But while some firms are sinking and may not reopen again, others have so far been able to swim with the tide.
Amidst store closures, job cuts and tension with landlords, some entrepreneurs have been able to take the pandemic in their stride and capitalise on changing consumer demands.
Here are two firms in different industries that still hold hope for the future.
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Hair and skincare
The African beauty industry is burgeoning as an increasing number of entrepreneurs are developing product ranges to suit African body types.
One such example is Native Child, a South African hair and body care brand that uses only natural ingredients. It was founded by quantity surveyor Sonto Pooe in 2015 from her kitchen.
The business had been growing at a steady pace, but the coronavirus lockdown measures mandated by the government caused retail sales to plunge and the cost of procuring crucial supplies to soar, impacted by the falling South African rand.
Fortunately, Ms Pooe’s business has been allowed to stay open as it was classed as an essential service, so she and her team began problem-solving their way past a myriad of challenges.
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Parcels are still being dispatched to customers, and because many retailers have closed, Native Child gained many new customers online from across the continent.
However, this brought more problems, as the firm then found it was struggling to keep up with demand. It had to keep working out solutions to supply chain problems, as it became too expensive and too difficult to import some raw materials.
“There’s a particular product that we use in one of our formulations, which is a blend (of several) raw materials to make one final product. We’ve had to create a blend ourselves, instead of buying it already premixed…to kind of make sure that production still continues,” Pooe told the BBC.
Due to the lockdown, the e-commerce side of Native Child’s business has taken off so much that Pooe is having to outsource the running of the website entirely to another firm, as there is now more work than Native Child can handle.
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Gradely is a Nigerian technology startup founded in August 2019. The firm has a personalised e-learning platform for children that uses artificial intelligence to assess pupils’ strengths and weaknesses.
While the platform is still in its first year of operation, the coronavirus lockdown has served to accelerate the start-up’s progress in developing the product, as frazzled Nigerian parents turned online for support. Gradely has been highlighted during the pandemic. People now come to find us and there’s been a huge spike in demand, but it has also put us in a place where we need to show and prove the power of technology,” says Boye Oshinaga, founder and chief executive.
Because the platform uses artificial intelligence, the system is always learning, and over time it is gathering valuable data about how children learn and the areas where they struggle.
Chinyere Ogunbi, a parent, told BBC she had been struggling to find enough work and material to give her son to do.
“Gradely had a wider base where they test the child, identify areas where we need help and focus on those areas,” she says. “That means I don’t need to sit with him (all the time) – he can get onto the platform, do what he needs to do, and I get feedback on his progress.”
Mr Oshinaga strongly believes personalised learning is the future of education.
“Parents are using us on a daily basis and we’re already tracking how much improvement children are making over a month or two, so we can show the world that this is not just technology for technology’s sake – it can make a real difference in every child’s learning.”