Female Founders: How local businesses have adapted during COVID
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How local female founders have adapted their businesses during covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on so many businesses and organisations across the world. Plans have been halted, events have been moved online and, unfortunately, some companies have had to close altogether. 

As a special edition in the #FemaleFounders blog series, we checked in with a few of the brilliant female founders in our local area to hear about how they’ve had to adapt their businesses to the pandemic. Come along as we discover the changes that they’ve made, the challenges that they’ve faced, and the success that they’ve found along the way. 

Tracy Fishwick, Transform Lives Company

First up, we spoke to Tracy Fishwick, founder of Transform Lives Company, a Liverpool-based social enterprise offering support, work experience and opportunities to people in need. Let’s see how Tracy has had to change Transform Lives Company throughout the pandemic. 

How have you had to adapt Transform Lives Company during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Before COVID-19, if you’d asked me to deliver all of our work remotely using the platforms we’re all too familiar with today, I’d have told you it was impossible. The power and potency of our work is when we build relationships, and form a lasting trust, with people who very often have had their trust destroyed.  

At Transform Lives Company we work with some of the most socially excluded people in the Liverpool City Region.  We were running in-person support sessions all over the city in a wide range of locations such as the University of Liverpool, Speke Hall and even Knowsley Safari Park! But, on the 18th March 2020, I quickly signed us up for Microsoft Teams and Zoom accounts and we all decamped from our lovely office, packed up the plants, pots and mugs and headed to our spare rooms, bedrooms and kitchen tables.  Fast-forward to today, we’ve had lots of success, started new projects, launched as a Kickstart Gateway, met 200 new companies who didn’t know us before and supported people as far afield as London. 

Although, that doesn’t tell the whole story and it definitely is not a ‘rosy’ picture. Since the pandemic, we’ve taken more distress calls than ever from people talking about suicide, which we hardly ever did before. We’ve also had to find solutions to help people who were missing out because of a lack of IT kit or free Wifi. It’s good to see some of that being tackled now, but we’ve had 18 months where it’s been a real problem for many. For example, there have been many people on Universal Credit.

How has the TLC team had to adapt during the pandemic? 

Connecting as a team was never a challenge for us – we’ve always been able to laugh! But, making an effort to somehow ‘build it in’ was weird for us. The thing that worked best has been our Wellbeing Wednesdays. We were missing that informality we got by being in our office; the little helpful chats, a reassuring smile that helped each of us when difficult conversations were needed with people we’re supporting.  TLC is a truly great team of talented and committed people, but that sometimes means we are drained of energy to give.  

The team logs in at 3 pm every Wednesday to do a bit of yoga and meditation to ease us into the second half of the week. We tried saying let’s just have ‘chat time’ but it was too artificial for us. Yoga, however, has remained popular and everyone makes an effort to be there. I guess we are lucky to have in-house yogi’s and meditation experts! 

What have we learned? 

  1. How to have entire WhatsApp updates using only GIFs
  2. That literally no one knows how to use Teams properly

What have we gained? 

  1. Three Kickstart employees,
  2. One black Labrador 
  3. A gorgeous baby – Bonnie Byrne 

How are we feeling?

We’re a bit like the office plants – thriving but in need of some normality now, please! 

Read our #FemaleFounders interview with Tracy Fishwick

Aoibheann McCormack, Dumb Dough 

Next up is Aoibheann McCormack, Founder of Dumb Dough, a local cookie company founded right in the midst of the pandemic. Chunky cookies delivered to your door? Sign us up! Let’s take a look at how Aoibheann has adapted her business in response to COVID-19. 

How have you had to adapt Dumb Dough during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I started Dumb Dough whilst Lockdown was still at its strictest. As a food business, the health and safety of customers was always my top priority anyway, but there were additional processes I needed to put in place. This started with an in-depth COVID-19 assessment to add to our HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point), enhanced cleaning procedures (triple the amount that we would normally do) and limits on what we could and couldn’t do with the public. 

