In November, BlueVine put out a call for entries for its first-ever Resilience Program with a goal of celebrating the tenacity and determination of U.S. small businesses during the pandemic.
BlueVine received hundreds of applications from small businesses from across the country who shared their stories of leadership, innovation, and grit as they navigated the emotionally-charged challenges of lockdowns and economic downturns while running their businesses throughout the pandemic.
In honor of Small Business Week, BlueVine is thrilled to announce our winner and four finalists and share their stories today.
Cut Seven (Winner of BlueVine’s inaugural Resilience Program and $10,000)
Chris and Alex Perrin run Cut Seven, a popular boutique fitness studio in Washington, D.C.’s Logan Circle. Prior to COVID, the three-year-old business relied on its brick-and-mortar location for its dedicated member base to access unique personal training-inspired HIIT group workout classes.
Determined to show loyalty to staff and keep members engaged during lockdowns and local closures, Chris and Alex invested in digital and remote offerings early on in lockdown, launching cutsevenplay.com to offer a mix of free informative content and paid intense workouts. Once safe and able, the Cut Seven team began holding outdoor bootcamps throughout the city to help spread the word and keep business moving.
Recognized for their resilience on Good Morning America and local news stations, Cut Seven retained every staff member and never missed a pay period. Today, Cut Seven is thriving in its new location, an airy, spacious garage-turned-studio and continues to offer its services both online and in-person.
“We could have packed it in and quick but we decided to fight instead. Although we haven’t won the fight yet, we have no doubt that we will be successful in the end.”
– Chris and Alex Perrin, Cut Seven
Willa’s Kitchen (finalist)
Willa’s Oat Milk spent two years planning for its March 2020 launch, with plans to debut in NYC coffee shops, offices and co-working spaces.
The team had already faced a major, unforeseen obstacle ahead of its launch – the company’s CEO, Christina, was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2020, yet continued to lead and fundraise more than $950k while going through chemotherapy (thankfully, she is now cancer-free).
When the pandemic hit and threw a wrench in the company’s launch plan, Willa’s revised and expanded its strategy from food service to Amazon and direct-to-consumer, responding to the massive demand for shelf-stable products at home. Willa’s launched four shelf-stable products, including a collaboration with Raaka Chocolate, and spent the year perfecting its Barista product to relaunch when coffee shops reopened.
All the while, Willa’s prioritized its employees, growing its staff from five to 16. The company offers flexible hours, unlimited PTO, free health insurance, and mental health benefits to support its staff.
Willa’s overcame the many challenges that the last two years brought, but reports becoming a more cohesive team and building a strong foundation for Willa’s next stage of growth. Sales of Willa’s Oat Milk grew 6x during the pandemic, and Willa’s launched in 5-20 new stores each week in 2021.
“As a team, after all we’ve been through, we know that together we can overcome any obstacle that comes our way.”
– Christina Dorr Drake, Willa’s Kitchen
Counseling of El Paso (finalist)
Guillermo Castañeda’s gave the go-ahead to shut down in-person business at his counseling practice in El Paso, TX on March 16, 2020; that same day, the counselors and therapists were seeking telehealth certifications.
Guillermo and his wife stopped paying themselves to make payroll, guaranteeing their salaried staff a stable paycheck. The small office relied on Microsoft Teams and constant communication to ensure that clients’ requests were fulfilled, with therapists and receptionists working from their homes.
To support the community, Counseling of El Paso also held free presentations on Facebook to discuss anxiety through the pandemic and other crises in the news. Meanwhile, Guillermo demonstrated leadership and resilience in securing the necessary credit and loans to weather the storm, learning about employment retention credits, SBA grants, loans, and PPP to retain all employees and continue to grow.
Today, Counseling of El Paso reports significant growth during the last two years, including the hiring of three new therapists, another receptionist, and a student intern.
“As a previously undocumented immigrant, I was given no choice but to seek ways to prevail over many obstacles, so this was no different. I believe that a positive attitude and an ‘I will not take no for an answer’ stance has helped me through all of this journey.”
– Guillermo Castañeda, Counseling of El Paso
The day after shelter-in-place was announced in San Francisco, brothers Nick and Billy Palladino-King transformed TRIBE, their fitness, yoga, and meditation studio, into a virtual operation.
Driving to the studio to livestream 5+ classes a day – which they taught themselves while still paying their 15 contract workers – the brothers eventually grew their online presence into a library of 500+ classes, available to the TRIBE community on Facebook. Prior to PPP and unemployment checks, TRIBE held workout challenges to raise money for its instructors with children and families as the initial shock of COVID took a toll. The company also took a more creative approach to maintain its community remotely, partnering with a local wine store and DJ to hold Zoom yoga events for people to enjoy from home.
While TRIBE has seen 70% of its members move out of San Francisco during the two years of the pandemic, its virtual classes and online community have helped it reach its members all over the world – people from Tokyo, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Seattle, London, Singapore, Taipei, and many more cities use TRIBE.
A PPP recipient from BlueVine, Nick and Billy report the injection of capital was one of the most important tools during the pandemic, allowing them to pay rent and make payroll as reopening issues persisted. Showing their staff that the team was the top priority, the brothers say, ultimately resulted in staff retention that was critical to staying afloat.
“We believe our initial display of leadership and kindness to our community truly drove our company and set the stage for a community of support that still exists almost 2 years later.”
– William Palladino-King, TRIBE
Copper Dog (finalist)
When they opened Copper Dog Waffles & Coffee in their small community in Mandan, ND (population of 24,000) in 2019, Cathy Elhis and Brittany Kennedy wanted to create a locale where everyone in town felt comfortable visiting.
In Copper Dog’s eighth month of operation, the pandemic hit. Brittany and Cathy report not knowing what to do, other than pay staff and keep serving customers who wanted a sense of normalcy. Despite having no experience with curbside pickup or delivery operations, the duo dove in headfirst and, thanks to having already established a strong presence in the community, the news that Copper Dog was offering takeout and delivery services spread like wildfire.
Copper Dog prevailed because of its strong roots in its community. The cafe retained 100% of its staff, ensuring no one would need to rely on federal programs like unemployment to make it through the initial months of the pandemic. Cathy and Brittany committed to providing an atmosphere where all staff felt safe, and asked employees to think of each other, work as a team, and look out for each other when making decisions about working conditions.
“Through hands-on leadership from our ownership team and excellent execution and thoughtful customer engagement, our business has thrived coming out of the pandemic. It all stems from the relationships we’ve built, the engagement we provide and the all-in-one community focus we live by.”
– Cathy Elhis and Brittany Kennedy, Copper Dog