Times Flies!

Some may say that time flies when you’re having fun. We think time also flies when you’re working hard!

We have to pinch ourselves when we think about how it’s been six years since LAUNCH first began at The Bethlehem Center in Alton Park. We’ve had a lot of entrepreneurs through our doors, both with our Business Entrepreneurship Academy and the High School Entrepreneurship Program. We’ve developed awesome partners with nine organizations in seven other cities  aiming to do the same thing we do in Chattanooga within their communities.

We could go on and on, but we know attention spans are short these days, so we’ve summed up the past six years in a nice little infographic. We can’t wait to see where the next six takes us.

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If you like the work we're doing, please consider a donation!

What is Kiva?

“Access to capital.” That’s one of the top challenges entrepreneurs that we support face when trying to grow their business. At LAUNCH we try to narrow the gap between those who can easily start new businesses and those who find themselves always struggling to get their business off the ground. Our program started shortly after the recession and we knew that the only method to start a business would be to self-fund or most likely use a lean startup model.

Often referred to as “bootstrapping” the lean startup model understands that the entrepreneur will need to grow the business organically from the same cash that they generate through sales. Often micro business entrepreneurs hold one or two jobs, while trying to get their business up and running, receiving no income from the long hours invested in getting their own venture off the ground.

No startup is a guaranteed success. Yet, there is a significant difference when an entrepreneur can dedicate their time to getting their business off the ground, versus when they are finding themselves stretched thin between work (sometimes two jobs), home, and a startup. Investment capital for a micro business is practically nonexistent, leaving the entrepreneur searching for alternative forms of revenue, particularly in the area of loans. Nonetheless, the options for those who are looking for non-collateralized loans under $50,000 are practically nonexistent. Traditionally it is said that banks are looking for the 5 C’s of lending: character, capacity, capital, collateral and conditions. For many micro business owners, it’s hard to meet (much less guarantee) the repayment on the conditions required from banks. This leaves the entrepreneur in a position of having to grow her business at a pace that can often be more disheartening than the normal challenges of business entrepreneurship.

Early in September of last year, I had the privilege of meeting with the team of Kiva US (formerly Kiva Zip). Kiva is a microfinance nonprofit that has been serving in the crowd lending field internationally for close to a decade. In the last few years, Kiva has explored the possibility of lending to US micro business owners through a similar crowdlending platform they have employed elsewhere.

One of Kiva’s mottos? “Dreams are Universal. Opportunity is Not.” Through a system they refer to as social underwriting, Kiva makes it possible for a micro business owner to get a loan of up to $10,000 at 0% interest over a maximum of three years. Their reasoning is that if a person is able to get up to 35 friends and family members to lend them $25 or more, then the person has proven to be of the right character, and Kiva can ask the world (literally) to consider lending the same amounts to this individual. With 400 lenders (at the maximum loan amount), at $25 each, the business owner can not only get their loan funded, but can also have a community of individuals who are monthly being reminded and encouraged by the borrower’s success to support that borrower by becoming a patron of their business.. As the lender gets paid back, they can choose to retrieve their funds or to reinvest those funds in another microbusiness owners’ success. If, like me, you see your lending as a contribution, you can also perceive that you are able to reproduce the impact of your contribution over, and over, and over in the life of multiple individuals.

At LAUNCH, we are encouraging some of our business owners to pursue Kiva loans. In many of the cases, a loan of $5,000 - $10,000 may be exactly what is needed to move a dream to a real life opportunity. It may help purchase a piece of equipment or initial inventory, pay for the front costs of a leased office space, or simply provide working capital to help keep the business afloat during the payment terms of some of their clients.

After spending a couple of days with the folks at Kiva, and learning what cities like Milwaukee, Rochester, Louisville and Columbus were doing in embracing Kiva as a citywide initiative for their business owners, I am very excited about the possibilities for LAUNCH entrepreneurs.

Consider looking at Kiva for your micro business financing and join us in supporting LAUNCH business owners.

- Marco

A Call to Action

With so much tragedy and controversy these days, many of us are left with the feeling of “What can I do to help?” As someone who moved to Chattanooga from another state, I consider myself lucky to now be a part of this community. The way in which people here come together in the wake of tragedy always amazes me. This community understands that we are much stronger together.

Today, I am hoping we can come together and support one woman’s dream to create a safe haven for HIV+ women in the Chattanooga area. Lisa Tumlin’s journey has been a long one (you can read about that here), but the time has finally come. With the keys to The Springs House of Hope, Lisa is almost ready to open the door to the first group of women.

The Springs can house up to three women at a time. Here, they will have a place they can call home for 21 months while they work on getting a job, securing a place to live, pursue education and training, and working to reunite their families.

In order to make The Springs feel like a home, they need furnishings. Everything from tables, to beds, to couches, to chairs, to bedding...dishes, kitchen utensils, rugs, towels, etc. Anything you can think of that will turn the house into a home.

