Unemployed in the pandemic? Here’s how to start your own business.

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

A new online course is now available to teach people who have lost their jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic how to turn an idea for a business—or a passion or hobby—into a profitable startup.

The free, two-week-long course is self-paced and open to anyone who is entrepreneurial-minded, but facing financial uncertainty. Within the first few weeks of its release in early May, more than 300 people had already registered for the course, according to J.D. LaRock, a professor of the practice in Northeastern’s doctor of law and policy program. In addition to teaching constitutional law, policymaking, and law and legal reasoning at Northeastern, LaRock is the president and chief executive officer of Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, the nonprofit through which the course is being offered.

J.D. LaRock. Photo courtesy J.D. LaRock

The latest figures from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that in the two months since states adopted stay-at-home measures, 36 million people have lost their jobs. It’s the highest unemployment rate recorded since the Great Depression, as many businesses have shut down or curtailed operations to limit the spread of the contagious disease. 

“The global pandemic and the resulting employment crisis made me realize that we had something potentially quite impactful to offer people who were becoming unemployed,” says LaRock.

The course, “NFTE Career Relaunch,” teaches users how to apply their skills and talents toward developing an idea and launching a business. The course offers lessons, for example, on doing market research, refining a business plan, attracting venture support or other types of financial support, and promoting a business.

“Our thinking is that many people who were so quickly—and in many ways unceremoniously—laid off will be reluctant to go back to the occupations and sectors from which they came,” says LaRock. “Many people, whether they have jobs or not, often have ideas in the back of their minds that they would like to turn into a business. So our course focuses on a process of identifying that idea, developing that idea, figuring out how to market that idea, sell that idea, budget around that idea, and ultimately to create a business plan.”

LaRock hopes that the course will emulate the success of the existing programs that the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship offers. The organization, which provides entrepreneurship training and education programs to young people from low-income urban communities, has helped tens of thousands of people launch businesses both large and small, says LaRock. Among its notable alumni is Robert Reffkin, the chief executive officer of the national real estate firm, Compass.

“Our track record as an organization is that about a quarter of our alumni actually go on to launch a business in real life, and our hope is that we might generate that same level of success with this offering,” LaRock says.

While the Career Relaunch course was distilled from an existing 80-hour course geared toward high school students, titled “Entrepreneurship Essentials,” LaRock says that it was updated to include lessons on finding venture investors and bank loans—topics that adults who are out of work and looking to launch a business might find more immediately pertinent.

“We wanted to get something out into the world quickly—we wanted to not have something that takes people a tremendous amount of time to do, because if you’re unemployed, you have a sense of urgency about finding a new job, or finding a way out of being unemployed,” LaRock says. 

In addition to digital content and interactive modules, the course will provide a live and taped speaker series via Instagram and Facebook where some of the organization’s graduates who have gone on to launch successful startups, as well as the organization’s corporate partners, extend advice relevant to a specific topic.

Ultimately, says LaRock, the goal of the course is not only to address the urgent need of helping people get back to work, but also to help shape the future of employment as we begin to move into a post-COVID-19 world. He hopes the course will spur creative solutions to problems that have emerged from the crisis.  

“At some point, society is going to move from immediate responses to the growing unemployment crisis—short-term responses like cutting small checks to people or giving short-term loans—to the deep work of relaunching the economy,” LaRock says. “If this course provides a framework for people to engage in that process, both to benefit themselves as individuals but also to benefit society, then that will have been a good thing.”

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