Before The Coven was The Coven, it was a text-message thread of the same name. No actual witches were involved, just four friends keen on subverting norms. They'd each worked at local advertising and creative agencies and were kicking around ideas for ways to create a more inclusive workplace for women, parents, people of color, or really anyone who wanted respect and community.

Once the idea popped up to build a physical space for work--of any sort, by anyone--it stuck. "The text messages never stopped!" Alex West Steinman, co-founder and CEO of The Coven, a Minneapolis- and St. Paul-based co-working and community space, told Inc.'s What I Know podcast.

Still, securing initial funding to make the dream a reality was a challenge. Banks wanted to see two years of experience. Venture capitalists and seed funders locally were "not investing in our type of business," Steinman says. "Our unique skill set is connecting people and building really inclusive and belonging spaces, and they just didn't get it." 

Instead, the group members tapped their networks to put out calls to help. They opened the doors on their first location in 2018 after crowdfunding to secure a lease and get the business off the ground. Paying members followed, and The Coven was able to raise almost $1 million in formal seed funding in 2019.

Then the pandemic hit. WeWork was in the midst of financial implosion, and The Wing, amid a leadership crisis, began restructuring and closing locations. Along with those and other co-working spaces across the country, The Coven had to close its doors at the start of Covid-19 lockdowns. But for Steinman's business, which was built around supporting its community--and which had gotten its footing with financial help from that community--one thing was different. The community never left.

"We didn't lose people. People stayed with us. They emailed us and said, 'Charge me whenever, even when you're closed, make sure that you can stay open,'" Steinman says. The funding infusion helped The Coven retain staff, too.

As protests following George Floyd's murder rocked the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, The Coven paid back the greater community by serving as a collection-and-distribution center for goods for people in need.

"It was a really confusing and awful time," Steinman says. "It was also a time when community really came together in ways that I had not seen. Our members showed up, our community members showed up, and people we'd never met before showed up."

To hear my full interview with Alex West Steinman about The Coven and its focus on community, click on the player above, or find What I Know on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or anywhere you listen to audio.