If you have items you can donate, please email Pete Curry (petecurry at ancur.biz) to make arrangements for delivery.

If you don’t have items to donate, The Springs is a 501c3 and is currently taking donations to help cover items that aren’t donated. To donate, click here.

Also, be sure to head over to their Facebook page to stay up to date on everything that is happening with The Springs.

Warmly,

Bex

LAUNCH PR and Communications Manager

Sometimes life serves as inspiration for entrepreneurs...

And sometimes that inspiration comes in the form of a miracle.

At just 15 years old, Ternae Jordan, Jr. was an innocent bystander in a shooting and was struck in the head by a stray bullet. He lost his life that day, but was later resuscitated although left brain dead and blind. Somehow, he not only survived, but can also see and function normally. With the bullet still lodged between his brain and his skull, he considers himself a miracle, hence the name of the company Miraclechild Media Group, aka MMG.

Ternae and his business partner JaMichael Jordan noticed how the entertainment and media industry continue to show negative images. Ternae explains, “These negative images not only hurt our society, but the integrity of the entertainment industry, as well. MMG has committed itself to producing positive forms of media that will inspire, encourage and empower our clients and society.”

Ternae and JaMichael are just two of the 270 entrepreneurs who have been through the program and inspire LAUNCH to do the work they do. Their commitment is to change not only the community for the better, but the world too.

With LAUNCH’s help, Ternae and JaMichael have been able to turn the corner from hobby to business. Through LAUNCH’s Business Entrepreneurship Academy they gained wisdom and developed a powerful networking base that has allowed them to build relationships to benefit them as business owners and ultimately to grow their company.

Are you feeling inspired? As you think about your end of year giving, please consider LAUNCH.  We want to support more inspiring entrepreneurs like Ternae and JaMichael in 2017!

Take action now.

Kauffman Foundation Awards Entrepreneurial Inclusion Grants to LAUNCH and the CO.LAB

LAUNCH Chattanooga and The Company Lab receive more than $450,000 combined to support female and minority entrepreneurs

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (December 5, 2016) – The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation has awarded LAUNCH Chattanooga and The Company Lab (CO.LAB) a combined $452,750 to expand support for women and minority entrepreneurs in the Chattanooga area. The funds will be administered in two installments over a two-year period for both organizations.

Our Executive Director Hal Bowling pictured with Victor Hwang, Vice President of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation and  Allison Reedy, Chief Operations Officer of CO.LAB.

Our Executive Director Hal Bowling pictured with Victor Hwang, Vice President of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation and  Allison Reedy, Chief Operations Officer of CO.LAB.

LAUNCH and CO.LAB represent two of 12 entrepreneurial support organizations across the U.S. to receive the Kauffman Inclusion Challenge grants, which are designed to equip recipients to help women and minorities achieve higher rates of success in entrepreneurship. More than 376 organizations applied for the grants, which will serve sectors in 13 states across the U.S. 

The funds will enable LAUNCH to increase the depth of the services it provides to underserved entrepreneurs in Chattanooga and to expand its programming to communities across the country. CO.LAB will utilize the grant to partner more directly with LAUNCH, to provide childcare to participants in certain programs, to conduct more targeted outreach efforts, and to provide small grants to select LAUNCH graduates who participate in the CO.LAB Accelerator. 

“In Chattanooga, as in many cities across the nation, minority, women and low-income entrepreneurs are often marginalized or left out of the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Hal Bowling, executive director of LAUNCH. “While our city is growing as an entrepreneurial hub, we want to make sure women and minorities have equal access to business opportunities, funding and social capital. The Kauffman Inclusion Challenge grants will enable LAUNCH and CO.LAB to work together to address these gaps so we can ensure the diversity of Chattanooga’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is more reflective of the diversity of our community.”

Over the next two years, LAUNCH will utilize its grant to expand core training and follow-up services to be more comprehensive and to serve more people, to develop new seminars that address support gaps identified through focus groups with LAUNCH graduates to deliver LAUNCH’s training and equipping model to additional cities across the country, thereby dramatically increasing its impact on poverty alleviation and unemployment, and to build additional infrastructure to provide support and resources for partner organizations. 

CO.LAB will use its funds to expand the LAUNCH Fellowship, which guarantees a slot in the CO.LAB Accelerator for at least one graduate of LAUNCH programs each cycle. To make this opportunity more meaningful, CO.LAB will bring on a LAUNCH Fellowship Entrepreneur-in-Residence to provide extra support to fellowship recipients while also providing small grants to its fellows. The organization will also begin providing childcare to certain CO.STARTERS cohorts and at newly-established CO.STARTERS workshops, which will make the business development program more accessible to those who are unsure about participating or have limited time. CO.LAB will also work with LAUNCH to co-host information sessions in urban neighborhoods and to deepen relationships within them. CO.LAB’s commitment to expanding its outreach to women and minorities will cover a range of efforts, many of which are aimed at increasing its efficacy in serving as a front door for entrepreneurs in southeast Tennessee.

