LAUNCH graduates fall business class

November 27, 2013 | TimesFreePress | Meghan Pittman

As the next crop of potential small-business owners graduated from LAUNCH’s intensive business-building program last week, program co-founder Hal Bowling said it’s a good time to get into the business world. The nearly 30 Chattanoogans who graduated last week will hopefully go on to create viable businesses and impact the community, he said. Every small business counts. “You know, it’s a small start, but the impact of one small business is just huge,” said Bowling. “Our city, state and nation are really reinventing themselves in light of this economy … and people are looking for more jobs.”

LAUNCH started in 2011 as an outreach program to provide resources and help for underserved people who want to start their own businesses. Since then more than 130 have graduated from LAUNCH’s 10-week program, 45 businesses have been born and 74 jobs have been created.

After participants complete the course, LAUNCH works with businesses for two years and provides peer support groups through business round-table discussions.

Bowling said when LAUNCH was started, he felt there was a need to support these potential business owners in the wake of the economy. And in the years past, he’s seen the need grow — as more people who have been laid off or having trouble finding jobs have turned to starting their own devices for income. “These graduates all have a plan and a desire to start a business, and a need to do something for themselves,” he said.

As for the successful businesses that have come out of LAUNCH, Bowling said he is happy to see the community make an effort to support small and local businesses. Most of the business plans LAUNCH sees are micro businesses, focusing on less than five employees.

“That’s definitely a positive sign [of the economy],” he said. “It’s a sign of a city not waiting for a job to come along, but to make a job on their own.” Similarly, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce’s INCubator just celebrated 25 years of business creation. The building that offers low rent to selected startups has seen 499 businesses come through its doors, with 73 currently inhabiting spaces at the facility. Companies who occupy space at the center normally stay three to four years, and it’s estimated that 90 percent of the businesses that come through INCubator are still operating three to five years later. The Tennessee Small Business Development Center, which has offices in the INCubator, provides business counseling services, available to INCubator entrepreneurs, free of charge.

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