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Watch Now: Making the leap — Some pivot to entrepreneurship in wake of pandemic
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Watch Now: Making the leap — Some pivot to entrepreneurship in wake of pandemic

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Owner of Alchemy Nutrition + Energy Christine Davis talks about leaving her 9-to-5 job to become an entrepreneur during COVID.

Isaac McDaniel had no beef with QuikTrip.

But after working about eight years with the $11 billion Tulsa company, the assistant manager felt it was time to go.

His wife, who had started a home bakery business from scratch, needed him.

“I was working two mornings, three evenings. I was working 48 hours a week,” McDaniel said. “There was a point at which just going to the evening shifts was like really difficult for her (his spouse, Amber) just because there were various health issues she had in her pregnancy that made it hard for me to make it out.”

The McDaniels had their fourth daughter in January, just five months after Mom had launched Handmade By Amber Home Bakery. Isaac gave up his convenience store gig a few weeks ago to join the venture.

“I’ve always loved working for QuikTrip,” he said. “… We just felt like long-term this was going to be more aligned with our values because we wanted something where our entire family could be involved.”

A slew of folks are following Isaac’s lead.

A total of 3,952,000 Americans left their jobs in April. At last count, 9.3 million jobs were open in America, the highest number since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking the figure 20 years ago.

Given a chance to reevaluate their earning potential — as well as the quality of their lives — during the COVID-19 pandemic, some have collected unemployment and haven’t returned to work. Others are going back to school to learn new skills or moving into jobs with less stress.

Many, however, have chosen to be their own bosses.

“Nothing is guaranteed,” said Bri Seeley, an entrepreneur coach based in Tulsa. “You could walk into your employer tomorrow and they could fire you. So, would you rather be at the mercy of someone else and in someone else’s hands or would you rather have the power to control your circumstances and your outcome?”

Seeley in 2017 wrote a book titled “Permission to Leap,” which examines the journey of those moving out of their comfort zone and realizing a vision.

At her job, Seeley counsels primarily women, who she said represented 80% of the people who left the workforce last year.

“A lot of women are starting to realize that what they need to feel fulfilled in their lives is not being met by their job,” she said. “For so long, so many us have been raised to believe you just suck it up. You just do it because you have to do it. You have to make a living.

“We’re kind of at a turning point in our world’s history where you don’t have to suck it up, anymore. There are so many different options out there.”

A stay-at-home mother, Amber McDaniel had no designs on becoming an entrepreneur. But in August she used some leftover Instacart fruit to bake some banana bread, displaying her homemade treat online to family and friends.

“It was after that the orders just kept coming and coming,” said Amber, who began taking her baked goods to a farmers market in Broken Arrow. “Pretty quickly, it grew to a full-time income. It kind of took off. It was something we prayed about for a long time.”

Isaac credits his wife for making the business a success — and for his being able to cut corporate ties.

“The majority of our customers are women,” he said. “My wife is very good at what she does. She’s extremely creative. I just think she’s branded it in a way that appeals to other moms in her shoes.”

Christine Davis was a claims adjuster before spending nine years as a behavioral specialist. She used the COVID-19 time warp as a springboard into her real passion — educating the community on healthier lifestyles.

“My whole thought process was that we were in the middle of a pandemic,” Davis said. “What better time to open up a nutrition bar to help build up immunity defenses and things like that?”

She drained her savings account, enlisted the help of her father and husband with the build-out, and in September started Alchemy Nutrition + Energy in Tulsa, 8112 S. Lewis Ave.

The first few months were a struggle.

“I had months where I made $900 a month or less and the rent here is $1,500-$1,600 a month,” she said. “It was brutal trying to keep the doors open, pay the utilities. I was getting just enough traffic where I had to restock products.”

“Right now, more and more people realize that we’re here,” Davis said. “My sign is huge so you can’t miss it. I’m getting traffic on the sign, alone. So, I’m doing OK.”

A competitive bicyclist who is interested in fitness, Joe Dufresne obtained his personal training certification in March 2020. About a week later, the country became enveloped in COVID-19 and his logistics job at a local book publisher went from manageable to hectic.

“We were working about 60 hours a week, just nonstop busy,” he said. “Because school was out (due to the pandemic), people turned to us to start buying books for education.”

“It got to a point where I said enough’s enough and I want to follow what I want to do, my passion.”

He quit his job a few months later and began training people for free outside at a Tulsa park.

“All I had was one set of dumbbells,” said Dufresne, who spent years as a musician touring with punk rock bands. “But I said, `I’m going to do this.’”

“Luckily, through playing music for so long, I know a lot of people or people kind of know of me in a way. So, through that, I was able to build a client base pretty quickly. I went from training in a park to training in a garage within a couple of months.”

In September, he secured a lease for his Tulsa business, Myside Fitness.

“It was pretty scary,” Dufresne said of becoming an entrepreneur. “I have three kids, a wife, all the bills, car payments. I’ve kind of learned through playing music that you have to go for it. You have to follow your gut. Live fast, man.

“I came from having absolutely nothing as a child, being poor. So, my whole life has been a hustle. All I know how to do is work hard.”

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