“Deepening the continuum of support available to entrepreneurs in our region is one of CO.LAB’s highest priorities,” said Jack Studer, executive director of CO.LAB. “Over the years, it has become increasingly apparent that we need to do more to make sure the resources we offer are benefitting everyone. From simple adjustments like providing childcare to working parents who want to go through our programs to critical needs like reaching out to urban neighborhoods or providing micro grants to those who need them most, we’re looking forward to partnering more closely with LAUNCH to reduce barriers to entrepreneurial participation in Chattanooga. This is an exciting moment for our community.”

As LAUNCH continues to deepen the support it provides to entrepreneurs in the area, it will also spend the next two years expanding its model to cities across the country. LAUNCH has developed a training and equipping model that allows partner organizations to deliver its programming to marginalized entrepreneurs in their communities. 

“We’re thrilled for the opportunity to share what we’re learning with additional communities across the country,” said Bowling. 

LAUNCH has already shared its model with seven cities, which have collectively trained 235 entrepreneurs and started or strengthened more than 110 small businesses to date. By the year 2020, LAUNCH hopes to have established a total of 20 partner cities.

“This development means that Chattanooga is now the home of two organizations whose models of entrepreneurial support are in demand,” said Studer. “With CO.STARTERS, a business development course that grew out of CO.LAB, and LAUNCH’s Business Entrepreneurship Academy springing up in cities throughout the U.S. and beyond, Chattanooga is growing its profile as a hotbed of entrepreneurial innovation.”

Individuals and organizations that want to support the work of LAUNCH and CO.LAB are invited to volunteer their professional services or offer their business expertise as mentors. Established companies and organizations are encouraged to partner with both organizations to offer pilot partnerships to local entrepreneurs with relevant products and services. 

To learn more about the Kauffman Inclusion Challenge, click here. To read the Kauffman Foundation’s press release about the grant recipients, click here. To read the Kauffman Foundation’s report on Chattanooga’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, click here.

About LAUNCH Chattanooga

LAUNCH is a Chattanooga, TN based nonprofit that was founded in 2011 with the mission of empowering communities and individuals through entrepreneurship. LAUNCH provides training, coaching, access to business and capital resources and is focused on women-owned and minority-owned micro businesses and residents of underserved communities. For more information, visit launchchattanooga.org

About The Company Lab (CO.LAB)

The Company Lab (CO.LAB) is a nonprofit organization that supports entrepreneurial growth in southeast Tennessee. Established as the region’s front door for entrepreneurs, CO.LAB works to increase the viability of startups and strengthen the ecosystem of support behind them. In doing so, the organization helps entrepreneurs refine their business models, test their ideas with customers, pursue capital and partnerships, and connect with a community of mentors, peers, and business experts. Visit http://colab.co/ to learn more.

LAUNCH + #GivingTuesday

At LAUNCH, we have the privilege of walking alongside very inspiring people doing great things and many times overcoming incredible obstacles in the process.

For these entrepreneurs, it all starts with an idea. Meg Brasel’s idea came to her when she was helping her husband pack food for a backpacking trip in the summer of 2015. As they were getting him packed, Meg realized that they had worked through this type of difficult, time-consuming preparation at least a dozen times over the years. She felt confident that busy people who loved to hike and camp would pay for good food that was nutritious, delicious, lightweight, and most importantly convenient to take out on the trail. It was then that her outdoor nutrition company, TrailDrops, was born

With TrailDrops, Meg aims to make meal planning simple for outdoor enthusiasts. Food is not only prepared and delicious, but also healthy and lightweight. With a few days notice, TrailDrops will figure out how many calories you need, and the right amount of great-tasting, lightweight food will be delivered directly to you.

Although she never intended to become a business owner, Meg knew that TrailDrops was too good an idea to let go. Having never taken business classes before, the Business Entrepreneurship Academy became an integral part of her start-up process. She has also continued her journey, and is enrolled in LAUNCH 2.0, a program for those who have already started their businesses and want to grow in their understanding of operations, marketing and finance.

Meg says, “Without a doubt, TrailDrops would not be in business if it were not for the education and encouragement I received from LAUNCH during and since the Business Entrepreneurship Academy.

Want to reach out to TrailDrops and learn more? Click here.

If you would like to help us as we support awesome entrepreneurs like Meg, we have a special opportunity leading up to #givingtuesday. Every donation will be doubled thanks to a generous donor. No contribution is too small. It all makes a difference in the lives of the entrepreneurs we serve and in the businesses they bring to our community. Want to learn more, or ready to donate? Head here!

