‘COMMUNITY ISN’T CANCELED’
The Covid-19 virus had shuttered their event space. But these two business partners gave the community a stage to voice concern about the pandemic — even if they had no place to gather
The heavy toll of the pandemic has caused many to experience a sudden loss of motivation.
Not Ryan Wilson.
He was left with no choice but to pivot when a vital part of his business was disrupted. Wilson didn’t need any extra reason to respond, but nonetheless received one anyway with the birth of his daughter, Camryn, who arrived three weeks after the event space temporarily closed.
“It’s brought a new level of intensity to working through this crisis,” he said.
The son of entrepreneur Mark Wilson is determined to uphold The Gathering Spot’s role in Atlanta’s startup ecosystem while fulfilling his duties as a new father.
She’s not old enough to understand what’s at stake, but when this period is played back, Wilson wants her to see him setting a powerful example.
In normal times, creatives, thinkers and professionals from different backgrounds meet at the Midtown event space to share ideas.
The club has received national recognition as a place where the next generation of industry and technology leaders unite. It is at the center of black entrepreneurship, catching the attention of Silicon Valley companies like Google and Apple. One of its members, Jewel Burks Solomon, sold her company, Partpic, to Amazon.
But, these aren’t normal times.
When they couldn’t hold events in person, Wilson and co-founder TK Petersen invested in digital programs. The content has evolved into a stage to discuss economic and social inequities the virus exposes.
The online conversations have gone beyond business insights. The Gathering Spot recently held a roundtable to dissect the brutal murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga.
A chance to confront these issues is a unique legacy of the pandemic. Featured guests have included venture capitalist Arlan Hamilton, White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, film producer Will Packer and Grammy Award-winning singer Kelly Rowland.
“That’s our value,” Wilson said. “We’re in the community business. It will be what endures.”
For the two business partners, Wilson and Petersen, the recent response has been enlightening as the 2,500-plus members continue to come together, even without a physical location to gather.
“This time has shown our members truly see benefit in being a part of The Gathering Spot community,” Petersen said. “They cherish and value it greatly… It speaks to how strong community is and how much people throughout the world appreciate it.”
In a time where many minority-business owners are being neglected and denied relief funding, The Gathering Spot has created the ‘We All We Got’ fund for small businesses. It has provided over $30,000 in grants.
The Gathering Spot has also continued to pay its full-time employees while staying at the forefront of Atlanta’s tech environment by still connecting people from all walks of life.
It remains a rallying point to discuss injustices and social issues — which was the original motivation for creating the space four years ago.
“I don’t use the word digital or virtual, because it undermines,” Wilson said. “Usually when the words are offered, it seems to indicate that this is a lesser experience. There’s nothing that we’re doing right now that is less than what we used to do from a connectivity standpoint.”
The Gathering Spot since its inception has been confused by some as solely a co-working and networking space, but the virus has proved once again that the brand isn’t just a location.
It’s an overall experience. Wilson and Petersen believe the expanded digital offerings will cultivate more meaningful relationships, positioning The Gathering Spot to be even stronger when the virus subsides.
The co-founders have been adamant about waiting for the right time to safely welcome members back.
Now, the time has come.
The club reopened its doors on May 28 with modifications and social distancing guidelines.
“The last two months we’ve shown that what the Gathering Spot has been about is community,” Wilson said. “It was never about space.”