COVID-19 case study: How one couple pivoted when forced to close less than a month in business

Beatrice Wolnerman and her husband Eli

Beatrice Wolnerman knows how to take life’s lemons – those things that happen that may seem unfortunate in timing or experience – and turn them into lemonade. Literally.

Beatrice Wolnerman and her husband Eli

Here’s an example. She and her husband, Eli, were in the midst of renovating an Eastern Market building in Detroit last summer for a co-working space when an opportunity to purchase a small triangle of land came up along the city’s Dequindre Cut. The couple bought the tiny, 600-square-foot parcel and put up a lemonade stand there, hoping people passing buy would buy a drink and learn about Bea’s Detroit.

The result? Bea’s Squeeze, the lemonade they created, has become its own business. It is now sold in 11 states and had a 50,000 bottle run. With the economic impact of COVID-19, Wolnerman said they lost some key meetings and trade shows, which they hoped could grow their beverage business even more. But she had high hopes that those will be rescheduled.

Is Wolnerman an optimist? That’s an enthusiastic yes, she said. But this serial entrepreneur understands that a sunny disposition will only get you so far. She and Eli are working harder than ever right now – they not only want to support their two employees at Bea’s Detroit, the coworking space, but they want to support Michigan’s small-business community in the process.

Virtual co-working
Scratch that. They want to support small businesses everywhere. That is why the Wolnermans have gone virtual – anyone who is interested and has $20 to invest can join their new virtual co-working space. This is where Beatrice and Eli say they will share marketing ideas, offer business support and hold regular contests to inspire like-minded entrepreneurs not only through the COVID-19 crisis, but in the months and years to come.

Originally, Wolnerman said Bea’s Detroit wanted to add a virtual component. But that was supposed to come a year or so down the road from when they opened their co-working space. Bea’s Detroit officially opened in February – but then it had to shut its doors just weeks later because of COVID-19 and the governor’s executive orders.

Wolnerman could have gone into hiding. But they’ve never been like that – they already owned a company they started in 2017 that did corporate gifts, so they knew how to grow a business from scratch. That is why they wanted Bea’s Detroit in the first place – they had outgrown their home-based business and needed a better place to store their items than their hallways.

Don’t Bea Afraid
Rather than sit and sulk, the Bea’s Detroit team – Beatrice, Eli and their two staffers – started brainstorming.

“We had been renovating an old meat packing building in Eastern Market for almost two years and we were so excited to finally begin. We didn’t want to wait any longer – we wanted to find a way to start getting our mission out now,” Wolnerman said.

First, they created a virtual event on Facebook called Don’t Bea Afraid for small businesses to talk about their hopes, dreams and fears. The idea was to both get the name of Bea’s Detroit in front of people but also to lift up small-business owners across the board. The results were huge: More than 1,800 people tuned in and the story was picked up by WXYZ-TV in Detroit.

“The first portion of the event featured local business experts sharing valuable advice, while the second part focused on a virtual business fair to give Detroit small businesses a platform to share their story,” Wolnerman said. “We were proud to host over 40 small businesses on our livestream and were truly blown away with the positivity and creative thinking.

Afterward, they received tons of feedback, she said. “We have received so many kind messages about the impact our virtual event has had that we’re launching a whole new virtual coworking community,” Wolnerman said.

The BeaHive
The BeaHive is a virtual co-working community based in Detroit that connects small businesses near and far. With the virtual membership, members have the opportunity to engage each day and leverage their business in new ways.

“We provide the flexibility that work-from-home businesses want, with the social community that they need,” Wolnerman said. “Each week, there will be an educational segment, an open forum, a wellness segment, a networking opportunity and a time to share our victories.”

To promote the sense of community, the Wolnermans will be hosting two different competitions with prizes that will encourage involvement. Each Monday and Friday, the winners will be announced and will take home a selection of prizes.

“By providing a work life balance through our programming, The BeaHive will help our members grow and flourish both in and out of the office,” Wolnerman said.

In other words, they’ll all turn lemons into lemonade.

“We don’t have a choice,” Wolnerman said. “We have to get through it. You might as well be positive.”