Throughout our history, daring to dream and making dreams come true have been a mainstay of our national entrepreneurial spirit. However, for some small-business adventurers with promising and creative ideas but limited means, the road can be strewn with difficult, sometimes seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Limited funds, lack of credit, and the cost of informed and affordable advice and support can combine to dim dreams of a better future. Making a dream come true can seem far away, even unreachable for the underserved.
In 2010, a group of local businessmen was inspired to call on individuals, churches, and businesses to use their collective experience to provide support to underserved entrepreneurs. Their goal was to focus on communities of high unemployment, empowering individuals by fostering an entrepreneurial spirit and encouraging job creation by building small businesses. In general, putting people in a position to succeed.
LAUNCH Chattanooga, celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, is a “dreams come true” ray of hope, an organization that provides practical business education, expertise, and sustained support that make dreams attainable for small start-up businesses with limited means. Executive Director, Hal Bowling, co-founded LAUNCH along with Scott Soltau, a local businessman.
“I am very fortunate to be able to spend time with so many aspiring and inspiring business owners,” says Bowling, a hands-on force who has founded other successful startups.
Vice President of Operations Marco Perez, with over fifteen years of experience in executive leadership roles in profit and non-profit organizations, points out that LAUNCH focuses on working with people who want to create a “micro” business with one-to-four employees or who are looking forward to developing a supplementary income for themselves. Others may have dreams that are larger than micro, but Marco says, “We follow a lean startup model . . . therefore, even if we dream big, we must start small.”
Life at LAUNCH begins with its 10-week Business Entrepreneurship Academy that provides the basic business education necessary for new entrepreneurs, startups, and business owners. The curriculum includes:
- Knowing Yourself: Introduction, Assumptions, Working Styles, Team Building, Obstacles
• Knowing Your Customer: Problems, Solutions, Benefits, Competition, Advantage, Customer
• Getting The Relationship Right: Marketing & Message, Getting, Keeping & Growing Customers
• Building the Model to Scale: Starting Small, Distribution, Revenue, Typical Scale, Pricing
• Strengthening Your Structure: Business Structures, Licenses, Hiring
• Discovering the Bottom Line: Startup & Ongoing Needs, Fixed & Variable Cost, Break-even Point
• Accounting for Growth: Sales Projections, Cash Flow, Accounting
• Planning for the Future: Raising Capital, Growth Plans, Goal Setting
An association with LAUNCH doesn’t necessarily end with completing the Academy program. There is Life after LAUNCHing.
“Life after LAUNCHing is one part of our initiative that works with business owners after the classroom portion is over and for those who are in the process of starting their business,” says Bowling. “We make many connections to free or reduced cost business resources in the community (legal, accounting, marketing, etc), facilitate mentor and peer support and provide coaching support as individual business owners are determining their start-up plans and even after they begin their business. Additionally, we support the businesses by purchasing products or services from them every chance we get.”
Linda Murray Bullard, Felicia Jackson, and Jennifer Holder are graduates of the Academy who have continued on in Life after LAUNCHing. LAUNCH entered Linda Murray Bullard’s life when she found herself in a tight spot. Corporate downsizing eliminated her job after 26 years of service, and she realized she needed to reinvent herself. Linda had been writing business plans for friends and relatives for many years and was confident that her expertise could evolve into a successful business aimed at helping “good idea” people develop the business acumen they needed. She knew she could add a much needed “business layer” to their existing product knowledge. She has grown from an Academy student to becoming a partner in LAUNCH where she teaches in the program. She is now expanding her personal business as a consultant, transformation coach, and speaker.
Felicia Jackson sought help from LAUNCH to market a product she invented. She is a physical therapist who came up with an idea and designed a prototype for a life–saving invention called “The CPR Wrap.” The wrap may be quickly and easily placed on a person’s chest. The graphics printed on it illustrate how and where to place hands for administrating CPR, and the instructions describe exactly what to do—so even someone who hasn’t had a CPR course can render life-saving aid.
“LAUNCH gave me the support to bring my idea from drawings on a napkin to a salable product.” With their help she has entered a number of local competitions and a national competition for funding. Jennifer Holder founder of nonprofit The Chattery, says she’s excited.
“I started The Chattery six months after taking the LAUNCH classes. Now two years in, we are growing day by day as a nonprofit offering affordable education on many topics throughout the city,” says Holder. “LAUNCH offers personal one-on-one coaching after graduation if a person needs it. They also offer continuing education classes, some of which are actually now taught through The Chattery.”
“LAUNCH has worked with various entrepreneurs from the program not only helping develop their products, but also by purchasing their services,” says Rebecca Feldbin, Public Relations and Communications Manager. Angel Womble, owner of Catered 2 You has catered several events, photographer Natalya Baine has done photography work through her business Peculiar Touch Photography, and Blackbird Baking Company’s Jane Harper has provided desserts for events. “We’re currently working with Carol White of Good Stuff Promotional Products to have some LAUNCH branded items made.”
LAUNCH reaches out to the community in other ways. The Launch High School Entrepreneurship Program seeks to engage interested and motivated students with a simulated entrepreneurship experience that provides real-world lessons they’ll need to successfully start their own business. They now offer this program at The Howard School, Brainerd High School, Tyner Academy, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, and the STEM School.
On a much broader scale LAUNCH is actively reaching beyond Chattanooga to assist and advise start-up programs in other cities across the country. The staff has partnered with groups that have similar goals and missions in New Orleans, Louisiana; Cincinnati, Ohio; Dalton, Georgia; and Memphis, Tennessee. These associations create a revenue stream, but LAUNCH’s major source comes from donors.
The bottom line is that LAUNCH provides a gateway to success for members of our community and other communities who otherwise may see little hope of actualizing their dreams.
For the complete LAUNCH picture, including donors, link to launchchattanooga.org