IF YOU GO
What: Marketplace Revolution, a national conference to discuss how business can be used to alleviate poverty in cities across the U.S.
Where: Stratton Hall, 3146 Broad Street
When: Today, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Business can transform communities.
That's what leaders from local and national business incubators emphasized Thursday as about 30 Chattanoogans graduated from a 10-week business course offered by Launch, a local incubator that aims to connect underserved people to the resources they need to start businesses in the Scenic City.
"The connection between the absence of work and the disintegration of our communities is a direct connection," said Joel Hamernick, the keynote speaker from Sunshine Enterprises, an incubator in Chicago. "Entrepreneurs in our community do work that leads to self-sustaining and long-term effects."
Hamernick is in town for both the graduation and a national conference sponsored by Partners Worldwide, an international group that focuses on using business to alleviate poverty. About 70 people from 10 cities across the U.S. are meeting today to figure out how to encourage small business and entrepreneurship in their hometowns.
"It's missing in the equation," said Rudy Carrasco, U.S. regional facilitator at Partners Worldwide. "There's all these ways to help the poor worldwide -- foreign aid, handouts -- but a lot of it is not effective. But we know that what has worked in the U.S. is business."
The budding entrepreneurs who graduated Thursday had businesses ranging from restaurants to retail to landscaping. Each spent three hours a week learning the nitty-gritty of launching a business: finances, legal structure, overhead, taxes.
This is the second-ever class to graduate from Launch's Business Entrepreneurship Academy. The program is offered twice a year at three local locations: the Bethlehem Center, the Glass House Collective and the Northside Neighborhood House.
Graduate Susan Freeman said the class was exactly what she needed. She started Susan M. Freeman Enterprise in 2011 to sell insurance after her position at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee was abruptly cut.
For Freeman, the 10-week training helped her figure out exactly what she needed to do to break even and earn a profit.
"Being an independent owner, you have to prioritize," she said. "I was like, I can set my own hours -- and I wasn't focusing. Then it was time for the money to come in and I was like, 'Where is the money?'"
"So I had to get that straightened out," she said. "Time management is so important."
Through the Launch program, Freeman took a close look at her fixed and variable costs and realized she needs to sell at least five insurance policies a week to be solvent. Her goal is to sell 10 a week.
"When I jumped into this, I didn't have a strategy, I didn't have a plan, I did it to live," she said. "But going through the Launch class taught me the importance of setting goals and the structure of my business entity."
Now that she and the other graduates have finished the training, they'll spend the next year working with Launch staff to fine tune their businesses.
"This is a beginning point," Launch co-founder Hal Bowling said, adding that the incubator focuses on micro-businesses with five or fewer employees. "We're not focused on the next big idea. We're focused on providing support to these businesses in East Chattanooga."
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at email@example.com or 423-757-6525.