Mission: Empowering underserved communities and individuals through entrepreneurship
Governance: The nonprofit agency is governed by an 11-member board
Staff: Hal Bowling heads a 13-person staff
Find out more: On the web at launchchattanooga.org/launchunited.
As a consultant, Hal Bowling saw up close and personal how the work environment for an average employee changed drastically during and after the Great Recession a decade ago reshaped the economy.
Employees don't tend to stick around the same company for 30 years or more now, thanks in part to corporate downsizing. Now, opening a small business isn't out of the realm of possibility.
"There has been a big shift," says Bowling, executive director of LAUNCH Chattanooga. "It used to be really risky to start a business, and now I think it's one of the safest things you can do because the corporate world has changed so much."
Bowling started the nonprofit LAUNCH Chattanooga in 2011 to help give local entrepreneurs the tools they need to start their own businesses. After all, nearly 90 percent of the businesses in the United States consist of 20 employees or less, according to the the U.S. Small Business Administration.
LAUNCH mostly focuses on reaching minority entrepreneurs and students in Title 1 schools who would most likely not receive the tools or training from somewhere else. According to LAUNCH, African Americans in Chattanooga own only about 10 percent of businesses, and women own less than 15 percent. More than 70 percent of small businesses are owned by white males.
Bowling said LAUNCH is trying to make those numbers more balanced. Ninety percent of the 207 businesses started by LAUNCH participants are still operating. Out of those businesses, 74 percent are minority owned and 64 percent are women-owned businesses.
The goal is to not necessarily to make everyone who participates in the 10-week training sessions a small business owner. Instead, it's to help nurture an entrepreneurial mindset in participants.
"There are a lot of people in our community who don't have a business background or have family in business," Bowling says. "I think we are coming to a point in our culture that when you don't know how to start something, or if you've never experienced it, then you are at a disadvantage."
LAUNCH graduate Angie Adams was one participant who didn't know where to start when she wanted to take her love of cooking and make it into something more profitable.
Born in the Philippines, Adams moved to the United States when she was 8 years old. Now, at 42, she is bringing Filipino food to the Chattanooga community with pop-up dinners and a food truck, and she is now renovating her very own cafe in Brainerd that she plans to open this Spring.
Adams, who was a stay-at-home mom before, named her new venture the "Calamansi Café" after a citrus fruit native to the Philippines.
"I didn't really know a lot about the restaurant businesses," she says. "But I knew that I loved to share, I knew that I loved to cook, and I wanted to bring people together with food."
While ethnic food is becoming more popular, Adams said people usually aren't as familiar with Filipino cuisine. Calamansi Café's pop-up dinners include four-course meals with items such as Filipino-style crepes with butter lettuce and filled with sautéed chicken and vegetables. As entrees, diners try saffron rice with chicken, sausage, shrimp and mussels slow cooked in a tomato and chicken broth, or they could try marinated and grilled pork served with garlic-fried rice.
For dessert, coconut custard and mini calamansi shortbread cookies are on the menu.
Adams said she learned to cook with whatever was around growing up in the Southeast Asian country. She said opening a restaurant was something she always wanted to do, and something her friends and family members always suggested as a possibility.
"It came to a point where I decided that if I'm going to do this then I'm really going to commit to it and do this right," Adams says, standing in the middle of her new café that used to be an old garden shop. "That's why I went to LAUNCH."
Adams describes herself as a creative type — getting her hands on anything she can, like sculpting, painting and, of course, cooking. She said LAUNCH helped her focus her goals, and she continues to take its classes to keep herself "grounded."
"I didn't realize how welcoming and helpful and how open Chattanooga really is if you want to open up a business," Adams says. "It has been incredibly amazing. I am just in awe."
This year, LAUNCH is aiming to get more of the community involved with its entrepreneurs, like Adams. As a nonprofit, monetary donations are important, but it's not the only way a community can support the agency or its entrepreneurs, said Rebecca Feldbin who works part time for the nonprofit and helps with marketing.
Supporters of the agency can decide whether or not they want to do a monthly or yearly donation, commit to buying local or attend LAUNCH events to support their mission.
"To us, the best way you can support LAUNCH is to become a patron and use these businesses," she says.