Meg with her husband and two boys.

Meg with her husband and two boys.

The Camp House Podcast

It's no secret that we here at LAUNCH love ourselves a good cup of coffee, and often times you can find any one of us having a meeting at one of our favorite local coffee shops, The Camp House.

Our love of The Camp House began back when it was on the Southside and continued through it's transition to downtown Chattanooga. If you keep up with LAUNCH you know we like to hold events there too. We love the staff and all that they do for the Chattanooga community.

That's why when Hal was asked to be a guest on The Camp House Podcast, a weekly podcast that explores the ideas and people shaping the culture and community of our city, it was a no brainer. 

Be sure to take some time this week and listen here.

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Startup Showdown Winners Announced!

(Chattanooga, Tenn.) October 11, 2016 - LAUNCH held their 3rd annual Startup Showdown on Wednesday, October 5, where ten entrepreneurs from their Business Entrepreneurship Academy pitched their business ideas to a panel of judges.

First place and a prize of $2500 went to Pat Rowe, owner and operator of BBQ Rowe, a barbecue catering company that will satisfy your tastes. Pat serves a variety of items, including ribs, pulled pork, turkey legs, and rotisserie chicken.

Second place of $1500 went to Chris Patty, owner of Testimony Printworks, based in Rossville, Georgia. Testimony Printworks is a full service company that can put a logo on just about anything. They produce custom banners, drinkware, t-shirts and other promotional products at an affordable price.

In third place, and awarded $1000, was Meg Brasel with her company TrailDrops, is a full-service outdoor nutrition company providing lightweight, delicious trail meals to hikers. They provide meals for both short and long trips that can be delivered at home, or even on the trail.

In addition, an audience vote for favorite business was held and the People’s Choice Award went to Tara Viland of Arrival Events. With Arrival, Tara provides sensitive and uplifting coordination for those who wish to celebrate the arrival of death and rejoice in the memory of life regardless of spiritual or religious beliefs.

The panel of judges were comprised of Rudy Carrasco, U.S. Regional Facilitator at Partners Worldwide, Maria Noel, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, and entrepreneur Brandon Ellis, owner and operator of Chatter Box Cafe.

Additional participants were Ternae Jordan Jr. and JaMichael Jordan for Miracle Child Media Group, Jacqueline Fields for Inspirations Image Consulting, Ricardo Morris of Renaissance Consulting Management, Eugenia Johnson with I’m a Bossy Girl, Lynda Stephens of Coveralls & Pearls, and Joseph Patty with Rise Above Inflatables.

We've got some news!

For immediate release, please:

LAUNCH SELECTED BY U.S. SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION AS GROWTH ACCELERATOR FUND RECIPIENT

(Chattanooga, Tenn.) Sept. 27, 2016 - Chattanooga based nonprofit LAUNCH has been announced as an awardee of the Growth Accelerator Fund Competition by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) office of Investment and Innovation. The competition saw over 400 applications from organizations across 32 states and the District of Columbia. LAUNCH and the additional 67 recipients will be awarded $50,000 each totaling $3.4 million in prizes to boost the economic impact of accelerators across 32 states and the District of Columbia.

Per a press release from the SBA last week, “The purpose of the competition was to draw attention and funding to parts of the country where there are gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. While there are entrepreneurial activities occurring nationwide, some are better supported by private sector ecosystems than others. SBA has created connective tissue among the over 200 winning entrepreneurial ecosystems now part of the Growth Accelerator Fund Competition program.”

Applications were judged by more than 100 experts with entrepreneurial, investment, startup, economic development, capital formation and academic backgrounds from both the public and private sector.  The first panel of judges reviewed over 400 applications and presentations and established a pool of 200 highly qualified finalists.  The second panel evaluated the finalists’ presentations and pitch videos and selected the 68 winners. To view LAUNCH’s pitch video, click here.

LAUNCH will use this funding to continue to support minority and women entrepreneurs. Since 2011, LAUNCH has trained nearly 250 entrepreneurs. In that time, there have been 134 businesses started and 166 jobs created. Thus far, 91% of businesses started with the support of LAUNCH are still in operation.

About LAUNCH
LAUNCH was founded in 2011 with the mission of empowering communities and individuals through entrepreneurship.  LAUNCH provides training, coaching, access to business and capital resources and is focused on women-owned and minority-owned micro businesses and residents of underserved communities.  For more information, visit LAUNCHchattanooga.org.

Contact:
Rebecca Feldbin
607.760.2868
rfeldbin@launchchattanooga.org
 

Ready, set, zip!

It might be only the second year that we’ve held LAUNCH Kinect, our week-long summer program that serves as an extension of our High School Entrepreneurship Program (a big shout out to the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, Footprint Foundation, FSG Bank, and the rest of our youth program sponsors), but I already know what my favorite activity is: the ropes course and zip-lining at Ruby Falls.

