Back in March, when the shelter-in-place order was issued, Katharine Chestnut applied to seven different places for loan assistance for her Coworking spaces business, Alkaloid Networks. Chestnut explained that Invest Atlanta was the only one that came through. “They came through when everyone else was crickets or ‘we don’t know what we’re doing.’ ”
Located in a 14,000 square foot historic cotton warehouse along the Eastside Beltline, Alkaloid Networks just celebrated its fifth anniversary, though Chestnut says the celebration will have to wait. Instead of having gift bags on hand for members, she drove around the city delivering them. “Coworking is a very localized thing and I needed my members to feel connected,” she explained.
During the first few weeks of the pandemic, Chestnut immediately launched a multitude of virtual events for her members, providing speakers and work-sprints. Because Alkaloid depends completely on membership dues, Chestnut had to drastically adapt her business since, apart from some essential workers, the majority of members were unable to come in. She also offers a variety of free services because, “there are a lot of people who are suddenly working from home now for the first time!” To that end, she now offers a new level of membership for those who work from home in addition to posting her free events to LinkedIn and Facebook, and has a Slack channel which she calls “The Bright Side” – for people to share positivity. The response, Chestnut says, “has been very good.”
Chestnut is called “The Connector” by her current and former members, because she is known for her ability to help foster relationships amongst everyone she knows. Even when people move away or outgrow her space, many of them still keep in touch with her. She says she thrives on seeing people and knows how hard it is to suddenly feel isolated. As such, a few weeks ago she sent out personal emails to each of her 150 members, checking in and asking them what changes they would need to see in place before returning to their spaces. Many members wrote back saying how much they appreciated the communication and the virtual services she is providing.
One of the things Chestnut feels has helped her during this time when she went from 94% occupancy to barely breaking even, was having a plan. “If you weren’t prepared for this, it was not a good thing. I remember when 9/11 happened and I was I the events business. It was pretty devastating, and people were very slow to return. They did, and they will now.” Still, while she’s not able to give tours and backfill her vacancies, having Invest Atlanta’s zero percent interest financial assistance helps tremendously. But, she adds, “have a plan.”