Nine Startups That Took Off During the Pandemic

Nine Startups That Took Off During the Pandemic

For a lucky few businesses—particularly those in the fields of health care, distance learning, and delivery—the pandemic actually expedited success.

In most instances, the Covid-19 pandemic has been awful for business. But for a lucky few—particularly those in the fields of health care, distance learning, and delivery—the outbreak has led to increased sales, usage, and/or exposure for their enterprises. Here are nine Minnesota startups that found business booming amid the outbreak:

Bizzy Coffee

Pre-made bottles of cold-brew coffee and cold-brew blend beans

Founded: May 2015 “Since the beginning of March, our daily Amazon sales have increased by about 2.5 times,” founder and CEO Alex French says. “We’re now the No. 1 seller across the country of iced coffee and cold brew on Amazon. Our sales in grocery stores have also nearly doubled.”

Lesson learned: “The importance of channel diversification,” French says. “We had three primary channels: Amazon, grocery stores, and then we private-labeled our coffee concentrate for a local coffee chain. Of course, that coffee chain business virtually went to zero. Because we had Amazon and grocery as well, we were able to absorb the loss of the coffee shops and more than make up for the loss with the growth of the other channels.”


Maker of reusable respirators for consumers and businesses

Founded: April 2018 “We have experienced overwhelming demand during the pandemic,” says co-founder Coleman Rollins. “We’ve sold over 10,000 masks raising more than $500,000 on crowdfunding platforms and received numerous inquiries from businesses, governments, and large corporations looking to buy thousands of masks for their employees.”

Lesson learned: “We’ve learned that consumers in Western countries have fundamentally changed the way they think about personal protection,” Rollins says. “People in the U.S. care about masks now, and the taboo of wearing one in public has disappeared. We tried to bring our mask to market last summer, and it just wasn’t the right time. Now it is.”


Peer-to-peer boat rental platform

Founded: April 2017 “This summer, Minnesotans will face the unique challenge of finding ways to enjoy the outdoors while still maintaining safe practices,” co-founder and CEO Jake McHenry says. “Float has already doubled our rental fleet from 15 boats in 2019 to 30 boats (and growing) this year. We are expecting total rentals in the 2020 season to see a five times growth over our 2019 season.”

Lesson learned: “That our one priority always remains the same: Always take care of our customers first,” McHenry says. “We’ve invested in taking the time to check in with all our boat owners, adapt our operating policies to allow for increased booking flexibility for renters, and develop technology to minimize unnecessary contact during the rental process to ensure safe and sanitized boating.”

GogyUp Inc.

App that helps adults with limited literacy understand documents

Founded: June 2016 According to co-founder Ned Zimmerman-Bence, from the beginning of March to the end of May, public use of GogyUp increased significantly, with the number of learners increasing by 57 percent and the number of sessions by 37 percent. It was also approved as a statewide platform for adult distance learning and has signed on an additional five program partners across the country.

Lesson learned: We recognize the importance of networking with people who matched the personae for whom we developed our products, Zimmerman-Bence says. “Those conversations not only deeply informed our product design but also established a relationship so our customers knew where to turn when the shift to distance learning happened overnight.”


Digital resale marketplace for kids’ clothes and accessories

Founded: February 2014 “After an initial drop in sales, we’ve averaged 127 percent year-over-year growth over the past five weeks,” co-founder and CEO Dori Graff said in late May. “We have found that our unique model is ideally suited to this new economy. … We have access to an immense amount of inventory and, with fulfillment centers in people’s homes, we are fully operational.”

Lesson learned: “The world is more unpredictable than ever, so it’s easy to get frustrated trying to plan for the many different scenarios that may arise in the future,” Graff says. “I have learned to focus on what we do best and look to our community to understand how we can best serve them as their situation at home changes.”

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Pivot Interactives

Interactive video platform  for online science labs

Founded: March 2016 “Thousands of universities and high schools around the world suddenly switched to online learning. We’re among a handful of companies offering authentic science lab learning online, so we’ve been inundated with requests,” co-founder and president Peter Bohacek says. “Daily usage and revenue are up more than 10 times compared to last year, with no signs of abating as we transition from crisis to the new normal.”

Lesson learned: Listen to what customers need, learn to anticipate their needs, and always respond, Bohacek says.


Platform that allows teachers to virtually assign speaking activities and conduct oral exams

Founded: May 2017 “By mid-April, we had seen as many new accounts in the system as we saw in the entire year 2019,” co-founder and CEO Carlos Seoane says. “In April, we crossed the threshold of 100,000 student recordings in the system. That’s six times what we saw last year and three times what we saw in March.”

Lesson learned: “When you are building a company, often all your attention goes to making it successful,” Seoane says. “It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that if you have a truly innovative product, you can help people and change things at scale, even if you lack the reach of an established business.”


App that connects people who need items with friends and neighbors on their way to a store

Founded: June 2018 “Since early March, Pikup has added more than 150 new neighborhoods in the Twin Cities. Each week, we see each neighborhood submit about 10 to 15 requests for help and complete around 20 ‘pikups’ from local stores,” co-founder and CEO Bharat Pulgam says. “Kowalski’s Markets also came on board as one of a dozen grocery partners in the Twin Cities.”

Lesson learned: “Take time to adjust and pivot the right way,” Pulgam says. “Setbacks happen, and it’s important to fully process them before making decisions.”

Chanl Health

Virtual cardiac rehabilitation program

Founded: May 2017 At the onset of the pandemic, “most on-site cardiac rehab programs across the country had to suspend services, which left many patients with heart disease without the support and guidance they needed,” says founder and CEO Jared Sieling. “Because of that, many programs are embracing the virtual and mixed-care model much more rapidly than they otherwise would have. The number of hospitals we are working with has grown over 300 percent since the start of the pandemic, and more interest continues to grow.”

Lesson learned: “While we wouldn’t have wished for the circumstances that led to it, from a business perspective we are reminded of the saying ‘Luck favors the prepared,’ ” Sieling says. “We spent three years building a strong solution and convincing organizations of the potential of virtual health care, and when the pandemic hit, we were able to scale quickly and help a lot of patients in a short amount of time.”

This story appears in the June/July 2020 issue with the title “Washed With Success.”