LAUNCH Kinect focuses on additional entrepreneurial skills beyond what students learn during the school year with us. During this week students visit various businesses in the downtown Chattanooga area to connect with positive and influential business leaders, as well as participate in various team building activities, one of which is the Ruby Falls ZIPstream Aerial Adventure.

While this activity may sound like fun and games, it is so much more. I serve as the designated (amateur) photographer for LAUNCH and make sure to catch the ziplining event, not only to capture the action, but also to capture the team building and compassion the students show one another.

As they make their way through the course there is often a backup of the line since each obstacle is a little more daunting than the last. Despite the frequent delays, there is never any frustration for being held up or having to wait...I witness students patiently waiting for each other before moving on, offering words of support and cheering for one another as they make their way through the treetops.

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This year, I watched one girl who was fearful about walking across a particular log that didn’t have any ropes at her side to hang onto for balance support. On the opposite end ahead of her was a student encouraging her, telling her that she could do it even if her mind was telling her otherwise. Once she finally got up the nerve, she took four steps out and froze. After being paralyzed with fear for about a minute, the student that had been waiting in line behind her realized she wasn’t going anywhere and walked out to go with her and help her the rest of the way.

At the end of the ropes course, the students finally get to do the zip-line. Once off the line, I heard one girl say, “That was on my bucket list. I’m glad I’ve gotten an early start.” Another student exclaimed, “I didn’t think I could do it, but I did!”

Our hope is that these students show the same support with each other while working together on their businesses and can cultivate the courage to tackle challenges that intimidate them, just as the obstacles they face during the course. And perhaps, at the end of  LAUNCH Kinect, they’ll walk away with the same feeling of accomplishment that they have at the end of that zip-line.

Rebecca
LAUNCH PR and Communications Manager

To continue to support our programs such as LAUNCH Kinect, visit our donate page or contact us for volunteer opportunities.

Through the eyes of a facilitator...

LAUNCH entrepreneurs that go through our program wouldn’t get the strong start they receive without our facilitators. What role do facilitators play? They’re the ones who lead our Business Entrepreneurship Academy classes, taking the curriculum and walking through the material with 15 budding entrepreneurs at a time. 

Both of our current facilitators for the Spring 2016 semester are also LAUNCH entrepreneurs. Susan M. Freeman, owner and operator of Susan M. Freeman Enterprises, teaches the class that takes place in Brainerd, while Linda Murray Bullard of LSMB Business Solutions lends her knowledge to our downtown Chattanooga class.

With the 10-week classes coming to a close, we asked Linda to talk to us about how far these entrepreneurs have come, and what her experience has been teaching this semester.

Every new class brings its own set of anxieties for a LAUNCH facilitator. Will I give them what they need? Will they get enough motivation to make that next step? Can I reach all of them? This Spring’s class was no exception. This group of existing and future entrepreneurs didn’t know what to expect; however, just as with fellow entrepreneurs, you give them information and they promptly put it to use. 
By Week Five, one business owner reported that since taking the class she was able to create her price list and  finally set comparable prices for her products. She was finally seeing a profit! 
The very next week, another business owner reported she priced her products at their appropriate price for an event, and they sold! I got chills from the happiness and the excitement in her voice. She also mentioned that through attending the class, she had gained the confidence to make “The Ask.” A corporate buyer asked her to make a custom piece and she priced it appropriately without second guessing herself.
Another business owner stated she had taken on a new partnership because the lessons learned in the Business Entrepreneurship Academy had given her the inspiration she needed to test her ideas.  She now had the courage to take the necessary risks without being paralyzed by fear. 
During week six another business owner taught a class at the school where she learned her craft and another tested her idea by holding a seminar teaching others her craft. She made a profit, and has now changed her business model to include professional speaking and seminars.
 
The testimonies go on and on…each one is as amazing as the last. This Spring, I have had the incredible fortune of witnessing the creativity that was locked inside a group of aspiring business owners. Chattanooga and the surrounding areas will never be the same. 
The Business Entrepreneurship Academy curriculum, combined with real world business situations and LAUNCH’s holistic business support approach helps business owners push the envelope toward success. 
 
- Linda Murray Bullard
LAUNCH entrepeneur and facilitator
Owner of LSMB Business Solutions

Be sure to join us on May 17th, as this group of entrepeneurs gradautes from our Business Entrepeneurship Academy. This event is free, and you will enjoy food from Barbeque Rowe, started by graduate and entrepeneur Patrick Rowe!

We Escaped!

Being trapped together is a great team building exercise!

A couple of weeks ago we (the LAUNCH staff) took our lunch break to go do a little team building at Escape Experience Chattanooga. We’d never really done anything as a team outside of LAUNCH and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to do so.

