our nation. But we are now beginning to see an underappreciated side of the pandemic: a coast-to-coast surge in American ingenuity, drive and determination.

Even as the pandemic damaged or even destroyed many businesses, it also provided new opportunities and fostered creativity in unexpected ways. For some, it meant a recalibration of life priorities. For others, it provided the gift of time and attention to start something new or follow through on long-deferred dreams. More new businesses were created in 2020 than any other year on record, and 2021 wasn’t far behind. The one-year survival rate of those new companies topped 80% in 2021 for the first time since 1999, according to the Kauffman Indicators of Entrepreneurship.

We reached out to new business owners in every state of the country to hear their stories of creation, survival and success. The pandemic required these people to adapt their businesses to new economic realities, from making and branding their products to reaching customers. We’ve selected one new company to represent the innovation we found in each of the 50 US states, highlighting 12 to showcase the mixture of inspiration and perseverance needed to start a new enterprise in the midst of a pandemic.

Alabama

Bringing glamping to the Deep South
Starlight Haven

In January 2020, electrical engineer Kevin Ferguson II was living in Beijing with his wife and infant son and working for an American company.

A little over a year later, he was back home in Alabama starting a glamping business with a Houston-based friend, Jigar Adhvaryu. The pair has since purchased 50 acres on Lake Weiss in northeastern Alabama and the Hot Springs Treehouses resort in Arkansas, with plans to transform both properties into luxury Starlight Havens featuring cabins, geodesic domes and tents equipped with Wi-Fi, flush toilets, heat and air conditioning.

After graduating from Harvard Business School in 2018, Ferguson attended Beijing’s Tsinghua University as a Schwarzman Scholar, then stayed in the city to work on electric vehicle charging technologies at Vontier Inc. subsidiary Gilbarco Veeder-Root. When news of a deadly virus began trickling out of Wuhan, a Chinese Harvard classmate advised Ferguson to leave, so with his family and one suitcase he made his way to North Carolina, where Gilbarco is based.

After too many long, virtual-meeting-filled workdays in his home office, Ferguson called up Adhvaryu, with whom he had worked at a Chevron Corp. facility in Texas. The two engineers had often talked about going into business together. Now was the time, Ferguson suggested. Chevron was offering buyouts, so Adhvaryu agreed.

The initial plan for the company, which they founded in January 2021, was to buy a pest control or heating and cooling business. “Something with cash flow,” Adhvaryu said. Then Ferguson’s wife rented him a snazzy off-the-grid cabin in the woods near Birmingham, where they now live, to decompress. A conversation with the Airbnb host about the (not-so-high) construction costs set him calculating, and a few weeks of research led him and Adhvaryu to believe there was opportunity in glamping in the South. Texas-based hotel operator Insignia Hospitality Group and other investors signed on, and Starlight Haven has budgeted close to $9 million for its first two sites.

Ferguson, an Eagle Scout, and Adhvaryu, who took up backpacking not long after moving to the US from India at age 12, enjoy their new work environment. “Jig and I both really love the outdoors,” Ferguson said. “We’re not just some bloodthirsty capitalists.”

Alaska

A most versatile travel accessory
Planeket

Frequent international flier Jin Chen designed a travel blanket to meet her own needs: It’s wearable and doubles as a pillow, with pockets for storage. Website sales took off in 2021 after Conde Nast Traveler mentioned the Planeket in its magazine. Now she’s expanding sales into airports and working on new accessories.

Arizona

Open door to mental health care
Mind 24-7

Jeff Spight and his two co-founders had been pondering the pressing need for more accessible and bespoke mental-health care for years. Then the pandemic created an opportunity. Mind 24-7 opened its first always-open clinic in September 2021. There are now three in Arizona providing the most clinically effective care to any patient who walks in the door.

Arkansas

Sharing Black culture, joy and gift wrap
Black Paper Party
Black Paper Party

Madia Willis, Jasmine Hudson and J’Aaron Merchant, friends and colleagues in northwest Arkansas, share a deep commitment to their Black community and to the ideals of inclusion and representation.

Their combined skills include product development, textile design, digital media and marketing, supply-chain management, financial planning, and art and graphic design. Willis and Hudson both have worked for some of the biggest retailers in the country; Merchant is an artist, creating characters for the likes of Disney, Sesame Street and PBS Kids. And all three have experience starting businesses.

Obviously, they were destined to collaborate as entrepreneurs.

“We looked at ourselves and said, ’What can we do together to fill a void in the market?’” said Willis, CEO of Black Paper Party, the ultimate answer to their question. The company sells Black-culture-themed gift wrap, ornaments and textiles at Target, T.J. Maxx, Family Dollar and other stores, as well as through their website.

The three were getting their idea underway just when the pandemic arrived in March 2020. Suddenly, starting a new business seemed impossible. Then George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, and the explosion of outrage and frustration that followed renewed their sense of purpose. “We realized our product was needed now more than ever,” said Hudson.

Focused at first on Christmas, Merchant created Black characters to populate an extended Santa family and “Gnomies” to decorate their products. After a year filled with such disruption and sorrow, “There was a desire to bring joy to the holiday season,” she said.

