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9/11-Shock of Sept. 11 spawns wave of entrepreneurs
Reuters, 07.04.02, 10:42 AM ET


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By Carla Mozee

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Donna McGuire decided to make something good out of the horrific events of Sept. 11.

The New York City Web developer watched as her town plunged into emotional and economic chaos the morning of Sept. 11 as hijacked jetliners slammed into the landmark twin towers of the World Trade Center.

In the fallout, she became one of the area's 100,000 workers who lost their jobs.

In trying to figure out her next move, McGuire reexamined her priorities and resolved to combine her need to work with her desire to help others whose lives had been turned upside down.

So she and a former colleague started their own company -- a Web site design and marketing firm called

"I saw a lot of people folding up. We had a lot of expertise and knowledge. We thought, 'Why don't we help small to mid-size businesses,"' said McGuire.

McGuire was not alone in choosing to launch a business after Sept. 11 in a less-than-booming economy. Many other people have since started small companies -- computer and software development firms, restaurants, even services for emotional well-being.

"Sept. 11 was one of those events where people found themselves rethinking their priorities and reexamining what they wanted out of their lives," said John Challenger, chief executive of the Chicago-based employment outsourcing firm, Challenger, Gray and Christmas.


A recent report released by Challenger's company shows that the number of out-of-work managers and executives under the age of 40 who are starting their own businesses has risen in each quarter since Sept. 11.

In the first quarter of 2002, 36 percent of 3,000 unemployed respondents said they had started their own companies. The survey, conducted quarterly, indicates that figure is up from 25 percent in the fourth quarter of 2001 and up from 6 percent in the third quarter of 2001.

After the attacks, many people created work for themselves with the help of the Small Business Administration. The SBA issued $340 million in loans as a reserve of funds for start-ups and small companies in New York that were physically or economically hurt by the attacks of Sept. 11.

Others, like McGuire, are using their savings to begin new lives as entrepreneurs. She said her company, in spite of the circumstances surrounding its origin, is satisfying her career and community assistance goals.

"I've talked to people who lost loved ones, lost businesses. I keep telling them, 'We could either roll over and play dead and let it take us on, or take it on and do something you really want to do, service-wise,"' she said.

Jennifer Kushell, head of the Young Entrepreneurs Network in Marina Del Rey, California, said Sept. 11 and its emotional aftermath also fostered a new business trend: firms that offer so-called "grieving products."

"We had a woman who contacted us about providing gift baskets and resources for parents who have lost children. Another is helping young people who are cancer survivors or struggling with cancer. I think people are looking to improve our communication, our connectivity," she said.


Not all new companies cropping up are being run by entrepreneurial novices. Kushell said many people who opted for the security of traditional office jobs after the dot-com crash and economic slowdown are poking their heads back out to consider new ventures.

"There are a lot of entrepreneurs in Corporate America who don't belong there, and they are starting to get very antsy," said Kushell.

While some people are choosing to return to their entrepreneurial roots, others are being pushed back to them.

New Yorker Bill Weber spent months looking for work after being laid off from his publishing job. He reached his breaking point while standing on line at a jobs fair in Madison Square Garden.

"There were people around and around the block. I thought, 'This is ridiculous. I'm management level. They aren't going to hire me to be a salesman for copiers. So I'm going to have to follow my opportunity and do it myself,"' he related.

Years ago, Weber had his own magazine about parenting. So he decided to give self-publishing another try by launching a trade directory for Internet companies looking for resources such as Web designers, programmers and server providers. The directory will begin operating in September.

Weber said it is not easy to start a magazine during an advertising dry spell. But he feels it's the best and only way for him to make ends meet.

"The odds against starting a publication are horrible. But I did it before and I was successful for a long time," he said.


Sept. 11 brought an unexpected and bittersweet opportunity to Barry Gribbon, a 38-year-old former television production executive living in Los Angeles.

In early September, he went on a business trip and his wife Jennifer decided to go along. They woke up on the morning of the 11th to images of destruction being played out on their television set.

"We were staying at a bed and breakfast and watching television, and I said, 'Our world is going to change.' I had no idea what that meant at the time, but now we know," Gribbon said.

Two months later, already hurting from the advertising slump, his company laid Gribbon off. But it also gave him two television projects -- and the accompanying budgets -- as a springboard to launch his own production firm.

Today, he and Jennifer run their own production house called Homerun Entertainment in Beverly Hills. They produce shows for the Food Network, among other television outlets.

Jennifer said they had always talked about starting a business together, but it took the forces of a terrible tragedy, a struggling economy and a renewed sense of purpose to get them off the ground.

"I'm not so sure that that decision would have been made if 9/11 had not happened. But I can say it certainly changed our passion and our direction as people," she said.

"We're thrilled, " said Barry of owning his own firm. "This rocks. This is totally cool."

Copyright 2002, Reuters News Service

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