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CO.STARTERS hopes to bring about a “small business revolution”

CO.STARTERS, a course once designed to help local entrepreneurs in Chattanooga, has expanded to 20 different locations around the US.

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What began as a course to help local entrepreneurs with business ideas has turned into a curriculum gaining ground in other cities to bring about a “small business revolution” and encourage startup companies.

CO.STARTERS, a revamped version of The Company Lab’s Springboard Program, is now offered in 20 different locations across the U.S. through 16 different organizations.

So far, the program has 1,350 graduates and has helped start 1,068 active businesses.

"Many of the organizations offering the program are now running it themselves after they were taught the curriculum, E"noch Elwell, program director for The Company Lab, said. “They completely own the process now and are doing it on their own,” he said. “They’re a great example of self-sufficient groups. But the great thing is, they are all still in the network of program graduates and can reach out to support and have the support of each other.”

After the success of Springboard, Elwell said The Company Lab learned that a program such as CO.STARTERS did not really exist for the everyday entrepreneur. And, even in instances where similar programs did exist, he said the programs seemed to focus more on the growth of the business rather than investing in the people who had the idea.

“It really just means taking all of this information and stuff and cutting out all of the MBA-speak,” he said. “Nobody has taken these processes to these local businesses, to the places on Main Street…There are a lot of people that have the business ideas but are horrible on the business side, but they have the vision and the passion.”

Paul Castronova, a graduate of the program in Chattanooga, said he first took the course to see if his business idea, an e-book focusing on learning a foreign language, was viable.

Although he initially planned to grow his company, Warm Bath Books, he learned that with market competition and other factors, it was best to keep it on a small scale.

“The CO.STARTERS Program helped me gain the confidence I needed to finally venture out on my own,” Castronova said. “We have an outstanding startup community in Chattanooga, and I am excited to be a part of it.”

Although Castronova chose not to develop Warm Bath Books further, he said he is now focusing on several other potential business ventures and feels better-equipped to do so.

“We’re doing this because we want to help,” Elwell said. “We see so many communities who come to us with a big need, and a lot of stuff out there is not accessible to the everyday entrepreneur. There’s a large gap there that is dying to be filled. We’d love to put out a call to all communities who want help; we’d love to help them. We’re ready to start supporting as many as we can around the country and bring about a small business revolution.”

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