SALEM — New business formation climbed sharply in Oregon as the pandemic recession eased, with entrepreneurs leaping in to start new companies this year at an unprecedented rate.

Oregonians started an average of 4,100 businesses each month over the past year, an increase of more than 25% from the same period in the 12 months before the pandemic, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. That’s the fastest pace in the 17 years for which the government has Oregon numbers.

It might seem surprising that people choose to take a big risk — starting a new business — during a time of upheaval. Some Oregon businesses, especially bars and restaurants that endured intermittent shutdowns during the pandemic’s first year, have now closed permanently.

But entrepreneurs recognize recessions as opportunities, too, when old business models are under stress and new ones emerge.

“Entrepreneurs have always thrived in the unknown,” said Amanda Oborne, president of the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network. “These massive disruptions are just an incredible time to rethink, reinvest, to start something, to look at something with fresh eyes.”

And federal pandemic aid, in the form of business grants and personal stimulus payments, may have provided capital for people to set out on their own.

Other metrics tell similar stories.

The share of self-employed Oregonians fell sharply in March and April but rebounded almost immediately to pre-pandemic levels, according to data from the Oregon Employment Department. A similar picture played out nationally.

And venture capital, the money entrepreneurs use to pursue especially ambitious ideas, is soaring to its highest level since the dot-com era.

Oregon startups raised just over $1 billion in the first nine months of the year, nearly double the amount they raised during the same period in 2020, according to the quarterly report from the National Venture Capital Association and PitchBook. Oregon had 132 startups funded, up 25% from the same nine months in 2020.

New businesses rarely have it easy, of course. And the pandemic continues to present enormous challenges, from the omicron variant to supply-chain snarls and historic inflation.

“It’s a challenging time to start a company because the future is less certain, I think, than it ever has been,” Osborne said.

Yet Oborne said some of those changes work in favor of entrepreneurs — especially those who have historically been shut off from opportunities. Investors and startups are more focused on hearing from diverse founders and reaching the communities they know best, a shift she said could open up new frontiers.

“It’s going to be really interesting over the next 10 years how the composition of entrepreneurial leadership changes,” Oborne said.

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