Corona-preneurs: Anglo entrepreneurs retool in the face of coronavirus

“When you get hit by a coronavirus crisis, you either panic or fear or you decide to turn this into an opportunity,” Jerusalem-based Natalie Garson explained.

AVIGAYLE ADLER and her children with masks made from a kit. (photo credit: Courtesy)
AVIGAYLE ADLER and her children with masks made from a kit.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalem-based Natalie Garson left the corporate world to work as a small business mentor, helping people turn their hobbies and passions into profitable businesses. She runs the Born to Do Business Community on Facebook, where 500+ Anglo entrepreneurs connect and support one another. 
On April 18, Garson created the 21-day Challenge to Reinvent Your Business in order to help clients reimagine how they were going to do business differently during, and after, the pandemic. She had 200 entrepreneurs, 90% of whom are from Israel, sign up for the challenge, which ends May 10. 
“When you get hit by a coronavirus crisis, you either panic or fear or you decide to turn this into an opportunity,” Garson explained. “As entrepreneurs, we’re always in survival mode. We don’t live with certainty. We have this dance with uncertainty. We don’t know where our next client is coming from. We really don’t know anything. It’s not the same as a 9-to-5 mindset,” she elaborated.
She sees her job as guiding her clients to remove the fear and to think constructively: “This is a great time for people to work on the amazing ideas they’ve had for years.” Her role is to help her clients “switch their mindset” and to help them find ways to make money in the short term. 
A mother-tongue French speaker, fluent in English and Hebrew, she pointed out a major difference between Israelis entrepreneurs and their European counterparts. 
“In Europe, people are used to getting a lot of help. They are counting on getting help from the government. In our group, we’re not going to wait this out.” She sees it as “part of the Startup Nation mentality. There is no other choice but to be creative. The mindset [in Israel] is different,” she concluded. 
Pivoting a book launch
Sara Halevi, the Jerusalem-based CEO of FibroConsulting (fibroconsulting.com), had no choice but to get creative. Just before corona hit, she was poised to launch a book. 
“My business is focused on training medical and mental health professionals to improve the treatment of fibromyalgia. My plan was to launch my book, Solving Fibromyalgia: A Treatment Guide for Practitioners, and go on a lecture tour. I had invitations both in Israel and abroad to speak at hospitals, mental health clinics and HMOs.”
Halevi’s “plan was completely thwarted” by the cessation of local and international travel. Instead, she created an online book launch. 
“I could not have anticipated that having a book launch online would be an advantage, but it was. I had attendees from all over the US, including my elderly mother and some friends from college. And all from the comfort of my home,” she reflected. 
Halevi moved all her lectures and training programs online and has been able to accelerate her progress on a few related projects, including an app and a treatment portal. In addition, she has written a second and a third book.
“I was lucky enough to be working with Nathalie Garson when the pandemic struck. Nathalie helped me think differently about my business and to implement the tools available to me online. I consider it a great blessing that I am an early adopter to technology and adapt easily to change. 
“I have always considered the ability to accept change to be one of the pillars of mental health. This has been my proof-of-concept in many ways, as I have been forced to practice what I preach,” she commented. 
SARA HALEVI with her booksSARA HALEVI with her books
Hands-on creativity at home
Avigayle Adler is the founder of Jerusalem’s The Open Studio (openstudiojlem.com), specializing in “public and private events in visual arts and creativity.” Assisted by Rivka Ben-Hamu, Adler’s The Open Studio offers hands-on workshops “where cultures can meet and connect through creative activities.”
COVID-19 brought their business to a screeching halt. 
“We were planning Passover and summer camps and we had purchased supplies just when the coronavirus hit. We had begun registration for our camps while we were running our regular weekly chugim in schools and at the studio in Katamon,” Adler explained. 
Their first pivot was to plan pre-Passover camps limited to six to eight children. The very next day, the Health Ministry issued orders closing all non-essential businesses. 
Adler continued, “We quickly drove to our summer camp and storage location, grabbed everything we could, brought it back to my home studio, looked around, saw what we had, took the projects that we were going to do for Passover camp and started to create kits based on those projects. We packaged them up, took pictures, created how-to videos and a quick website. 