The week prior, we had to pick which scenario we wanted to experience. We decided “The Inheritance” would be the most agreeable for everyone. Little did we know, it was apparently the hardest of the bunch...

Upon arrival we were all a little rowdy, like little kids finally getting out of the classroom and on a field trip. None of us knew what to expect. Would we solve The Inheritance? Would we panic under the time constraint? Would we end up leaving the room mad at each other?

When we learned that this scenario only had a 27% solve rate, our competitive side kicked in and we were ready to go. The staff at Escape then gave us the run down, and the setup:

Decode the mysteries of time and space in this clue like escape game. Your late uncle was working on something special that he didn’t want to fall into the wrong hands. As a contingency plan he put you in his Will. Can you find "it" before “they” do?

We were then escorted to the room, the door was locked, and the clock began ticking. We immediately started ransacking the room, searching for clues and beginning our hunt for The Inheritance.

While we can’t tell you HOW, we can tell you that we did indeed escape, with 6 minutes and 20 seconds left!

So, what did we all take away from the Escape Experience?

Hal (executive director):

“I learned that we really do work well together as a team and can accomplish much together.  I also learned that I need to brush up on my longitudinal studies!!!”

Marco (vice president of operations):

“Everyone went to work with no particular direction needed, found a team to work with, and worked well together. When they were done with that task, without anybody having to give direction, they went to the next task, or to support an existing task happening. I think that's very indicative of how we all work together.”

Gina (program director):

“I was really happy that I didn’t get fired when the Escape Experience was over.”

Kara (program assistant and grants manager):

“I learned that we’re actually a pretty good team after all. We worked together to accomplish what 73% of other teams couldn’t!”

AJ (director of business support services):

“Sometimes the answer is right in front of my face. Literally…”

Derelle (youth program assistant):

“We always work well together, and our team was able to escape with minutes to spare! The kids at LAUNCH Kinect this summer will have a blast at Escape Experience!”

Rebecca (PR and communications manager):

“No matter the task, we get it done. Also, we’re kind of loud when we’re outside of the work setting and apparently I’m really good at finding keys...that aren’t my own.”

Gabby (graphic designer):

“I learned that it's important to be aware of your surroundings and to look at things in different ways to find the answer.”

Whether you want to team build, bond or just have a lot of fun, we highly recommend The Escape Experience!

Walking with Giants

Walter came into our office to ask for some assistance. Having gone to a nearby business-counseling center to inquire about starting his business, he was handed a 20-page outline to develop a business plan and told to come back when he had filled it out. After seeking additional assistance who was just as overwhelmed by the thought of filling out a 20-page plan, he remembered LAUNCH.

A year before this event Walter was one of our Business Entrepreneurship Academy attendees. He wasn’t ready to launch his business at the time, but knew that one day he would. After meeting with Alexis (AJ) Willis, our Director of Business Support Services, and myself for an hour, having gone over the different parts of the business plan he had been given, Walter exclaimed,

“I knew I had come to the right place.”

He then proceeded to hold our hands and say a powerful prayer for us.

  Walter pitches his business Angel Wings, at the LAUNCH Startup Showdown on October 15, 2015.

 

Walter pitches his business Angel Wings, at the LAUNCH Startup Showdown on October 15, 2015.

Like many of the microbusiness entrepreneurs that we spend time with, Walter has become a friend. We have breakfast or coffee on multiple occasions. He knows he can visit or call me anytime in the week, and if a couple of weeks have passed without hearing from him, I will reach out to him. He has been plugging away working to get his business off the ground and  as is the case of many of our business owners, life gets in the way. Things don’t take off as quickly as it might if there were not many other needs that required attention.

This is one of my greatest joys of working at LAUNCH. Thanks to the support that we receive from many of our donors, we can walk with business owners for as long as it takes to get their business off the ground. Most of our entrepreneurs have to attempt to grow their dreams while working multiple jobs. They may even have to slow their idea down, since they don’t have the seed funding necessary to give the business their full attention. Sure, we would love to be rolling businesses out the door after a 10-week course or after an hour of consulting, but that is rarely the case. That’s ok though, because this presents a great opportunity to walk with our business owners and truly become a member of their team.

After the last time we met for breakfast, Walter asked me if I had time to go see his office. Following the lean model we advice, he was setting up a room in his house to be his home office. Without knowing that I felt deeply privileged to be welcomed and trusted into his life as a coach and as a friend, he asked me if I thought it was good enough.

Starting a business is hard. Starting a business as a veteran, nearing retirement, working full-time, is the stuff that heroes are made off. Being allowed to join men and women with similar stories to Walters is what makes the daily work at LAUNCH truthfully exciting. All of this is possible because just as we walk with Walter, multitudes of people out there walk with us at LAUNCH and support our work to empower underserved communities and individuals through entrepreneurship.

- Marco Perez (Vice President of Operations)
 

5 years of LAUNCH...

