When the coronavirus pandemic first swept into Minnesota in mid-March, it felt as though the proverbial rug had suddenly been ripped out from under everyone. From large corporations to small businesses, no one has escaped the ripple effect. Small businesses and startups, which often see either success or failure, with very little room in between, did what they have had to do to survive: They innovated. Many have found ways to introduce a new service, allowing their businesses to remain relevant, even in the toughest times.
“The truth of the matter is that when you’re a startup, you’re used to changing your plans, pivoting, not becoming overly attached to your business agenda, and being willing to shift and change as you need to in order to meet the needs of your customers and the needs of your resources,” says Liz Giorgi, co-founder and CEO of soona, a Minneapolis-based same-day photo and video studio, which launched virtual shoots as the pandemic ramped up in March.
For Giorgi and the four entrepreneurs below, the decisions they've made under difficult circumstances will continue to influence their businesses and customers well into the future. Sometimes, businesses just need an extra push—a global pandemic will certainly do—to take a leap into something new.
Alchemy Anywhere virtual workouts
Alchemy Anywhere, the virtual workout series started by Minneapolis-based Alchemy 365, a seven-location workout studio combining yoga, strength, and conditioning, already existed. But until March, it offered just one video tutorial a day for customers who were traveling or couldn’t make it into a studio.
When it became obvious that the studios would have to close to help stop the spread of Covid-19, the Alchemy 365 team stepped up, offering full live-streamed workouts four times a day, plus additional on-demand videos and content.
“Regardless of when we reopen, we will keep this content live and leverage the increased following we’re attracting every day to start a subscription service for people who aren’t members of our physical studios and also offer a value-added service offering for our studio members,” says CEO Michael Jones. While the reason Alchemy 365 ramped up online content was nothing any business owner would wish for, Jones says, “we’re going to be better for it.” alchemy365.com.
Triaging screener + ZipTicket
There’s really no question that an online medical care platform is poised to grow during a public health crisis. It happened for Zipnosis, a Minneapolis-based white-label virtual care platform offering urgent, primary, mental and behavioral, post-operative, and occupational health care via 42 health system partners around the country. While the 80,000 Covid-19-related virtual visits in the first week of March was a boost to the bottom line, Zipnosis also took the opportunity to make their business better.
The company developed a virtual screener to triage patients, based on a series of quick questions, to continue with virtual care or just patient education, helping save time and resources for both medical providers and patients. It also developed ZipTicket, a virtual “fast pass,” as CEO Jon Pearce describes it, for those determined to be symptomatic during their virtual visit. ZipTicket allows providers to order a specific lab test for patients from the Zipnosis platform; patients choose the lab location and do a walk-in appointment.
Pearce says both new services will be helpful in the future with cases such as flu and strep throat. zipnosis.com.
Virtual photo + video shoots
Soona’s launch of its virtual photo and video shoots couldn’t have come at a better time. “Rather oddly, all this was supposed to launch around [mid-March] anyway,” co-founder and CEO Liz Giorgi says. “Our intent was just to create better access to create more democratization of content creation for brands everywhere.”
But when the leadership team at the same-day photo and video studio decided to close their doors starting March 19 after a national call for social distancing, they knew they would have to figure out some way to keep business flowing, so they began quickly gathering the assets to make the virtual shoots a reality. Giorgi says their goal, to “support businesses in building creative from their beds, desks, home offices, or couches” became more imperative than ever. Customers mail in their products and then watch and provide feedback online in real time as the team creates professional-level content. Then, they just select the content they wish to keep, pay per chosen item, and soona edits and delivers in 24 hours.
And while the virtual shoots are clearly essential under extraordinary circumstances like the present, soona will continue to harness the technology to ensure that its services are accessible to customers without access to the Minneapolis and Denver studios. soona.co.
Ready-to-use virtual meeting + event space
Jon Young has long had a dream of turning his company’s extra warehouse space into a performance and event space with livestreaming capabilities. “I just didn’t know it was going to take a virus to make it happen,” says the founder and CEO of Heroic Productions, a live event production company.
When the pandemic hit hard in March, Twin Cities event planners saw business vanish overnight. Young and his team at Minneapolis-based Heroic knew they had to do something, not only for their own business, but for other businesses in the community. They swung into action, turning Young’s vision into a reality. They renovated the 8,000-square-foot warehouse into a professional-level event space with a soundstage, three cameras, and all the equipment needed to broadcast and livestream events. “We’ve been doing livestreaming and broadcast-quality streaming for the last several years at events that we do, and now we’re providing a space where [others] can come and still produce their meeting, still at the same level of quality,” Young says. The space also offers a private, unbranded entrance (not labeled as part of Heroic Productions, and clients don’t have to hire Heroic Productions’ other services in order to use the space), plus the technology for livestreaming interactivity.
“We are test-driving the future right now,” Young says. While the pandemic prompted him to get the ball rolling on the project, he predicts that the space will only grow in popularity. heroic-productions.com.
Virtual membership + programming
The Coven, a two-location co-working community in the Twin Cities, was forced to close its spaces in early March, along with countless other businesses. But despite social distancing, the company decided to take its clientele—women, non-binary, and trans people—online and grow it.
First, the business launched a pay-what-you-can virtual membership, granting community members the opportunity to access The Coven’s virtual content, private member portal and directory, and online member groups.
Next, it partnered with Lunar Startups, a St. Paul-based incubator for high-growth startups founded by women, people of color and indigenous people, veterans, and LGBTQ+ people, to create a free, digital program series called Fix-It Fridays. Each program features three founders who host a brainstorming session to help solve a marketing, financial, operational, or staffing challenge.
The Coven recognizes that it’s always important to build an inclusive network. “We knew the impact of the coronavirus will be felt long after our temporary closure,” says co-founder Alex Steinman. “We’re using these as pilot programs and look forward to taking the learnings to further expand content, membership, and services that support underrepresented communities.” thecoven.com.