Another element that was fundamentally difficult was being unable to use face-to-face marketing. Our business, which still largely remains online, was unable to reach out to potential stockists, attend trade fairs or meet with potential clients for custom orders. 

Luckily, as restrictions eased we were able to achieve all of these and have stocked in three local businesses, with our current home being the brilliant Crosby Coffee

However, the time lost in the past year and the potential opportunities missed will take a lot of time to recoil back. I’m just grateful that the demand for online services was so great during the pandemic as that is also what allowed Dumb Dough to flourish. Onwards and upwards! Screw COVID! 

Read our #FemaleFounders interview with Aoibheann from Dumb Dough

Gaby Mendes, Talk Twenties

Talk Twenties is your one-stop shop for all things any 20-something could ever need. Founded by Gaby Mendes in 2020, Talk Twenties is an online community, podcast and event series that aims to offer advice to help bridge the gap between full-time education and the reality of moving into adulthood. Whether it’s a few tips on how to make new friends in your 20s or advice on buying your first home, Talk Twenties has the lowdown on it all. Shall we see how Gaby has adjusted Talk Twenties during COVID-19? 

How have you had to adapt Talk Twenties during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our original plan for Talk Twenties was always to do in-person events from the very beginning. Obviously, because of the pandemic, that couldn’t happen! So, instead of starting off with events as planned, we decided to launch the podcast and blog. From here, we slowly introduced the online courses as well. It wasn’t until October 2021 that we were finally able to do our first in-person event here in Liverpool! 

Read our #FemaleFounders interview with Gaby from Talk Twenties

Chelsea Slater, InnovateHer

To finish, we’re hearing from InnovateHer founder, Chelsea Slater. Set up with the vision of giving girls aged 13-16 the skills that they need to get ready for the tech industry, InnovateHer is a Liverpool-based social enterprise. Not only does InnovateHer focus on developing tech skills for girls, but it also assists them in building the self-belief to pursue a career in technology! Here’s how Chelsea has adapted InnovateHer over the last two years. 

How have you had to adapt InnovateHer during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Life at InnovateHer has changed dramatically throughout the pandemic. The way we deliver our work has changed, as well as how we communicate, collaborate, socialise and support one another within the team. Before March 2020, all of our delivery was done within the school environment and, although we frequently discussed e-learning, our delivery model was working for us and we were making a lot of impact. All of this work was done across two cities (Manchester and Liverpool) within the office environment.

Naturally, as most of the team are digital natives, when the pandemic hit, we got our heads down and delved into what a new InnovateHer could look like. We spoke about e-learning and what that could look like, then asked our community (schools, young people and our partners) whether they would like to explore this as we started to deliver all of our work through digital platforms. When they agreed, we got to work! Six months later, we’d launched an e-learning platform for teens and transferred all of our services to a digital format – all whilst consistently seeking feedback from those using it. 

Thankfully, it worked! We worked so hard and it paid off. We’re now testing new formats of delivery online and we’ve fully embraced digital life by becoming a remote-first workplace. We’ve adopted new digital tools to collaborate across our growing teams (which are now based across the U.K).  We use Slack, Trello, Google Drive and Miro to communicate and deliver projects. We’ve also amended our flexible working policy, and have reduced full-time hours to 30 hours (without a salary cut) to reflect the amount of time our team sits at their computer. 

We’re all learning as we go, but we’re enjoying this new way of working, it’s forced us to access how we work together, who we work with and also what that means for our beneficiaries and I’m really looking forward to seeing how we can evolve it next. 

Read our #FemaleFounders interview with Chelsea from InnovateHer

How about you? 

These are just a few of the local female founders who have had to make changes to their businesses during the pandemic, but we know there are many more who have had to do the same! We’d love to hear how you’ve adapted your organisation throughout the last two years. 

Come and talk to us about your experience as a female founder during the pandemic over on Twitter and Instagram. Not quite done discovering female-founded businesses? We’ve got plenty more on our blog for you to check out! How about reading our interview with Sarah Lovelock, Founder of Lovelocks Coffee Shop?