Black Paper Party launched in September 2020 with $32,000 in startup capital scraped together from savings as well as loans from friends and family. Sales quickly took off; by mid-December, the company had to stop taking orders when an overwhelmed postal service couldn’t guarantee delivery by Christmas. In 2021, even with supply-chain disruptions, revenue grew by six times to nearly $300,000. This year, they’re on track to meet their goal of $1 million in annual revenue.

In May, the trio won a $100,000 grant from the Macy’s Workshop pitch competition. And on Oct. 1, their products will begin selling in Walmart stores. Willis, now working on a licensing strategy to expand their product line, said, “Our goal is to make Black People Party a household name.”

California

Helping small business prosper
Finli

California has more startups than any other state, counting more than 4 million small businesses in 2021. The shock of Covid-19’s shelter-in-place economy presented a fresh opportunity for Golden State entrepreneurs to solve problems. By the end of May 2020 in Los Angeles, where 92% of companies employ 20 or fewer people, unemployment had climbed to 18.3% — the highest among the 10 most populous US cities, said Stephen Cheung, chief operating officer of the Los Angeles Development Corp.

Lori Shao, the daughter of immigrants from mainland China, settled in Los Angeles after being raised in Hialeah, Florida, and rose to the rank of executive director at JPMorgan Chase & Co. From the start of Covid-19, she saw the need for a business that helped other small companies operate more efficiently — for some, it would be a matter of survival during the volatile pandemic economy.

She looked at the network of service providers relied on by her small family, two children and two parents working full time: the day cares, after-school programs, gardeners, pool maintenance workers, house cleaners and people delivering food to everyone locked inside their homes. Those workers relied on customers like her to sustain their livelihoods.

So in March 2020, Shao launched Finli — short for financial lift — a tech platform that handles every aspect of the payment process, automating away inefficiencies so laborers can focus on growing their businesses. After starting with five customers, she said, “We have over 1,600 businesses using a family platform to get paid. Think of the landscaper who hand-writes an invoice and puts it in your mailbox, and he does that for 50 of his customers and he waits for a check to come in the mail.’’ Now, he gets paid immediately, transforming the management of income as well as the communication between small business and its customers.

Venture capital fund TechStars was the first investor to take a chance on Finli, and to date Shao’s company has received $9 million in startup funding from institutional investors.

“At the end of the day, my mission is to transform and redefine entrepreneurship,’’ she said.

Colorado

A platform to cultivate a diverse workforce
Mentor Spaces

It was a Goldman Sachs executive participating in an inner-city mentoring program who helped lead Chris Motley to Columbia University and then to his own career at Goldman. Now he’s extending those crucial connections through Mentor Spaces, a Denver-based virtual-networking platform connecting Black and Latinx young professionals with established experts in their fields.

Connecticut

Undeniably decadent doughnuts
Rise Doughnuts

Hugh Mangum had already co-founded a barbecue chain when the pandemic turned him on to a new family project. During the long days of lockdown, his sons, Henry and Quinn, and his wife, Laura Malone, perfected the recipe for a brown-butter vanilla-bean glazed doughnut. Starting out as a pop-up in the small town of Wilton, Rise Doughnuts now has its own storefront, multiple flavors and a devoted following.

Delaware

Nourishment for heart, mind and body
Books & Bagels

After losing her job in the pandemic, Ellen Cappard took a 12-week entrepreneurship class. She already had an idea for a bookstore that was not just a business, but also a community gathering place for reading, eating and visiting. She found a corner storefront in Wilmington, broke her piggy bank and launched Books & Bagels, where she also hosts poetry readings, workshops and other neighborhood events.

Florida

Macrame creations from Bolivian artisans
Munai

Miami-trained designer Melissa Lara traveled to her birthplace of La Paz to learn the textile traditions of the Bolivian Andes. On her return, she developed a line of clothing and accessories using the knotting technique of indigenous Aymara women. She’s ready now to scale up her company, Munai, from direct sales on Etsy to wholesale production for major retailers.

Georgia

Making every day a great hair day
WellCapped

Starting a business came naturally to Shante Frazier, who comes from a family of entrepreneurs. Inspired by an idea from her aunt, she launched WellCapped, a designer-clothing rental business — for wigs. Fashion influencers are setting pricey new beauty standards, particularly for women of color. Renting at first through local beauty salons, she’s aiming for a storefront next year, then to broaden into other beauty products.

Hawaii

A seaweed solution to cow emissions
Blue Ocean Barns

At the Blue Ocean Barns lab in Kailua-Kona, researchers can pipe in ocean water as part of their effort to grow a special kind of seaweed native to the islands — which co-founder Joan Salwen says is a natural solution to help fight climate change. Fed to cattle, the red seaweed reduces cow burps, a major source of the methane emissions that contribute to global warming. The goal: to be in the feed of a million American cows by 2025.

Idaho

Connecting with the Nimiipuu way of life
Nez Perce Tourism

Idaho ranks fourth in the US in business startup activity, and no wonder. The state has led the nation in population growth for the past several years, with Californians dominating the wave of migrants. In the new entrepreneurial surge, one business stands out, one with its roots in Idaho — or, more accurately, in the land that is now Idaho — thousands of years before it was a state.

