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August 29, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Sky City Entrepreneur Center grows fast in its first four years

There's co-working space and programming focused on helping small business owners succeed.

In yesterday’s edition of teknovation.biz, we spotlighted the Sky City Entrepreneur Center and its inaugural “Liftoff Pitch Competition” which will offer five start-ups the chance to compete for up to $200,000 in investment. Today and tomorrow, we take a more in-depth look at the Center, its evolution, and programming.

It was not quite four years ago when what is now known as the Sky City Entrepreneur Center opened in Downtown Maryville.

That was late October 2019, roughly six months before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted so many things and caused the co-working facility to close for about a year before reopening in March 2021. Now, more than two years later, the organization has a full-time Community Manager and a robust mix of programming as well as co-workers.

“I’m the outward-facing voice for this organization,” says Shannon Bryant who became Sky City’s sole full-time employee several months after the facility reopened. She has a background in the newspaper business – from Reporter to General Manager at the Shopper News over an 11-year period – and also served as a Marketing Content Writer for one company and Marketing Manager for another business.

“It’s very personal here,” Bryant says of the members of the Sky City community, characterizing it as like a family business. “Their livelihood depends on the success of their businesses.”

She describes those who have a private office or dedicated desks in the Sky City space as a mix of entrepreneurs and remote workers. “They are better working for themselves; they are not 9 to 5ers,” she says. In addition, Bryant explains that those who call Sky City home are not all of the entrepreneurs the Center serves.

Sky City has four private offices for which Bryant says there is always a waiting list. There are seven dedicated desks for multi-month occupants and three others who hold a monthly pass. Add to that those who drop in for a day or two – four on an average day, and you have a diverse mix.

Programming runs the gamut – from special offerings like the inaugural “Launchpad Pitch Event”  held in mid-February to the CO.STARTERS program that many area entrepreneur centers host, periodic “Lunch and Learns,” and monthly Women in Entrepreneurship meetups and Side Hustle Happy Hours.

Lil Cub Den, a facility in Maryville that offers a place for pre-K kids to play and their parents to be around other adults, captured the judges’ nod during the February pitch competition, besting four other Blount County-based start-ups. The win came with a $2,500 check, courtesy of Aptus DesignWorks.

In describing the CO.STARTERS program, Bryant noted that “we experience a lot of folks who start with a hobby, then decide to make the hobby their business.” The normal format is 10 sessions over a three-month period. There’s also a CO.STARTERS Bootcamp that Sky City offered recently. It is an abbreviated version that runs on a weekend requiring about six hours each day.

Thirty-six entrepreneurs participated in the three 10-session CO.STARTERS programs although not everyone launched a company and not all of those that did are still in business.

The bulk of Sky City’s core funding comes from an agreement with the Blount County Industrial Development Board.

Bryant says that Sky City is actively working to diversify our funding sources. Those interested in sponsoring the program should contact her at shannon@skycityinitiative.com.

NEXT: Several participants in the latest CO.STARTERS full program share their experiences and plans.


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