By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
“I’ve worked with entrepreneurs all of my short life,” Enoch Ewell of Chattanooga’s CO.LAB says.
The New Jersey native started his entrepreneurial journey while still in high school and came to Covenant College with a goal of being the best guitar maker in the world. Ewell says that he knew most guitar makers did not have a business background, so he selected Covenant, not only for its business program, but also for its liberal arts and Christian focus.
While he was still in college, Ewell connected with Sheldon Grizzle who was involved at the time with Create Here and the launch of a program called “SpringBoard.” The opportunity to be a key player in the recent entrepreneurial transformation in Chattanooga has at least temporarily shelved his plans to be a guitar maker.
“There’s a need here for people who are starting a business to get basic help,” Ewell says in describing “SpringBoard.” The program has a local focus, helping people who want to create foundational businesses to serve the community. The typical clients might include “artists who fall in love with the community” and individuals who want to open their own non-chain restaurants that give a community its unique character.
“How can we make a strong community through a long-time shift in the core of the community,” Ewell asks. His answer is a multi-faceted or holistic program, focused strategically on building a sustainable community, like the one that CO.LAB offers.
In addition to “SpringBoard” that serves lifestyle entrepreneurs, there’s also the “Accelerator” that resulted from the realization that “a new breed of entrepreneur (was) showing-up, focused on high-growth opportunities and needing a different set of services.” This was the catalyst that led to the creation of CO.LAB.
Today, CO.LAB serves as one of the state’s regional accelerator and also operates the nationally-recognized “GigTank” program.
For Ewell, however, “SpringBoard” is “foundational to everything we do at CO.LAB.”
“We take lean concepts for high-growth start-ups and apply them to small businesses,” he explains.
The latest iteration of “SpringBoard” was launched in mid-March in two separate test locations – CO.LAB and an underserved urban area. It takes the best of the original “SpringBoard” – structured interactions and collaborative learning through sharing individual experiences – and overlays it with a recognition that one approach does not serve every demographic. Rural communities are different from inner-city areas and entrepreneurial clusters within a community.
“Our entire focus is building a community,” Ewell says. “We have created an easily implementable model that can be used by others to change their communities.”
CO.LAB will continue to run four or five cohorts each year, but “SpringBoard” is being rolled-out to partners who will run it in nearby communities like Sequatchie County as well as faraway locations like Detroit.
“It’s all about drawing people out, building people up, and connecting them,” Ewell says. “We want to create a fertile ground for ideas and entrepreneurship.”
Ewell talked about the importance of focusing on the why before the how.
“Running a business is operational, but starting a business is about trying all sorts of things,” he says. It’s clear that Ewell’s and his colleagues at CO.LAB practice what they preach.