Nez Perce Tourism LLC began in 2019 with a vision Stacia Morfin had two years earlier, when she hiked up a mountain to a sacred site in north-central Idaho. Morfin, now 37, is a member of the Nimiipuu, whom French explorers named Nez Perce, for “pierced nose.” She had been working in a sales marketing job and was looking for a change. Morfin’s vision guided her to create a company dedicated to cultural preservation, she said. She sought practical instruction from a small-business center in Lewiston, and spent two years doing market research — “deep database work” — on the regional tourism economy.

She learned that some 25,000 people a season were coming up to the Hells Canyon area, many arriving on cruise ships on the Columbia and Snake rivers. Her business — the first in Nez Perce country to be native-owned — offered tours and excursions that immersed visitors in Nimiipuu history and culture, with sites including petroglyphs at least 8,000 years old. To start it, Morfin got help from the Nimiipuu Fund.

Within months, she was turning a profit. “I hired 55 dancers, singers, drummers, storytellers and others” for the programs, she said. She also sold jewelry, beadwork, artwork and other native-made designs (“It’s in our DNA to trade and barter”).

After Covid hit in spring 2020, 95% of Morfin’s business dried up. Rather than shut down, she opened the Nez Perce Traditions gift shop in downtown Lewiston. She had the inventory from her tours and access to a network of artists and artisans seeking to sell a range of products. (There is, for example, a vintage Louis Vuitton bag retooled with fringe: “Native people like modern fashion as much as anyone else,” she said, adding that the fringe evoked “our Appaloosa horses.”) Morfin made back her store rent the first month with walk-in and then online sales.

With the travel industry booming again, Nez Perce Tourism is “going through huge growing pains,” Morfin said. This year, she was named to the Idaho Business Journal’s list of the state’s 50 most influential business leaders. The vision was real.

Illinois

Cocktails minus the regret
Ritual Zero Proof

Marcus Sakey wanted to be able to occasionally fill his glass with something that gave him that celebratory feeling of a Manhattan cocktail without the next-day drag. He started experimenting with recipes for realistic, alcohol-free versions of standard spirits. Ritual Zero Proof sold out of its first six-month supply of whiskey and gin substitutes in five weeks. The company now sells its products — including its takes on tequila and rum — in nationwide chains including Whole Foods Markets.

Indiana

A smarter way to interview new hires

Even before the pandemic, hiring interviews — time-consuming, prone to unconscious bias and with little feedback — needed a rethink. Venture studio High Alpha saw a solution in technology: Its online platform Pillar records virtual interviews to enable better analysis of job candidates as well as training opportunities for employees.

Iowa

Revisiting a retro sport
Volition Skate

Jen Kranz found a pandemic hobby in roller skating. With the help of fellow skate enthusiast Kate Vigmostad, she turned it into a business, renting and selling equipment and holding pop-up skating events around her small town of Fairfield that have become popular with families. Next on the agenda for Volition Skate: opening a permanent skating rink.

Kansas

Gifting from your local favorites

Afloat a mobile application that connects consumers with local businesses, aims to make gifting more convenient. Amid the disruptions of the pandemic, founder Sarah-Allen Preston saw an opportunity to bring people together and help them support their community. Customers order from a selection of curated items, and a gift-wrapped package with a handwritten note will be delivered from a neighborhood store either same-day or the next day. The app initially launched in the Kansas City area and Preston has since expanded to Dallas. She plans to target Houston and Nashville, Tennessee next.

Kentucky

Broadening bourbon’s appeal
Blue Run Spirits
Blue Run Spirits

For many bourbon drinkers, part of the fun is the hunt — scouring the shelves of liquor stores for a hidden gem. The pandemic took that away from many people, but it also offered an opportunity for Blue Run Spirits, a startup in Georgetown that brings the search to people’s doorsteps.

“We received word that a number of different brands were postponing or canceling their launches” during the pandemic, said Mike Montgomery, chief executive officer and co-founder of Blue Run, “and so that created this window for us. I think people were looking for something new; they were looking for something different; they were looking for something kind of interesting.”

Blue Run was formed by Montgomery, a longtime political strategist and consultant, and four other whiskey fans. It made a splash in October 2020 with its first release of 2,600 bottles priced at about $170 each. They sold out in less than two weeks. The company made an even bigger splash at the 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, where two of its offerings won best single-barrel bourbon 11 years and older, and best small-batch bourbon 11 years and older. Blue Run has put out 10 releases of bourbon and rye since it was founded, most selling out within minutes.

The startup is capitalizing on its core tenets — youth culture, aspiration and inclusivity — to bring high-quality bourbon to a broader audience beyond the traditional demographic of middle-aged white men. “Today’s bourbon drinker doesn’t look anything like it did 20 to 30 years ago,” Montgomery said. “It’s more diverse now.”

Blue Run’s first release was available online and in stores in Kentucky and Georgia; the company has since expanded distribution to more than 20 states, Washington, D.C., and Canada, but online sales remain key to connecting with consumers.

