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Iowa expat adapts coworking space after opening its doors right before coronavirus hit

When husband and wife duo Eli and Beatrice Wolnerman opened up their coworking space in late February, they had no idea that coronavirus would temporarily close the doors to their business just a few weeks later.

The coworking space, called Bea’s Detroit, held its grand opening on Feb. 27. The space features a for-rent manufacturing space, a retail shop, café, along with collaborative work areas.

“Less than one week into our existence, the coronavirus hit. March 2 we had a big trade show cancel on us and that was the first big domino to fall,” said Eli Wolnerman, co-founder of Bea’s Detroit and West Des Moines native. “We were significantly hampered and saw membership dropping off. Given our unique position as a space that supports small businesses, we wanted to promote them and give back.”

So on March 13, the two hosted an event called ‘Don’t Be Afraid’ and had nearly 50 small businesses come on and talk for 90 seconds each about their business, how they’ve pivoted during coronavirus and how people can still support them.

“That event totally blew up and had thousands of viewers,” said Eli. “So we took that idea and created a virtual membership platform for our coworking space called ‘The BeaHive.'”

That virtual membership includes daily content, networking and open forums for members to share tips on how to grow their business

Lemonade stand turns into full-fledged company

Prior to opening up their coworking space, the two were looking for a way to were looking for a unique way to connect with potential tenants while the building for the coworking space was under construction.

They came upon an odd, 600-square-foot triangular parcel of land for sale and bought it for $5,000. They then used the land to create their own version of a lemonade stand with a unique delivery method involving buckets and a pulley system to send the lemonade down to customers.

With an overwhelming positive response, what was intended to be a summer pop-up grew into a real lemonade company called Bea’s Squeeze. They now distribute two flavors — classic and pink rose — in grocery stores and restaurants in Michigan and Ohio, and recently signed a contract to distribute to the regional grocery chain HyVee.

 At Clay & Milk, we want to tell stories about the many ways entrepreneurs and startups are adapting and stepping up to combat coronavirus. Fill out this form to tell us your story and we will be in touch.

Iowa expat adapts coworking space after opening its doors right before coronavirus hit | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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