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Straight Out of COVID: How Brooklyn Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses Pivoted During a Global Pandemic

BKLYN Commons , Brooklyn's premier coworking space and home to more than 300 indoor storefront businesses owned and operated by entrepreneurs, creators, change-makers, and forward-thinking innovators.
Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn
Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

BKLYN Commons, Brooklyn's premier coworking space and home to more than 300 indoor storefront businesses owned and operated by entrepreneurs, creators, change-makers, and forward-thinking innovators.

"What we've done at BKLYN Commons is create a community where our members collaborate and support each other," said Johanne Brierre, BKLYN Commons head of growth.

Building a community — both inside and outside its walls — enabled BKLYN Commons, its members and partners to survive COVID-19's destruction of Brooklyn's small businesses. 

Indeed, BKLYN Commons was the glue that kept its members together at the peak of the crisis and enabled many of them to survive. 

It's a two-street. The members and broader community partners helped BKLYN Commons to keep its doors open at a time when many other coworking spaces shut down permanently.

At the height of the pandemic, BKLYN Commons leveraged its partnerships with community-based agencies, civic leaders and members to share updated information on the government's complicated Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), where to obtain Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), and other important resources. 

The members also supported each other. For instance, BKLYN Commons member Nadia Aristide, the president of business finance company Maroon Strategist, provided information to other members on PPP. BKLYN Commons also teamed up with its community partner IMPAACT Brooklyn, a community development corporation, in hosting Zoom forums on how to apply for the government funding program. 

BKLYN Commons in partnership with BKReader began publishing articles on March 16 that share members' survival stories in a series collectively named Straight Out of COVID.

It will inspire struggling entrepreneurs, as well as share ideas about how other small businesses, nonprofits and solopreneurs can reinvent themselves.

New articles appear every Tuesday and Thursday, in the Local Voices section. In today's post, we meet Rob Solano, a co-founder of the grassroots movement Churches United for Fair Housing. His organization did an amazing job of obtaining the grant funding needed to continue providing aid to individuals and communities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Real Estate Broker Breaks Through COVID with Innovative Model

By: Lindy Hale

Knowing real estate is an industry where 90% of people fail, Joshua Brown reimagined its success.

Joshua Brown. Photo: Provided.

While working for large real estate firms, Brown noticed a substantial disconnect between the amount of work real estate agents did and the cut of the money they took home from each sale. This realization encouraged Brown to become a broker himself. However, he wasn't in it for the money.

In December 2019, with over $100k in venture capital funding, Brown founded Push Forward Realty, a real estate brokerage firm with a social cause. Giving real estate agents access to a fair and equitable working environment is Brown's number one goal. That's why Push Forward Realty ensures that up to 90% of profits from each sale goes directly to their agents. 

Unlike large brokerages that keep 50%-70% of profits, Push Forward Realty only keeps 10%. 

Yet, with all good things there are bound to be setbacks. Just three months after launching Push Forward Realty, the COVID-19 pandemic turned the real estate industry upside down. We sat down with Brown, who has been a member of BKLYN Common's Bushwick location for nearly two years, to chat about his new virtual reality and how Push Forward Realty has managed to embrace the pandemic pivot.  

Other than equitable payouts to your agents, what sets Push Forward Realty apart from other brokerages?

As a broker, providing a supportive working environment is key. I truly believe that happy people produce the best work.  That's why, instead of sitting back and taking an unfair share of each sale, I encourage the agents who work for Push Forward Realty to be their own boss. They do most of the work. They keep most of the sale. That's how it should be. After all, that's the reason people come to real estate—to be an entrepreneur. Push Forward Realty doesn't lose sight of that.

Just three months after you started your own brokerage, real estate went completely virtual. How has Push Forward Realty been able to maintain momentum despite the global crisis?

The way I see it, virtual is the way forward and will maintain a necessity in the real estate industry even after COVID-19. Just like all businesses, we had to rework our day-to-day to ensure that safety is emphasized. All of our showings and closings are now online. All forms are sent electronically. We also test our agents regularly so that we can stay healthy while utilizing our office space as needed.

Surprisingly, this virtual method has been pretty convenient which has increased productivity. Plus, we get to sleep in a little longer!

With so many people moving in and out of the city due to the pandemic, the real estate industry never completely shut down despite the fact that you weren't considered an essential worker. How was BKLYN Commons able to support your business during the initial lockdown and beyond?

You're right, the industry never slowed down. In fact, home sales in the US are now at an all-time high. Real estate will forever be a time sensitive business. That's why it was a blessing that BKLYN Commons was able to safely remain open and highly supportive throughout 2020. 

BKLYN Commons streamlined their processes and kept helpful information accessible. Over the past year, I've taken advantage of BKLYN Commons' workshops on PPP loans and funding for minority business owners. Not only has the space continued to be a safe environment but the relationships I've built with other members continue to pay dividends. 

Meeting new people and building relationships with them is the core of realty. The same is true for the core of BKLYN Commons. 


Push Forward Realty plans to start offering virtual, public workshops on topics such as calculating property tax and deed fraud protection in the early Spring. 

For now, Brown is focused on growing the firm and serving the public as 1st Vice chairperson for Bushwick's Community Board 4.

"Joining forces with local organizations, such as the merchant's association and the community of small businesses within BKLYN Commons, has been a beacon of support over the past year," he said. "It is an honor to build relationships while serving Bushwick's tight knit community."

Looking to buy, sell, or take advantage of upcoming workshops? Contact

For resources or to get involved with Bushwick's Community Board 4: Click Here