The startup turned to another co-founder, Devon McKinney, who designed Nike’s Air Force One sneaker. He designed an intriguing bottle adorned with a distinctive butterfly logo that represents Blue Run’s desire to evolve the bourbon experience.

But it’s what’s in the bottle that will keep bourbon fans coming back. In a stroke of inspired audacity, Blue Run asked Jim Rutledge, an industry icon and former master distiller at bourbon brand Four Roses, to join the startup. He agreed to be “liquid adviser.” (Think of Michael Jordan joining your pickup basketball team.) He oversaw the first few releases by selecting and blending whiskey from barrels purchased from an undisclosed distillery. He now helps guide Blue Run’s own distilling.

Joining him is the company’s first hire, Shaylyn Gammon, as whiskey director, a rising star in a male-dominated industry who combines a research-and-development background with the artistic ability to develop unique flavors. The Russell’s Reserve 13-year-old bourbon she created was named the best American whiskey of 2021 by renowned spirits critic Fred Minnick. That achievement was all the more impressive because she created the bourbon entirely without tasting it: She was pregnant at the time. “So much about taste is smell,” she said, “so I would do it by aroma.”

The company, which has raised nearly $15 million in outside money and been profitable almost from the beginning, has a revenue target of $15 million for 2022 and estimates significant increases in following years. Blue Run just announced a $51 million expansion in Georgetown that will include a distillery and future headquarters.

Louisana

Recycling glass for good
Glass Half Full

Frustrated that New Orleans lacked a curbside glass recycling program, college students Franziska Trautmann and Max Steitz created a company to collect and crush discarded glass and sell it to businesses for use in flooring and sandblasting. Eventually, Glass Half Full started grinding the glass into sand that could be used to help rehabilitate Louisiana’s fast-eroding coastline.

Maine

Upping your spice game
Mumbai to Maine
Mumbai to Maine

Like Mumbai — the Indian megalopolis where Cherie Scott grew up — the seaside town of Boothbay, Maine, began life as a fishing village. The similarities end there. Most Mainers prefer their seafood unvarnished except for a dash of salt, lemon and butter, not soaked in the fiery Goan curries Scott’s mother made from scratch. The last census recorded 10 Asians in town. Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, has more than 20 million residents.

Yet it was moving to Boothbay from New Jersey in 2008 that prompted Scott, 43, to rediscover an Indian heritage she had neglected since leaving the country at age 16. She began cooking Indian food for the first time in her mid-30s to give her daughter a better idea of where she came from, recording her experiences in a lively blog that expanded to include interviews and a podcast with innovative Maine chefs and food purveyors. After her own mother passed away in 2018, Scott dug out her handwritten curry recipes, aching to re-create the home-cooked tastes she suddenly missed.

She was encouraged by the results, if not by the painstaking work involved in roasting spices, chopping onions and garlic, and simmering food for hours before each meal. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Scott had begun to work with food scientists at the University of Maine to see if she could develop a shelf-stable version of her sauces that could be sold in jars. “I made a deal with myself,” Scott said. “If they didn’t taste as good as my mother’s, I was not going to launch the line.”

Later that year, Maine public television offered to feature Scott on a new show about minority-owned businesses in the state. Even before she received a promised $5,000 grant, she raced to formally set up her company as an LLC; order jars, labels and boxes; and start cooking up batches of three different curries to sell under the name of her blog, Mumbai to Maine.

The 16-ounce jars — including a Mughlai-style makhani sauce, a Punjabi saag (or spinach curry) and a caldine (a Goan blend of coconut and spices) — retail for $15 each. Scott began by selling to local specialty food stores and through her website; she now ships nationally. The Specialty Food Association, a national trade group, recently named a prepared lobster makhani dish featuring her sauce the best new lunch or dinner entree in the US.

Scott, who has maintained a full-time marketing job in order to self-fund her startup, estimates that she’s sold more than 10,000 jars so far, all cooked by hand in her Boothbay kitchen with only her husband, children and the occasional babysitter to help. She’s now hoping to shift production to a contract packager so she can concentrate on fundraising and expanding the business. The plan is to introduce more sauces next year, including Goa’s most famous export, a vindaloo — bringing more memories of one home to another.

Maryland

A mask that builds trust
ClearMask

Allysa Dittmar, deaf since birth, experienced herself the dehumanizing and terrifying challenge of communicating with masked health-care workers during an emergency. With two colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, she developed ClearMask, the first fully transparent surgical face mask approved by the Food and Drug Administration just in time for the coronavirus pandemic. The masks have also been adopted by court systems for hearings and depositions.

Massachusetts

Solar-powered sea salt
Cape Ann Sea Salt

In March 2020, Anna Baglaneas-Eves and her husband, James Eves, launched a pandemic-proof venture: solar-powered sea salt. They collect ocean water in Rockport, filter it and evaporate it in a greenhouse in their backyard. “This is ocean-to-table,” she says. After growing sales 250% in 2021, they’re now expanding Cape Ann Sea Salt from farmers’ markets and online sales to restaurants and stores.

