CO.STARTERS is one of the most important programs that we offer at The Company Lab (CO.LAB). The 9-week program provides participants with the framework they need to build out and grow their business. Leading the program for the past 2 years, I have seen some amazing companies get their start. Participants use CO.STARTERS to gain the confidence and knowledge they need to build out their businesses. Some program graduates have used what they learned to open up local store fronts while others have used the knowledge to help them prepare to participate in accelerator programs that would allow them to scale their company to the next level. 

No matter the business or idea, the one thing that it always comes down to is how much CO.STARTERS participants and alumni are willing to help each other. That theme is not just present in the Chattanooga area, but exists in every organization that uses the CO.STARTERS curriculum in over 70 cities. Organizations that value the CO.STARTERS program are not just looking for more than the way it helps people start a business. CO.STARTERS helps organizations build a healthy community of entrepreneurs who want to help each other thrive and be successful. Those communities don’t keep to themselves either, but are willing to share their knowledge and ideas with others so that they can be successful as well. 

This brings me to one of my favorite examples of CO.STARTERS communities working together to help people. I remember having an alumnus come to me after she went through the program last year. It turned out that she has a friend who was interested in participating in the program after hearing about the experience she had. There was just a slight problem, or so they thought. Her friend lives in Australia, and the participant came to me to ask if there was a way for her friend to participate in one of our cohorts via skype or another online medium, or at the very least be sent a copy of the book. Neither situation was ideal due to how CO.STARTERS was designed, but I remembered hearing that there were CO.STARTERS communities located in New Zealand and Australia. I was able to work with the CO.STARTERS organization to locate the nearest community to her friend, which ended up being 2 hours away from where the person lived. I passed the contact information onto the alumnus so she could give it to her friend, and her friend ended up being able to go through the program.

The above is a situation that I can see happening between any CO.STARTERS member organization, and it is not just limited to helping people get connected to places for them to participate in a cohort. This same network can be used to help Alumni from different parts of the globe connect with each other so they can network and share ideas amongst the larger group, and possibly even make new business connections in the process. That is the power of the CO.STARTERS network, and how it can help people on the local level. Speaking of the network working on a local level, here are some inspirational stories I heard about in regards to other organizations leveraging their CO.STARTERS network.

• Teenpreneurship: Y.E.S. in Dade County Florida is using the CO.STARTERS curriculum to help spur economic development in Dade City, Florida. Sammy Ortiz, who founded the organization is using the various products offered by CO.STARTERS to help local youth learn entrepreneurship skills via the CO.STARTERS Generator program, which is a 24-hour curriculum designed to help school age students develop potential business ideas. Sammy also provides other life skills training such as the growth mindset, coding classes, and after school tutoring to help teenagers in his program succeed as well. 

• Birmingham, Alabama is the home to Create Birmingham who has been using the CO.STARTERS curriculum for years. They realized that the biggest issue a lot of their graduates were having is access to capital. They ended up leveraging their network to create microlending programs based on conversations with their CO.STARTERS Alumni. The programs are known as the Advisor Fund, Marketplace Fund, and the Revolving Loan Program. The Advisor and Marketplace Funds were established with the help of a local foundation in Birmingham. The funds offer grants in amounts ranging from $500 to $1000. Money from the Advisor Fund is meant to be used towards the creation of the business as well as any lawyer and accounting fees that may arise from it. The Marketplace Fund exists to help cover expenses related to marketing, booth rentals, pop-up events, or retail spaces. The Revolving Loan Program was developed in partnership with two other organizations in the city. Participants in the Revolving Loan Program are able to apply for loans of up to $7,500. 

• Wheeling Heritage, located in Wheeling, West Virginia, has a similar story to Chattanooga. They have several mature industries where growth has slowed significantly in the past few decades. The city created Wheeling Heritage with the goal of spurring economic growth, revitalize the downtown area, and helping local entrepreneurs. They joined the CO.STARTERS network because they felt that the program was what they needed to help grow their entrepreneurial ecosystem. Their activities have indirectly spurred the creation of over 2,000 new jobs in the past four years. 

These are just a few of the inspirational stories I have heard from other CO.STARTERS communities. I can’t even begin to imagine what other member organizations are doing, but I do know that they are doing work similar to The Company Lab in regards to helping entrepreneurs get connected to the people, resources, and training they need in order to grow their business into the successful organization they hope for it to be. I personally can’t wait to see what other new ideas come through our local program, and also look forward to learning new ways to leverage the CO.STARTERS network to help other people gain the confidence to grow their business.


About the Author

Zac Beker is a Programs Administrator at The Company Lab, CO.LAB, in Chattanooga, TN. Zac manages CO.LAB’s CO.STARTERS program and community, which celebrated its 1000th participant in 2019.