Let us tell you about 5 years of LAUNCH...

LAUNCH supports a very diverse group of entrepreneurs.  These microbusiness owners receive training on how to validate their business idea and turn it into reality.  While many are still in the planning stages, 53% of the 217 entrepreneurs trained have started businesses to date.  These 114 businesses are mostly start-ups, however, 6 of them existed before participating with LAUNCH and have seen their businesses strengthened as a result.  These 114 businesses have created jobs for the owner and a small number of employees.  While most of the businesses started are moving forward and growing, a small number are no longer in operation.  Businesses that start with support from LAUNCH have an 89% overall survival rate.
Learn more about our Business Entrepreneurship Academy.

 LAUNCH also works with high school students, introducing entrepreneurship and leading students through brain-storming and problem-solving exercises, allowing students to develop an idea that addresses a problem.  Students work in groups, develop a business plan and present their idea in a pitch competition before a panel of judges and a live audience.  We see students make tremendous strides throughout this process, growing in confidence, creativity, problem-solving and public speaking.

Learn more about our High School Entrepreneurship Program and our summer program LAUNCH Kinect

In 2014, LAUNCH began providing support for organizations in other cities that had a desire to start an initiative like LAUNCH. Since that time, 7 cities have started or are in the process of starting this year. They are doing great work and we are thrilled to be partnered with such fine organizations.

Thank you for partnering with us in this work! 
These accomplishments over the past 5 years would not be possible without your support.

Sometimes you just need to shut up and listen.

“So years and years ago, I had this idea, why don’t we for once, instead of arriving in a community to tell people what to do, why don’t [we] for once, listen to them...”

Who doesn't love a good Ted Talk? One of our favorites is from a few years ago and is delivered by sustainable development expert Ernesto Sirolli. 

When most well-intentioned aid workers hear of a problem they think they can fix, they go to work. This, Sirolli suggests, is naïve. In this funny and impassioned talk, he proposes that the first step is to listen to the people you're trying to help, and tap into their own entrepreneurial spirit. His advice on what works will help any entrepreneur.



Youth Entrepreneurship Competition: Recap!

Last night, thirteen groups of young entrepreneurs pitched their business plans at our 5th annual Youth Entrepreneurship Competition.

Winning the evening's top prize was 3-in-1 Toothbrush, a toothbrush for travelers and people on the go that contains the toothbrush, toothpaste and floss all in one unit, thought of by  Brainerd High School students L.E.R Company, Lexis Parks, Edwrick Bishop, and Renus Evans. The first place title has earned them $2500 in prize money, which can be used towards starting their business or college expenses.

The second place winner was DUO from Howard School students Yolanda Dunham, Tadarius Covington, Ardarius Walker, Taniala Lewis, and Lameteries Bonner, who are walking away with a prize package of $1500. DUO is an insulated water bottle that can hold two different beverages, giving the ability to carry a hot and cold beverage with you at the same time. This unique water bottle is ideal for athletes, travelers, and anyone on the go. Third place, earning $1000 in prize money were students Chanel Mobley, Kentrell Weddington, and China Moon from Brainerd High School with Buggy Bag Inc., a shopping cart for urban dwellers that is fully collapsable, is stocked with reusable bags and an insulated cooler making walking trips to and from the grocery store easy. 

The other competing businesses were:

Solar Delights
Maliyah Belue, Lakresha Fields and Destiny Childress

Hydro Life
Charles Smiley, Bryant Stanfield, JaDanus Paris, Anthony Beck, and Malik Dickens

EGG-cellent Poultry
Victoria Tumer, Keshayla White, Juwan Samuels, Christopher Hawkins, and Lovest Carter

Illumination
DaRianna King, J'nya Kyles, Joe Young, and Jayelin Wheeler

Spirit at Howard
Akia Lewis, Cobi Stepp and Quonshiunna Hobdley

Match Me A Mechanic
Kiara Toney, Cira Norman, Mario Donahue

Dish Bomb
Ja'mes Johnson, Michael Hampton, JonQuez Billups, Reality Cross

Time Lime
Natasha Bell, Noel Webb, Yolanda Cox, and Gricelda Salanic-Pop

Fleek 2 Go!
Jaela Moore, Mia Stowe, Jazmin Mason, and Monteiana Ross

Be Safe
A'Keia Colley, T'Aira Truss

The judges panel was made up of leaders from Chattanooga’s startup community; Kristina Montague, managing partner at The Jump Fund, Paul Smith, public safety coordinator for the City of Chattanooga, Andrew Kean, partner at Alderman Holdings, and Susan Freeman, owner of Susan M. Freeman Enterprise.

This event serves as the finale of our High School Entrepreneurship Program that trains students in the necessary steps to start a small business. This was the fifth year of the program, which has steadily grown since its first year and now includes five schools. Participating students hail from The Howard School, Brainerd High School, Tyner Academy, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, and The STEM School.