Michigan

Furniture for the work-from-home era

Don Goeman foresaw the trend of people working more from their homes and needing higher-quality, convenient office setups. The pandemic accelerated the interest in Quint, named for the five essential parts of a work station: desking, seating, storage, boundaries and accessories. Quint’s home office furniture is designed for quick, easy assembly, and speedy delivery. Selling online through their website and retailer West Elm, Quint recently built a factory and store in the city of Holland.

Minnesota

Lab-quality diagnostics at home

Molecular biologist Bruce Batten founded Grip Molecular Technologies to build off research from the University of Minnesota. The company is developing a hand-held, single-use diagnostic cartridge that consumers can use to test themselves at home for a range of respiratory infections, including Covid-19 and influenza. The technology can be adapted to test for other pathogens. Grip’s goal is to have FDA approval in time to launch commercially in 2025.

Mississippi

Where AI meets skincare

When her skin went through “a crazy phase,” Sajani Barot applied her experience as a pharmacist and medical adviser to find her own solution. Now those skills are being put to use for others in her new digital marketplace, the Skin Consult. Customers are assessed, then receive advice and product recommendations aimed at solving their particular issues. Next up: a subscription service.

Missouri

Plant-based meals, fresh and simple
Rootberry

After turning 50, Marc Connor decided to start eating healthier. He found out quickly that it’s really hard to do, with few places to go and little time to make fresh food yourself. Partnering with J.T. Norville at Midas Hospitality, he launched Rootberry, making fresh plant-based meals for delivery. It now sells through local outlets in St. Louis.

Montana

Tipis made the Blackfeet way

Summer Kennerly tracked down a tribal elder to teach her how to make the traditional tipis of Blackfeet Nation. During the pandemic, the hobby turned into a business as Kennerly discovered there was an appetite for reclaiming this piece of American Indian culture. Sunshine Woman Creations sells canvas tipis, from 24 feet tall to 10 feet for children, handmade by Kennerly, to individuals, tourist operations and schools. She’s working on creating kits to sell at state and national park gift shops.

Nebraska

Managing crops from the sky

Jackson Stansell grew up in an agricultural community, and now he wants to help farms be more profitable and more sustainable. Sentinel Fertigation uses satellite imagery to measure the levels of nitrogen in field crops, then calibrates the precise amount needed, and where, for application on the ground. By preventing over-fertilization, the technology reduces both damage to the environment and costs for farmers .

Nevada

Crack the corporate-culture code

Covid forced companies to find news ways to keep employees engaged and connected. Perry Rosenstein redesigned his video-chat app to create Gatheround, tailored to help employers build a sense of connection and shared mission between employees outside of an office building. Embedded in its video platform, the company offers tools for virtual corporate tasks such as onboarding new staff, development workshops, diversity and inclusion presentations, and retreats.

New Hampshire

Protein without the fillers
Drink Wholesome

As an endurance athlete in college, Jack Schrupp began studying the labels of protein supplements to figure out why they made him feel so bloated and sluggish. The ingredients looked straight out of a laboratory. So he created his own protein drink mix using nothing but “real food”: coconut, vanilla bean, egg whites, monk fruit. After partnering with a local bakery to make and package his supplement, Drink Wholesome, website sales took off among customers looking for an alternative to major store brands.

New Jersey

Your neighborhood workspace

When Covid-19 created new demand for suburban workspaces, Sneh Kadakia saw an opportunity. The founder and CEO of the coworking firm From Here, Kadakia opened her first neighborhood coworking space in Plainfield in 2021, and is planning a soft launch for a second site in Princeton Junction this month. “I was one of those people who had been a slave to the 2 1/2-hour commute, one way, to New York City,” she recalls. “Getting those five hours back in your day is life-altering.”

New Mexico

A new way to feel the music
Vibroluxe

Entrepreneurship hasn’t yet made David Sampson rich, but it’s already been a journey of self-discovery.

Sampson comes from a family of entrepreneurs: His grandfather sold herbal formulas out of a store in Chicago; his father had a venture in chemical surfactants. Sampson is a guitarist, and his enterprise involves sound — specifically, a sort of coneless speaker known as a tactile transducer, which he first encountered at a 2016 trade show in Los Angeles. The vibrations it sent through his body, he says, affected him profoundly.

It was “like seeing a new color,” he said. “It changed my life.”

The result: what Sampson calls “the world’s only audio-vibrating office chair.” Employing two tactile transducers in an apparatus that he has patented, the chair can vibrate along with the user’s favorite music or video games. Or, employing an app that generates differential vibrations similar to binaural beats, it can produce a sort of massage. “You can tune the frequency to what feels good in your body,” he said.

Although the origins of Sampson’s venture predate the pandemic, the lockdown — along with the carpentry he did to get by in the absence of live music gigs — provided much-needed mental space. It also helped motivate his April 2021 move to Santa Fe, where he immediately incorporated his company, VibroLuxe.

“The silver lining to the pandemic,” he says, “was that it gave me time to develop what I was doing without feeling like I was being left behind.”