“Since the kids couldn’t come to us, the idea was to bring the projects to the kids. Having run summer camps for the past eight years, we turned each of our favorite projects into kits. For example, our Science of Art kit is based on a camp we do called Fizz, Pop, Bang. It contains everything you need for over 10 hours of creative science explorations. Those who order a kit also receive a link to our online resource, how-to videos, template library and more.
“One of our most popular kits is a Mask-Making kit. The idea for this came from a mother who was concerned that her children would be afraid to wear a mask. She asked me to create a kit where they could each sew their own masks. We shopped online for some super fun fabrics that kids would love and got to work,” Adler elaborated. 
Despite the fact that she unexpectedly went on on supervised bed rest in the midst of all this, Adler worked on new kits and the website from her hospital bed. (She delivered a baby boy safely at 35 weeks.)
“Corona has changed and pushed all of us to think beyond what we ever thought possible and to stretch ourselves in new ways professionally and personally. We have actually been moving in this direction for a long time,” the pair explained. 
“Avigayle has dreamed of creating a monthly kit with educational and creative materials for the Jewish holidays for several years now, but with the regular operations of The Open Studio, she was never able to find the time. The shutdown due to corona gave us the space and time to do this,” the pair explained. 
For details about available kits, contact openstudiojlem@gmail.com.
HELEN GOTTSTEIN and her webinar in action.HELEN GOTTSTEIN and her webinar in action.
Virtual tours
Ra’anana-based Onnie Schiffmiller, a licensed tour guide, is the owner of Israel with Love (israelwithlove.net). Since her typical clients are Israeli tourists, flight cancellations and hotel closures effectively dried up her guiding business. 
“I love my job, being an ambassador for Israel. It became clear very quickly that I would either have to walk away from that goal or create a way to pivot my business,” Schiffmiller reflected. 
“I took a step back, reviewed my former clients and looked for patterns. While I love guiding groups of all ages, I noticed that many of my clients were over 60 or were young families traveling with grandparents. Since people over 60 may not be traveling for a while, I wanted to [find a new way to] offer my knowledge and love of Israel with them. Also, I realize that many Anglos living in Israel don’t have opportunities to explore lesser-known sites in the country.”
Working with Garson, Schiffmiller had an epiphany. 
“I realized that I can lead tours for people who don’t have to travel far to enjoy a unique Israeli experience.” 
She is now creating virtual tours.
“Virtual guiding is completely different than the in-person experience,” she explained. “At first, I found that disheartening, but I am starting to be excited by the idea that I can introduce Israel to people who won’t have the opportunity to visit.”
Schiffmiller is consulting with colleagues in the tour guide industry and relying on her husband to help her with the technical challenges. 
“The process is taking a long time, but I’m confident that I will have created something new in my toolkit. That idea energizes me,” she said. 
Beyond weddings
Before coronavirus, Bracha Lamm Berger’s Jerusalem-based La’Bayit Gifts (labayitgifts.com) was an online wedding registry for Anglos in Israel. Featuring thousands of products, the registry made it possible for guests from all over the world to send gifts to couples getting married in Israel. The widespread postponement or cancellation of weddings resulted in a precipitous drop in sales of wedding gifts. 
Realizing that many people would be making a Passover Seder for the first time and “lacked basic Passover items,” Berger’s first experiment was “opening up La’Bayit Gifts to everyone in Israel. We ran a pilot the week before Passover and offered all of our Passover items to the general public,” she explained.
The response? 
“It was a huge hit! We had tons of sales and learned that people are looking for good quality items, online, in English, that can be delivered in just a few days. One of the best parts of the Passover store pilot,” Berger noted, “was the reaction from my suppliers. One of my suppliers was stuck with an abundance of Passover items before the holiday. When we sent in dozens of orders right before the chag, one of them wrote ‘You saved us! We are so appreciative for the business during such a difficult time and didn’t know what we were going to do with all of this extra stock. You’re the best!”
Building on the success of the Passover experiment, Berger is working hard to expand and position La’Bayit to be “the English e-commerce site in Israel, with a focus on fast delivery, stellar customer service and amazing products. 
“We’d be happy to hear from any artists or small businesses looking for a platform to sell their products. The best part of our business is that we can help other small businesses succeed,” Berger explained. 
“We had been planning to expand our business for a while now. This proved to be a perfect opportunity. Among all of the sadness, stress and confusion brought by this virus, this was a silver lining for us and pushed us to move ahead with our plans,” she reflected. 