We aim to continue to grow this program and hope to add additional schools this fall when the new semester kicks off!

 

 

The start of something new.

The internet is full of content. This very blog is adding to that content. We are caught in an overflow of information, but is it the right information?

After stumbling across yet another article naming the “harsh realities” of being an entrepreneur, I became frustrated. Yes, being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. Why the need for these over the top titles that serve as click bait and fail to highlight the rewarding factors of owning a business?

We shouldn’t sugar coat the obstacles entrepreneurs face.  Instead of focusing on the negativity the media often provides, let’s uplift and empower. Let’s not only share the challenges they face, but give advice on how to work through them. Let’s come together, not to commiserate about the “harsh realities,” but to help find and share a solution.

This will be the goal of our blog: to spread the positive things that we should be hearing and celebrate the milestones. We want to empower not only LAUNCH entrepreneurs but all entrepreneurs.

Through this blog, you’ll be hearing from different members of the LAUNCH team, our partners, and LAUNCH entrepreneurs themselves.

It seems appropriate in this first blog post, to share a few words from LAUNCH entrepreneur Nancy Green. She graduated from our Business Entrepreneurship Academy last fall and spoke at graduation.

Hello, my name is Nancy - and I’m a serial entrepreneur. It seems that as far back as I can remember, I’ve had a little bit of hustle. I imagine that the majority of the people in this room can probably say the same thing. As a teen, my daddy wouldn’t let me take on a regular job - he said that I’d have to work the rest of my life and that my only job at the moment was to do well in school. Somehow, that didn’t stop me from making and selling friendship bracelets for a quarter, babysitting for a dollar an hour or eagerly awaiting my brother’s departure for college so I could scoop up the opportunity to earn 5 bucks mowing the grass for my parents and grandmother. Later, as a stay at home mom and wife of a teacher, I had a baking business called Sweet Stuff, making goodies for the 250 Baylor School boarders on campus. I would tuck my kids into bed and head into the dorms at night to tutor math. I mastered the art of bartering my skills with other moms so that we could all get things we needed without money ever changing hands. It was a way to get things for my children that I could not have afforded otherwise.
 
 As I was filling out the exit questionnaire last night, one of the questions really struck me. It actually took me several minutes to answer it…it was something along the lines of, “How satisfied are you with your current situation in life?” My first thought was, “Good LORD! Should I answer based on my love life, my children, my job, my financial situation? There is NOT enough room to answer this question!” But I hesitated, because I actually wasn’t sure how to answer. I didn’t want to be disrespectful of the blessings that God has given me. I have a job, healthy children, and a roof over my head. In my mind, ANY day you wake up is a good day! But at the same time, do I want MORE for myself? And the answer is YES - YES I DO.
 
It made me realize that I may have a little problem with mindset. I really felt guilty for wanting   more. But what is it that I’m really wanting more of? I have to say that the best part of our class, besides just getting to know new people, was actually seeing the hearts of people in our group. Each of you came to the table with an idea born out of love for other people - a desire to meet the needs of others, to give back, to reach others on a level that you might not be able to do without this business undertaking. In the end, I don’t think any of us are chasing money - we’re chasing a desire to make a mark, to stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zone, and to accomplish something we know we are capable of.
 
We are chasing a dream. Think back to when you were a kid and what you thought you’d be doing when you grew up. When I was younger, I was going to be the next Barbara Mandrel, then I was going to be a lawyer, and when I joined the military, I was going to be a CIA agent. Wife? Mother? Are you kidding me? But things don’t always turn out like we think they will, do they? I never imagined that at 46, I’d be navigating life alone after 24 years of marriage. I never imagined that after being a stay-at-home-mom for over a decade and working just a few years, that the economy would bust and what little I did have in my retirement fund would disappear. Many of your lives revolve around the needs of your family, not your own. If you are no longer taking care of your children, you are probably taking care of your parents. We get so busy and so overwhelmed that we forget to dream. I know I did.
 
So in the end, mindset is the key. This is not the end, it’s just the beginning of what will be your new business…I have to say that before the class, I did feel a little trapped in my life. No matter how smart I was or how hard I worked, as a teacher, there was a glass ceiling when it came to my earning power. Being able to turn all the jumbled thoughts in my head into a more cohesive idea has made all the difference in how I see my potential as a leader and my potential earning power. I know I didn’t feel the same two months ago. I am so grateful for this program, for those around the table who shared their dreams with me, and for those of you who worked with us, for making me feel BRAVE, more CONFIDENT, and EMPOWERED. Thank you.

Nancy really inspired all of us at LAUNCH that evening. It is our hope, that through this blog, we inspire you, no matter who you are or what your circumstances may be.

Sincerely,

Rebecca

LAUNCH PR and Communications Manager