Sales have so far been in the dozens of units, at $1,199 a chair. Sampson has yet to solicit outside investment beyond a $6,000 Kickstarter campaign. But with the help of mentors he met at the Santa Fe Business Incubator, he has discovered he doesn’t want to be the chief executive. He’d rather license the chair to a larger company that can handle the sales and marketing, so he can focus on the production part that he truly enjoys.

New York

Meat that delivers
Butcher Girls

As the world shut down in March 2020, Jocelyn Guest and Erika Nakamura, two butchers in Brooklyn, found themselves in quarantine, out of a job and wondering, “What do we do now?”

Their answer: Butcher Girls Co. They used $10,000 of their own money to create a home-delivery butcher service operating from an abandoned butcher shop in Dobbs Ferry.

Subscribers in and around New York City receive local, sustainably sourced meat on their doorsteps. Customers sign up for their signature “omakase” box, and Butcher Girls makes the meat selections. Opening the little blue crates every few weeks to be surprised by flank steak or pork chops or pastrami became a pandemic ritual for many families that has stuck (though these days the meat comes in branded insulated bags).

The Butcher Girls subscription model, with its fixed prices on a changing chef’s-choice selection, provided certainty on revenue and flexibility on inventory at a time when people were avoiding stores, restaurants were boarded up, and slaughterhouses operated erratically. Guest and Nakamura prepared the meat, packing it and hand-delivering it themselves.

The married couple built their business cautiously, telling themselves, “Let’s not kick the door open; if we push and it opens, we go through.” As it turned out, “We walked in and we just kept walking,” Nakamura said. Butcher Girls, still self-funded, now has about 300 subscribers and has relocated to Long Island City. Growth plans include supplying restaurants, opening a traditional Italian pork store — think of a high-end deli — and offering more a la carte choices.

North Carolina

100% human alternative to infant formula

Cell biologist Leila Strickland and business partner Michelle Egger had a simple vision. They wanted to provide parents of newborns with an alternative to infant formula: human milk made by culturing cells in a laboratory. The science is more complicated. BioMilq has assembled a team of researchers to perfect the technology of growing human milk outside a human body, and hope to bring their product to market within a few years.

North Dakota

Smartwatches for cows
701x

Kevin Biffert’s ranching family used to tease him about his technology education. If he was so smart, why not invent something to tell ranchers when their animals get out of the fence? So he did. 701x is a tag that hangs off a cow’s ear, transmitting its location, counting its steps and even signaling when it’s in heat. The aim is to reduce cattle raisers’ stress and prevent injuries or lost animals, not replace ranch hands.

Ohio

Keeping women cool
Cool Comforts

Getting laid off during the pandemic pushed Keisha Williams to start her own business. Her inspiration: tackling a common health annoyance for women suffering from vaginitis. Cool Comforts is a pod that can be frozen and then applied to the affected area to relieve discomfort. With mentoring and grants from the University of Cincinnati’s Venture Lab, she expects to receive FDA classification within days, and then the formal registration process will begin.

Oklahoma

Remote work with a $10,000 bonus

Remote working is more prevalent than ever thanks to the pandemic, and it is turbocharging a program designed to diversify Tulsa’s economy. Tulsa Remote offers a $10,000 bonus to workers willing to make Tulsa their home base for their remote jobs for at least one year. More than 1,600 Tulsa Remote participants have earned a mean income of $127,000, about three times the city’s average. Ninety percent have stayed on after their one-year term was up.

Oregon

Footwear for health-care heroes
Bala Footwear

For all the attention given to health care in America, very little of it has been devoted to the thing that props it all up: nurses’ feet and, beneath those feet, nurses’ shoes. The demands are substantial: 12-hour shifts, the relentless drip and splatter of bodily fluids, marathons of standing punctuated by emergency sprints around hard corners and along freshly mopped linoleum hallways.

For most of modern memory, shoes designed for nurses were white clunkers. These gave way to footwear that wasn’t really made for nurses — support-free clogs worn by line cooks or running shoes built for forward motion, not for hovering over hospital beds. Add to this the gendered reality that most shoes are designed with the male foot in mind.

Brian Lockard and John Eberle, two shoe guys who met in the rock gym at Nike when both worked for the Beaverton, Oregon, footwear behemoth, spotted a market opportunity. In 2019, they started Bala, a company that makes one — just one — $150 high-performance shoe for health-care professionals.

Lockard and Eberle did the math. There are 22 million health-care workers in the US, adding up to a market of $4 billion a year, Eberle said — too small for the big shoe companies but too big for footwear neophytes. Conversations with hundreds of nurses dissatisfied with their shoe options confirmed the need, Lockard added. All this took place pre-pandemic, they said, emphasizing that it didn’t take Covid to convince them that caregivers needed something better on their feet.

Bala opened for business in peak Covid, September 2020. It sold $1 million worth of shoes in 12 days of presales and brought in $4 million in revenue in its first year. It has raised nearly $3 million in three rounds of venture financing. But as with all startups, the road hasn’t always been smooth.

Sales — and the company’s reputation — dipped in mid-2021 when Ebi Porbeni, a nurse working with BALA, left in a financial dispute, along with the shoe’s designer. This was a problem: Porbeni was not just a nurse — he was a major social media influencer, with more than a million followers, many of whom made their unhappiness known. Other challenges? Covid-induced supply-chain problems (the shoes are made in China) and a rise in the cost of digital advertising (tough for online retailers).

