Out of a Job, Into a Startup: Laid Off Workers Go Entrepreneur

Sometimes, pink slips have silver linings. This is especially true for those who’ve been harboring desires to pursue business dreams of their own. These successful business owners did just that – turning layoff lemons into lucrative lemonade.

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From magazines to cupcakes

For many, getting laid off is a traumatic experience. But Marlo Scott describes her termination from a large financial magazine as an absolute relief.

Scott enjoyed her job’s official duties, she said, but she found the work environment hostile and draining.

“Change was necessary for my self-esteem,” Scott said.

So she switched gears and founded Sweet Revenge, a bar in Manhattan’s West Village based around a line of cupcakes she created. Regulars and tourists pack into the tiny lounge to enjoy gourmet cupcakes paired with selections from a carefully curated beer and wine list.

Scott said that while New York City’s recent cupcake craze was part of her inspiration, Sweet Revenge is less grab-and-go bakery than local pub or wine bar.

“You go there for the experience,” she said.

Though founding Sweet Revenge was a stark departure from the publishing world, the magazine for which Scott once worked still feels her presence — her picture and story is featured in a credit card advertisement that now appears in the publication.

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During the last few months of 2007, Dana Ostomel found herself in limbo. She’d been laid off from her job in the marketing department of a food conglomerate and she was preparing to get married.

Unsure about seeking another corporate job, Ostomel decided to queue up a business idea she’d had for a couple of years: An online service that lets gift givers deposit money toward big-ticket items for friends and family.

Ostomel designed her website, DepositAGift, for occasions such as weddings. Friends and family members of newlyweds seeking funds for a dream honeymoon can use Ostomel’s service to contribute to such a gift.

“People might have felt weird giving $20,” Ostomel said, “but if they’re giving as part of something that’s bigger, they feel better about it.” The business collects a 7.5 percent fee on funds deposited.

The business, Ostomel said, seeks to ease the anxiety that often surrounds gift-giving.

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For Mike Bucci, necessity begat invention . As he began to prime and paint a set of bookshelves for his home, he found the job involved a little brushwork and a lot of waiting.

“It took forever,” Bucci said, “I had to paint one side, wait for it to dry, then paint the other.” Frustrated, Bucci devised a solution: small, plastic pyramids on which painters can prop the still-wet sides of freshly painted furniture while they start work on the opposite side.

When Bucci came up with the idea, he was happily employed with Capital One. A few months later, the financial firm announced it planned to cut Bucci's entire department. For a time, he considered seeking work elsewhere in the company.

“To be frank,” he said, “I had two kids at the time and had no intention of leaving a well-paying job to sell pieces of plastic.”

But he knew the constant fear of termination would wear him out, and the prospect of working for himself proved more attractive than continuing his career as a corporate cog.

Luckily for Bucci, the pieces of plastic have paid off. Since patenting the product, Bucci has sold millions of his aptly named Painters Pyramids. He’s used the proceeds to develop new products, including a turntable that allows 360-degree access to projects and a handheld water pump.

Bucci has written a book that guides would-be entrepreneurs down the path of turning product ideas into profitable businesses. He plans to self-publish it this summer.

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Gary Sneddon is a guitarist and celebrity impersonator who is working to turn his love of entertaining into a business .

The Edmonton, Alberta resident has been playing music professionally for more than thirty years. But until recently, his performing was a mere hobby. Sneddon earned his living chiefly through a series of day jobs, most recently as a baggage handler at an Edmonton airport.

But when a painful back injury ended Sneddon’s days of heavy lifting, he gave performing a second thought. Two-and-a-half years later, he is turning his passion for entertainment into his full-time gig. “You play because you love it,” Sneddon said.

His versatility — he can play in just about any musical style — wins him gigs and coffee shops, parties and weddings. And he keeps the audience hooked with spot-on celebrity impersonations. His repertoire includes American presidents and iconic actors like Jimmy Stewart and Clint Eastwood.

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As a marketing executive, Teresa Fritschi secured top-tier media coverage for CEOs.

Now, she's still involved in media coverage, but for octogenarian knitters and artisans who live on remote islands off of Scotland’s northern coast. Fritschi is the founder of Thistle & Broom, an importer of high-end jewelry, clothing and accessories from Scottish artisans.

Fritschi founded the business when she tired of the constant layoffs in her former line of work — marketing and communications for information technology companies.

Scotland and its people have been a passion of Fritschi’s since her first visit there. Now, she sells almost approximately $1.65 million per year of their products, returning 66 percent of each item’s purchase price to its producer.

Though many of these producers possess renowned talent — appreciated by the likes of the Queen of England, Winston Churchill, and curators of the Scottish National Museum — they lack connection to a critical mass of consumers.

Fritschi’s business provides this connection, and her customers appreciate it, often sending thank-you notes to the Thistle & Broom knitters who craft their warm sweaters and the glass blowers who sculpt their sparkling stemware.

Fritschi said that although her business has a clear mission, she followed an indirect route to success.

“There isn’t a road map,” she said, “You follow your gut, listen to the messages, and leave yourself open to amazing opportunities.”