Women-Owned Zaniac Greenwich Stands Strong during Covid with Loans from State Programs

Lena Thakor is a member of the Greenwich High School class of 2021

Zaniac Greenwich, an after school STEAM enrichment center for children, a business owned by two local women, was paid a visit by Lt Governor Susan Bysiewicz on Monday to highlight how the State’s Covid-19 business response program has provided critical financial relief.

Founded by Flavia Nauslausky and Camilla Gazal, Zaniac stresses the importance of peer-based learning, hiring high school and college students passionate about STEAM to instruct its students. 

While millions of small businesses around the country have flagged under the ripple effects of the pandemic, Zaniac Greenwich has adapted and flourished.

At Zaniac Greenwich camp operates at half capacity and children wear masks. However the business pivoted to online quickly and received help from the state including HEDCO, the Hartford Economic Development Corporation. July 20, 2020 Photo: Leslie Yager

“The continuity of our business is our success story,” Nauslausky said on Monday during the press conference, also attended by State Senator Alex Kasser, State Rep Steve Meskers, First Selectman Fred Camillo, and both Fran Pastore and Carol Cheswick from the Women’s Business Development Council.

Zaniac did not stop offering classes during the pandemic, moving quickly to online learning in mid-March.

Zaniac instructors currently work with 154 students and teach 98 classes per week, mainly remotely. In-person camps began June 29 and run through August 28.

Zaniac reduced its weekly camp capacity by half, allowing 7-8 students on campus a time to learn in a socially-distanced manner. The children have readily adapted to the protocols including mandatory mask wearing.

They also have their temperatures taken and wash their hands when they arrive, and there is no snack time.

One-on-one, socially distanced instruction at Zaniac Greenwich. July 20, 2020 Photo: Leslie Yager

“The businesses that innovate are the ones that are going to survive,” Ms Gazal said. “The ones that sit there and do nothing won’t be able to sustain themselves.”

Zaniac Greenwich credits much of its ability to operate during the pandemic to HEDCO (the Hartford Economic Development Corporation), the Connecticut Dept of Economic and Community Development (DECD), and the Connecticut Minority Business Initiative as part of Connecticut’s Covid-19 $2 million Business Response Program.

HEDCO mainly sought out small, minority-owned businesses, and co-owners Nauslausky and Gazal, both originally from Brazil, made Zaniac a perfect candidate for HEDCO’s loans.

Financial support from programs like HEDCO coupled with the swift pivot to remote teaching has allowed Zaniac Greenwich to not simply stay afloat, but thrive.

Flavia Nauslausky chats with Lt Governor Susan Bysiewicz and State Senator Alex Kasser. July 20, 2020

“We currently have 20 instructors teaching every day, so our pay roll has actually increased rather than decreased,” added Nauslausky, noting that the site manager Viviane Kerrigan was also kept on.

Zaniac has poured resources into developing its online curriculum, and currently offers over 15 virtual programs to students.

Zaniac Greenwich was able to draw from a pool of high school and college students whose internships were cancelled, enabling their work force to grow rather than shrink.

“We are proud to say we did not furlough or fire anyone,” Gazal said, adding, “We are survivors of the start-up women-owned business in Connecticut.”

Gazal said neither she nor Nauslausky had heard of HEDCO when they strategized ways to keep Zaniac afloat.

Zaniac site manager Viviane Kerrigan, co-owner of Zaniac Camilla Gazal, Lt Governor Susan Bysiewicz, and State Senator Alex Kasser. July 20, 2020 Photo: Leslie Yager

“When the Covid hit, we had to close our campus on West Putnam Ave on March 16,” Gazal said. “This is a wonderful building, but expensive.”

“We didn’t know what to do, but moved very quickly to the online business with the encouragement of the Women’s Business Development Council,” Gazal continued, adding that she and Nauslausky also renegotiated their rent with their landlord.

“One of the silver linings of what we are experiencing in this pandemic is getting to watch people like Flavia and Camilla rise to the occasion,” said Ms Pastore, who is President and CEO of the Women’s Business Development Council.

“We knew right away when we heard that Congress was going to be passing a PPP program that we would need something short-term to help businesses in the State. Our Dept of Economic Development had the bridge loans, but we wanted to have a separate set of loans targeted to the smallest businesses — women and minority owned – so there would be an option for people with 20 employees” Bysiewicz said. “HEDCO was specifically targeted for women-owned businesses.”

State Rep Steve Meskers, Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo, Zaniac site manager Viviane Kerrigan, co-owner Camilla Gazal, Carol Cheswick of the Women’s Business Development Council, Lt Governor Susan Bysiewicz, Fran Pastore of Women’s Business Development Council, State Senator Alex Kasser and Zaniac co-owner Flavia Nauslausky. July 20, 2020.

“With all the SBA, PPP, DECD loans – I have to say that the fastest one was HEDCO,” Gazal said adding that Zaniac’s HEDCO loan had already been forgiven.

Gazal said that if Zaniac’s online classes continue to thrive, they will reconsider operating their brick and mortar campus.

“It all depends on the Covid – if we have a second and a third wave,” Gazal said. “If you are a parent and school opens and you’re grateful you can send your kids to school, do you want to have the extra risk of sending them to another place if you can have the class in the comfort of your own home?”

More information on Zaniac Greenwich is available online.

Viviane Kerrigan, Flavia Nauslausky, Camilla Gazal, Lt Governor Susan Bysiewicz, at Zaniac Greenwich. July 20, 2020 Photo: Leslie Yager