Lockard and Eberle, resolute in their optimism, have kept the company on an upward path. They’ve also adjusted their sales model as the world has opened back up: Once online-only, Balas will now be sold in stores.

Pennsylvania

Craft and community

Ceramic Concept had been a dream of mine since I was about 19,” says ceramicist Stefani Threet of her West Philadelphia storefront gallery, which displays work from more than 150 artists. The pandemic, she says, gave her “a sense of urgency to accomplish some of those dreams.” In less than two years, Threet went from raising money on GoFundMe to having her boutique honored as a “Best of Philly” by Philadelphia Magazine.

Rhode Island

Waze for bikes
Pointz

Maggie Bachenberg was taking a cross-country bike trip after high school graduation when she first realized how inadequate traditional GPS apps are for cyclists. “We took a bunch of dangerous roads and would often get redirected by local riders,” she recalled. “It’s hard to find safe, low-stress routes,” especially in a country built around the automobile.

Bachenberg and Trisha Ballakur, a fellow new graduate of Brown University, came up with the idea of a navigation app designed especially for cyclists and scooter-riders. Pointz was born, with Bachenberg as chief executive officer and Ballakur as chief technology officer. They describe it as “Waze for bikes.”

Launched in January, the app takes existing data sets and looks for bike-friendly routes that car-focused navigation apps overlook. “We prefer roads that are lower traffic, [with] lower speed limits, maybe have a wider shoulder, or a protected bike lane,” said Ballakur. Routes are also influenced by user ratings; as more people use it, the directions get better and better. They’re up to about 3,500 users so far.

Winning a couple of pitch competitions gave Pointz some early cash, and now they have $400,000 in venture funding from Rogue Venture Partners. They’re currently working on giving riders more options to customize their routes. “Some people, if they’re going for a workout, want [more] elevation change. If you’re casually riding to work, you probably don’t,” explained Bachenberg. Future updates will let cyclists see the locations of bike racks, bike shops and bike-sharing stations. Right now, the app only works in the US. By the end of the year, they hope to have expanded to Canada, Australia and Europe.

The pandemic may have added a bit of wind to their sails — bicycle sales surged as gyms closed and remote workers sought excuses to leave the house. According to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, spending on bikes and cycling accessories increased by nearly a billion dollars in 2020, and nearly $2 billion in 2021. All those new riders will need help getting where they want to go.

South Carolina

Portraits in felt
Sam Sidney

Sam Sidney’s art venture was born out of home projects she did with her kids during Covid-19 lockdowns. After posting a self-portrait she made from felt scraps on Instagram, requests poured in for more. Without even intending it, she’d started a business. Her website offers products and prints, and takes commissions for whimsical felt portrayals of humans and nonhuman items, including food, sneakers and dogs.

South Dakota

A wastewater treatment plant for every home
Amber

It wasn’t the worsening drought in western South Dakota that drew Maryam Amouamouha to Rapid City from her own parched country of Iran in 2019. She came to earn a second Ph.D., this one in chemical and biological engineering, at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. But water scarcity worldwide was at the top of her mind: She brought with her an idea for a small device for recycling household water.

When the pandemic arrived, remote classes allowed Amouamouha to spend more time in the lab and, with her adviser and undergraduate helpers, create and refine a simple water filtration system employing an advanced anaerobic membrane bioreactor, contained in a clear acrylic box that’s 2 feet by 3 feet by 6 feet.

Last year, she obtained a US patent for her Amber (anaerobic membrane bioreactor with electrolytic regeneration) system. It works like a mini sewage-treatment plant, filtering all the wastewater from a small household (five to six people) or business — some 140 to 150 gallons a day — without the use of chemicals. The purified water can be used for washing, flushing or gardening. (It’s actually clean enough to drink, for those not bothered by its provenance.)

In the process of filtering the water, Amber also produces compost and captures energy in the form of methane. The whole thing can be kept in a garage or basement, and Amouamouha is aiming to keep the cost down to about $5,000.

In April, her fledgling company Amber LLC took first place in the Governor’s Giant Vision Awards Business Competition, winning a $20,000 investment — adding to the roughly $140,000 in other grants and awards Amber has garnered from public and private sponsors.

For Amouamouha, who saw her grandfather struggle to farm corn and beans in Hamadan Province, a region with diminishing rainfall, this is the realization of a dream. “It’s about creating a business,” she said, “but down in my heart I want to do something for Mother Earth and help people who are less fortunate.”

Tennessee

Perfecting your virtual self
Vodium

Making a presentation through a video-conferencing platform has become commonplace. That doesn’t mean people do it well. Political consultant Camille Padilla found it challenging to film ads with people talking to their computers. What she needed was a teleprompter — scrolling autocues to keep people on script — that worked seamlessly with platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Since one didn’t exist, she and co-founder Mary Mellor built it, and Vodium has been carving out its niche in the new world of remote work.