Baking for kids 
Elana Kagan is a pastry chef (mybakestop.com) based in Rehovot. Pre-corona, she “specialized in alternative pastries, customized to my clients’ specific dietary needs.” She also baked for celebratory events and gave baking workshops. 
“Due to the pandemic, absolutely all of my booked clients canceled their celebration events.” In addition, baking projects associated with special events such as The Moshav Festival and Good Deeds Day were also cancelled. 
Her experience as a mom “of three very rambunctious boys” was the inspiration for her retooling. 
“My boys love to bake with me and I thought perhaps other kids out there, who are bored out of their minds, would enjoy creating delicious treats for their family to enjoy.” 
From this thought, The BakeBox Club was born. 
“Every week, I deliver a box filled with all the ingredients needed for a new recipe to the door. No need to leave the safety of your home to look for ingredients. The next day, the kids and I meet online and bake together.” This activity has the added benefit of giving parents some quiet time.
“This new branch of my business is so inspirational!” Kagan enthused. “The kids get a boost in self-esteem as they see their creations being gobbled up with satisfaction by their families.”
One parent marveled, “Elana Kagan, you’ve created a (baking) monster. So grateful that my [daughter] has found a hobby she loves so much!”
Kagan personally delivers BakeBoxes to kids “from Efrat to Rehovot and many cities in between. I am hoping to continue the BakeBox Club even after the corona pandemic is a distant memory, inspiring many more little pastry chefs,” she said.
Moving training online
Based in Jerusalem, Helen Gottstein of Loud and Clear Training (loudandcleartraining.com) built her business, “teaching company representatives to pitch, present and speak at conferences.” She explained that hers, “is a profession that thrives on people being in the same room.
“BC (Before Corona), my business was finally reaching the point I had been heading toward for five years. I had the biggest, most significant bookings I had ever had, including multiple series of bookings with companies, some of which I had been pursuing for years. 
“I was finally getting ready to exhale, to look up, to take the family on a holiday. And then, corona. Seven significant cancellations in five days. Tens of thousands of shekels either cancelled or ‘postponed.’”
Her initial reaction? “For a week, I was attached at the hip to Netflix. I mourned. Then I put my head down and began over. I figured, if I’d done it once, I can do it again.”
She moved her business online. 
“I began producing videos and training others to do the same. I moved into webinar territory – teaching presentation skills online to people who now need to pitch, make videos and present online. Gratefully, presenting effectively online has a lot in common with presenting in real life. You still need to be charismatic, succinct and clear. 
“That’s where I am now. Looking to give value and new skills to both companies and the small business community,” she said.
Gottstein is a prominent personality in the Israel Women’s Entrepreneur Network (IWEN) and ImaKadima Facebook groups. “The support, advice and encouragement of other business owners and career women has been invaluable,” she stated. 
"I am starting over, and I wish it was easier but at least I can pivot and work hard. Frankly, what other option is there? We've come too far, baby, to just stop now."
 
From escape room to online quest
Based in Katzrin, Ester and Michael Schachter ran the Safed Puzzle Room, which Ester described as “an escape room activity, located in a 700-year-old stone building in the center of Safed.” Groups ranging from two to 40 learned the history and culture of Safed while participating in the activity. 
“We have not been able to operate our business at all since the restrictions on gatherings began. The activity is very hands-on and is designed for groups of people to work closely together to solve the clues. As such, the pandemic forced us to close our business,” Ester reported.
The Schachters’ children, ranging in age from 12 to 21, “have been very involved in this process; we made this a family project.” They held a family brainstorming meeting and identified the need to “bring our brand of educational and fun activities online. 
“Thus, Bagels & Locks Studios (bagelsandlocks.com) was born, and we began to develop the first in a series of Israel-themed online quest games. As we tested our first game, we realized we could create three different levels that would appeal to different groups of people.
“So from our main game, IsraelQuest: Challenge One, we developed two other versions – IsraelQuest: Challenge Jr, for children, and IsraelQuest: Challenge Pro, for expert puzzlers.” The team’s latest challenge is developing a group-play option so their activities can be used by schools and other existing groups. 
“We love being able to provide a game that is educational and fun, and make it work for so many different people,” Ester enthused.