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August 30, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Participants in Sky City’s CO.STARTERS program share their experiences

One of the participants founded In the Kitchen with Momma Mel as a YouTube channel two years ago and now has more than 110,000 subscribers.

Shannon Bryant, Community Manager for the Sky City Entrepreneur Center in Maryville, arranged for us to talk recently with several participants in its CO.STARTERS program. Their reasons varied, but all characterized their experience as very beneficial.

In the case of Melonie Effler, who had never owned a business, she said “it was such a good opportunity” to think through what sorts of professional help she needed with legal, financial, and marketing. “I’m a one-woman show.”

Effler founded In the Kitchen with Momma Mel as a YouTube channel two years ago and has more than 110,000 subscribers. About three months ago, that number was a little more than 95,000.

She said her idea was to focus on working mothers with children who stopped at the grocery store on their way home to get ingredients for a quick, easy meal. Instead, the typical subscriber is a person 55 years of age or older, and Effler frequently focuses on meals that she actually prepared for her family.

“I try to incorporate healthy options” in the show with the episodes that go live every Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern time, she said.

As far as the CO.STARTERS experience, Effler added that “Having a sounding board from a business aspect was so, so good.”

At the other end of the start-up continuum is Bryan Baker whose company Five Raccoons Forge provides custom blacksmithing services. His motivation was enhanced after he was laid off by his former employer and what had been a part-time gig suddenly became his primary source of income.

“I jumped in with both feet,” he said. “I knew I could do the sales part, but I needed help with all of the business processes. I had been doing blacksmithing for six years as a hobby.”

Baker explained that the programming during CO.STARTERS helped him focus on the right things. “I know now what is important.”

Looking to the future, he told us that one of the challenges is scarce equipment. For example, the anvil that Baker uses is 60 years old, and he was in the midst of buying 100-year-old tools for his production work. He also needs to find the right space to further grow his business which is limited by the size of his current shop.

Five Raccoons Forge has 16 products listed on its website.

We also met with Kyle Perkins, an alum of the inaugural CO.STARTERS cohort. He’s the Founder of RoseWood Virtual Tours, a start-up that is based at Sky City and offers virtual tours for needs ranging from businesses wanting more exposure to individuals seeking a unique way to sell a home.

Perkins said that the program was so beneficial to him that he is now a mentor in training. “It’s not just giving back, it’s just giving,” he explains, noting how excited he was to see the progress that Effler and Baker were making.

He describes the virtual tours that his company has done as a “digital interactive clone where you can do everything but feel, touch or taste it.” A project Perkins did for Ancient Lore Village recorded 100,000 views in its first three months, and one of his latest undertakings was a virtual tour of the City-County Building in Knoxville.

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