Gen Z and Millennial Entrepreneurs Step Up to Help Amid Covid-19 Crisis

Young business leaders get creative to raise funds and ease hardship during the pandemic

a woman sitting at a computer
History suggests that the current moment can help drive innovation. Getty Images

Key insight:

From where people work to how they communicate and what they wear (or don’t), the Covid-19 crisis has quickly altered daily life for millions of Americans. The accompanying economic turmoil has also left a great many in need, presenting an opportunity for entrepreneurs looking to address these emerging cracks in society.

The moment is not without precedent. A new report from Wunderman Thompson Commerce explores how past pandemics have shifted cultures, institutions and value systems throughout history, leading to innovation brought about by necessity. The bubonic plague, for example, which spread across Europe and Asia in the 14th century, was followed by the Renaissance.

“As feudalism died along with the plague, individual wealth took its place,” the report’s authors write. “Merchants and commerce, banking, property investments and advances in science propelled people forward, and our corporate roots began to grow.”

Now, Gen Z and millennial business leaders are showing their own creativity, from pivoting existing initiatives to building new ones.

Giving back to the community and nationwide

With numerous local businesses forced to close their doors, Jorge Richardson, 24, wanted to help prevent them from staying closed permanently. The solution: gift cards.

In late March, Richardson and his fellow co-founders debuted, a search engine for gift cards that allows users to look up thousands of businesses by zip code and go directly to the company’s gift card page. All proceeds go to the business.

“The goal of this, at least for the next few months, is how to send as much help to the local businesses as possible,” Richardson said.

In a similar pursuit, Clemson University student Sudarshan Sridharan, 19, founded Save Mom-and-Pop Shops, a site that connects users with businesses across the country that offer gift cards. The platform also handles online payments for establishments not set up to do so.

“Clemson looked like a ghost town during spring break, and I realized that most of these businesses were going to go under if nothing changed,” Sridharan said. “Within three days, I had the first version of the site built, and it was shared with the community by both Clemson University and the local chamber of commerce. Things just took off from there.”

Making connections to bolster spirits and bottom lines

For those wanting to offer their appreciation and support to essential workers on the frontlines, 6FTCloser provides a way. The site allows users to submit short, personalized videos of thanks and nominate essential workers to receive these messages, delivering them anonymously and allowing the option of responding through the platform.

“I was seeing the tireless effort of our heroes on the front lines, and felt both deeply grateful for their work and increasingly motivated to reach out directly to say ‘thank you,’” said co-founder Noah Friedman, 25. “Watching everybody clap out their windows and bang pots and pans—a beautiful gesture of solidarity—I wondered if there was a way to make the gratitude more personal.”

Within a matter of days, Friedman and his co-founder, Sahil Bhaiwala, 25, had a version of 6FTCloser up and running.

“The entire purpose of 6FTCloser is to encourage us to do that simple act of recognizing another individual so that they know they are supported and loved,” added Bhaiwala. “It costs nothing except a few seconds of time, and it can have a greater impact on someone’s life than we could possibly imagine.”

To bring small businesses together, social intelligence platform Trufan has begun hosting virtual seminars and offering free access for 45 days to its audience segmentation tool, SocialRank, to companies with fewer than 25,000 followers.

More than 80 smalls business owners attended Trufan’s first event, and, so far, over 1,500 companies have signed up for free access to SocialRank.

“Being a startup ourselves, we empathize with what small business owners are going through,” said Trufan CEO and co-founder Swish Goswami, 23. And since the company’s vision has always been to help make social media both more understandable and accessible, he couldn’t think of a better time to begin offering free trials than now.

Providing protection for the most vulnerable

Recognizing the need for protective gear, founder and CEO Claire Coder, 23, redirected her business Aunt Flow, which manufactures tampons, pads and menstrual-product dispensers, to sister company Work Flow, which produces FDA-approved three-ply face masks.

“Instead of focusing on what we didn’t have, I got hyperfocused on the resources we had available to us,” Coder said.

When shelter-in-place orders came into effect, Tiffany Yau, 23, couldn’t stop asking herself how it was fair for some to stay at home while others, like her father, who works at multiple hospitals, are asked to risk their lives to protect others.

In response, Yau co-founded Project Shields, which makes face shields for medical staff and frontline workers. Using a 3D printer, in one month the company increased production from 100 shields to 3,500 per day. So far, Yau and her team have fulfilled more than 30,000 orders.

Raising funds to mitigate economic hardship

“Although evictions have been put on hold given this unprecedented health crisis, all renters are still responsible for paying their rent in full once the eviction restrictions are lifted,” said Abbey Wemimo, 28, co-founder of Esusu, a financial technology platform aimed at helping low- to middle-income consumers build credit.

By Esusu’s estimations, 65% of renters on the platform are impacted by Covid-19. To help prevent future hardship and keep families from becoming homeless, Wemimo, along with her Esusu co-founder Samir Goel, 26, began a Covid-19 emergency rent relief fund, which has raised nearly $180,000. All renters facing financial or medical difficulties are eligible to apply.

“We created this emergency rent relief fund to help families stay in their homes during this crisis, when millions are losing their jobs,” Goel said.

Likewise, entrepreneurs Jesse Kay, 19, and Alex Sheinmann, 23, started their own fund, Makin’ Lemonade. Partnering with a variety of organizations, ranging from fraternities and sororities to D1 sports teams, the co-founders have raised over $80,000 toward their goal of $100,000 for Feeding America, the CDC Foundation and the nonprofit Direct Relief.

“It has been absolutely amazing to see this many young people get involved in a positive movement to help those in need,” Sheinmann said. “We are building a case study of how people can come together and make a difference.”

@hiebertpaul Paul Hiebert is a CPG reporter at Adweek, where he focuses on data-driven stories that help illustrate changes in consumer behavior and sentiment.