We’ve probably all heard the stats about how hard it is to start a business – 20% fail in the first year and by the end of the fifth year it’s a staggering 50%.
So it would make sense to talk to someone who has worked hard, made mistakes, and can now share their journey so others don’t have a bumpy, regrettable journey.
This is where the Sky City Entrepreneur Center offers to step in and help. The Maryville center just launched the CO.STARTERS program here, a 10-week instruction that can help potential business owners develop a business plan that’s right for them. This is the first such offering of the program which is now international and started right here in Tennessee, in Chattanooga.
That first class, said Sky City community manager Shannon Bryant, has 12 members, ranging in age from young adult to retired. A few people work in restaurants, she said, while others plan to enter the leisure sector. We want to have a craft business; yet another has an eye on executive coaching.
Some are still in the 9-to-5 grind and want to come out to decide their own shots.
“This is a 10-week course that takes potential business owners or those changing something fundamental in their current business through the process of developing a business model,” Bryant said. “It starts with basic questions like Who are you as a person? What product or service do you offer? Does anyone want this thing? How much are you going to charge it? »
The sessions will then dive deeper into the “complex and scary math” of how long it will take to be profitable and what to do in the meantime to keep the lights on, Bryant said.
Make it affordable
Because Sky City was able to secure funding through a Good Neighbors grant from State Farm, the cost to attendees was significantly reduced, Bryant explained. Agents Miriam Keller, Hunter Jones and Lindsey Plyler attended the first CO.STARTERS course.
“As entrepreneurs, we are very happy that our company can help support this program which helps local businesses,” said Plyler. “Without State Farm, we wouldn’t be where we are, so it’s nice to see State Farm helping out other potential business owners in our community.”
Jeremy LaDuke and Marcus Blair, both entrepreneurs, are the facilitators of this very first 10-week session. LaDuke, who is chairman of Sky City’s board of directors, told Epic Nine Marketing. Blair founded and owns Omega Digital Solutions. Additionally, there will be at least eight local small business owners who will speak to the 12 CO.STARTERS attendees about their individual experiences.
Three mentors will also work hand in hand with future business leaders.
Blair comes from a corporate background and holds degrees in electrical engineering and accounting. He worked in corporate finance for a few years and said he lost a job as a data programmer due to COVID. He now runs his own business.
Although he said his dive into entrepreneurship might look a little different from others, there’s this basic floor plan that everyone must have.
Basic business acumen
“A lot of what you offer at the start will be wrong,” he said. “You just need a baseline of how all the parts move together. With CO.STARTERS, they’ll know where all the gears are, so when you turn the knob, you know what’s going on here. It’s more important than a business plan.
LaDuke said there’s no reason for a potential business owner to repeat the mistakes of others. Local guest speakers can help newcomers with a better path.
“They learned the hard way,” LaDuke said. “There’s not necessarily value in learning the hard way. The goal is to learn. »
The pandemic has caused many people to re-examine their priorities, including careers, LaDuke and the others said. People are now more mobile and some can work from home. What they are looking for now is a good opportunity.
Blair warns potential business owners not to jump in prematurely, though. Talking to potential customers is part of knowing if an idea will fly.
Get honest opinions
“Anyone can start a business with a few hundred dollars and the mandatory Facebook page,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Someone around you has to say maybe you should think about this and not just be a cheerleader. They will cheer you straight off a cliff.
Participants in this program will have mandatory homework. They will be asked to speak to potential customers to get honest feedback. Bryant said that in some cases an idea may just need a different approach or support.
This first class of CO.STARTERS has already started and is complete; another will be offered by Sky City in the fall. Graduates will have access to the CO.STARTERS network which allows them to stay in touch with each other.
At the graduation ceremony on May 4, these newly graduated CO.STARTERS will be able to compete for a mini pitch of prize ideas.
Another Sky City person who was instrumental in bringing CO.STARTERS here is board member Suzy Booker, who is the chair of Sky City’s education committee. Board member Lane Shuler helped Sky City get started, along with LaDuke and former president Rachel Buchanan.
“I’m thrilled to see this program offered in Blount County,” Booker said. “It’s an incredible opportunity for entrepreneurs to get started on solid foundations with an integrated support network.”
Descend from the ground floor
Sky City’s mission is to provide support to small businesses in this community and also to help start new ones. The center offers co-working spaces that include internet access, kitchen, conference room, etc.
LaDuke said it’s about giving people the tools they need to be successful.
“If we can get these people to start businesses and they’re still going there a year from now because of the things they’ve learned here, that equity and money isn’t wasted.”
Bryant added that it was about local people trying out new ideas in hopes of improving their lives. Sky City knows how important it is to get it right.
“Behind each of these businesses is a family,” she said. “There’s a group of people that this directly benefits and if it doesn’t work out it’s a big, big problem for that family. When we grow local produce, the whole community succeeds. It gives back to the vibrant flavor of who we are as a community.