Since the start of the pandemic, public attention has been riveted on government press conferences and measures aimed at helping workers make ends meet. Away from the cameras, though, many entrepreneurs have put in extra effort to make life easier for Canadians during this difficult time, showing how individuals and companies can rise to meet even the greatest challenges.
It has really been a kind of war effort, as companies’ production was rapidly repurposed in order to respond to very pressing needs. It is often the case in times of crisis that bureaucratic barriers are lowered, and innovation accelerates. The past year has demonstrated this, for instance when it comes to telemedicine. Some regulatory streamlining allowed this technology to have a very positive impact on the lives of Canadians in 2020, providing patients with better access to health professionals than they otherwise could have hoped for.
Let’s think back for a moment: When all this began, we were worried about the lack of protective equipment and masks for medical staff, and for everyone else as well. Despite all their good intentions, our governments were unable to purchase these materials quickly enough to meet the demand. What happened? Entrepreneurs stepped in and picked up the slack.
Indeed, sports apparel companies like Bauer harnessed their expertise in making hockey helmet visors and quickly got set up to produce protective face shields for doctors and nurses. Numerous Canadians also discovered a passion, one might even say a calling, for making masks. In relatively short order, we were all able to purchase the items we needed, even though it might have seemed impossible just a few weeks earlier.
Similarly, distilleries quickly learned a new trick and began producing hand sanitizer in phenomenal amounts. The demand for sanitizer had increased by 345 per cent last April compared to a year earlier, so great was the need. Of course, this is in addition to continuing to produce alcohol for consumption. We can therefore say that on top of sanitizing us, distilleries helped keep our spirits up!
It is also thanks to entrepreneurs that many of us were able to keep working. Software programs like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, which we barely knew anything about just a year ago, have become our essential companions. Without them, how could we organize a work meeting, or even a little virtual happy hour among friends? We may take these platforms for granted, but we shouldn’t overlook the major efforts made by the developers of these platforms in order to manage a very steep increase in traffic.
Applications allowing us to order meals have also diversified their offerings, with companies like SkipTheDishes and DoorDash seeing huge increases in order volumes. In certain cases — for instance, UEat, Pizzli and Restoloco in Quebec — local companies have made life easier for restaurants by reducing their bill. These are a safety valve both for those who love to eat and for our restaurants, whose horizons have shrunk.
And what can we say about the delivery of nonessential items by giants like Amazon or other shipping and delivery companies? Just that they helped save Christmas! Indeed, UPS, FedEx and Amazon together hired more than 300,000 employees in order to meet the holiday crunch.
All of these examples lead us to the same conclusion: Our entrepreneurs are fearless and determined, and they know how to adapt to new situations. They are the unsung heroes of the pandemic, and the agility they showed deserves to be acknowledged and applauded. As we disinfect our hands for the eighth time today, let’s tip our hats to these businesspeople who rose to the occasion to respond to our needs.
Krystle Wittevrongel is a Public Policy Analyst at the MEI, Miguel Ouellette, the Director of Operations and Economist at the MEI. They are the authors of “Entrepreneurs Stepped Up in Response to COVID-19” and the views reflected in this op-ed are their own.