Texas

BBQ without the cattle
BioBQ

Katie Kam, a vegan with five college degrees, is reinventing barbecue in the capital of Texas. She’s partnered with Janet Zoldan, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and self-described “hardcore carnivore,” to grow cell-cultured brisket in a lab. They’re developing technology to produce a recognizable cut of beef, instead of just a formless lump, and hope to have BioBQ products to market in 2023.

Utah

Sound waves for healing
Oud Instrument

The ability of the oud to play quarter tones — the notes between the 12 notes on a piano — make the lute-like instrument from the Middle East unlike anything in Western music. Ramy Adly was convinced there was a market of would-be oud players who needed instruments. When the lockdowns hit, Adly set out to tap it. Oud Instrument also sells Adly’s own creation, the iOud, a synthesizer-like version of the millennia-old instrument.

Vermont

The future of flight
Beta Technologies

Vermont as a cradle of innovation for battery-powered airplanes?

For many Americans, the Green Mountain State still conjures up images of dairy cows, old barns, fiery foliage, great skiing, maple syrup, Ben & Jerry’s and the granite-etched poetry of Robert Frost.

Yet the pandemic has reshaped the state in surprising ways. Even as restrictions cut into tourism revenues, Covid-19 brought out the resilience of Vermont’s entrepreneurs, from the maker of maple sap evaporators who adapted to a new world of online-only sales to the bottlers of American whiskeys who grew their business with Zoom tasting sessions.

Even more strikingly, the pandemic fueled the state’s fast-growing tech sector, which now accounts for 7.1% of its economy.

Consider Beta Technologies, the Burlington-based electric aviation startup founded in 2017 that last year attracted the state’s biggest infusion of capital ($368 million) from, among others, Amazon Inc.’s Climate Pledge Fund.

Three years in the making, Beta’s Alia-250C is an electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. During the pandemic, it completed a flight (in fixed-wing mode) of more than 250 miles, was tested by two US Air Force pilots, and won an order for 10 planes from the United Parcel Service (with an option to buy 140 more). The company is shooting for certification by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2024. Its planned manufacturing facility will create hundreds of jobs across the state. “Vermont’s underlying culture of pragmatism makes it the perfect place to work on future-focused solutions,” said Kyle Clark, Beta’s founder and chief executive officer.

If flight without carbon emissions is modern aviation’s Holy Grail, Clark verges on a camera-ready Knight of the Round Table. A Vermont native drawn to flight since he was a teenager, he studied materials science at Harvard, where he sketched out his ideas for Beta in his senior thesis. A pilot, flight instructor and skydiver, Clark is also a 6’7” former professional hockey player known more for his fisticuffs than his finesse. As Russ Scully, a Beta funder and the creator of Hula (one of Vermont’s new tech incubators), told VermontBiz, “He was not what I was expecting when you meet the CEO of an emerging tech company.”

That seems like a fitting description for a new breed of entrepreneurs from a state whose most celebrated inhabitants, after all, have often taken the road less traveled.

Virginia

Where selfies get star treatment

Cierrea Roach and Maurice Gerald opened Danville’s first selfie museum in January, helping customers perfect the art of the selfie. A visit to Aspiring Minds Snapshot will involve roaming around the museum’s 23 “exhibits,” where people can stage selfies with the help of props and backdrops like the Money Room and Ball Pit. They’re aiming to create a positive, family-friendly place in the small town.

Washington

Combating malicious content
Pendulum

Many falsehoods and conspiracy theories that turn up online spread through services like YouTube and TikTok, where content is far more difficult to monitor than straightforward text. In 2021, Mark Listes and Sam Clark founded Pendulum, a software platform that helps businesses spot video and audio content that could harm their reputations or endanger their operations.

West Virginia

A second life for EV batteries
Parthian Battery Solutions

Car enthusiast Auggie Chico started Parthian Battery Solutions straight out of college. His idea: Take old electric-vehicle batteries, which still have plenty of capacity, and repackage them for applications less demanding than powering a car, such as linking up with solar panels to provide electricity to homes and offices. He and his partner and lead technician, Greg Lusk, are exploring manufacturing partnerships that will let them focus on developing their product.

Wisconsin

One platform for real and virtual adventurers

Peter Romenesko and Travis Frederick, childhood friends and enthusiasts of the nerd-defining game Dungeons and Dragons, took different paths in life — Romenesko into the tech world, Frederick into a professional football career with the Dallas Cowboys. Now they’ve created Demiplane together, a “digital tool set” that allows players of tabletop games “to discover, create and share their fantasy worlds” across both the internet and in person. A new partnership with Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Entertainment is its biggest coup yet, hosting a multiverse role-playing game to complement a new tabletop game from the “Avengers” creators.

Wyoming

Obsessed with gnomes in Wyoming
WyGnoming Gnomes

Terri Sherman has always been crafty. The gnomes she likes to make tapped into her Swedish heritage and helped pass her days after she retired from her job as a 911 dispatcher. Selling out 30 of the plush-bodied creatures at a craft show convinced her it could be more than a hobby. Sherman sells across social media and has an Etsy shop, WyGnoming Gnomes. Bestsellers in her collection include a 911 dispatcher character, a firefighter and many holiday-themed gnomes.

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