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A new website corrals Chattanooga's wide variety of business startup resources in one place, offering a single point of entry for entrepreneurs seeking support, said Alexis Willis, director of small business and entrepreneurship at the INCubator.

"We needed one place to send entrepreneurs where they can find the resources they need wherever they are in their life cycle," Willis said.

The site, launched with funding from the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act, was largely a response to growing demand for access to resources as more people look to create their own professional path, she said.

In Hamilton County, 2,447 business filings were made with the Tennessee Secretary of State through the first 10 months of 2020, up 13.2% from the same period a year ago. Statewide, business filings for all of Tennessee in the first 10 months of 2020 rose 17.5% from 2019 to 46,563, according to filings with the Tennessee Secretary of State.

Starting Block

StartingBlockChattanooga.com acts as a gateway to the variety of startup resources available for entrepreneurs in the Chattanooga area. It offers guidance and connections for business owners at every stage of business development, including a Startup Guide, a Growth Guide and a FUnding Guide.

(Read more: Might as well: Entrepreneurs across the country are going for it, anticipating better days ahead.)

Would-be entrepreneurs who have an idea on the back of a napkin have very different needs from business owners looking for funding for an early-stage business that's up and running, and StartingBlockChattanooga.com connects them with those resources across that spectrum, Willis said.

"Any resource they pull up, whether it's SCORE or Proof, there is a name and a contact they can call, which I think is the best," Willis said. "It's not like just going to a website and downloading a pdf."

The INCubator in the Hamilton County Business Development Center will have ownership of the site as it gets up and running, Willis added.

"We did have a conversation with the other resource partners about where it should live and decided on the INCubator," she said. "We've been in the ecosystem over three decades — we're the grandma of the ecosystem."

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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Alexis Willis, director of small business and entrepreneurship at the INCubator.

Over the past three decades, 620 businesses have already graduated from Hamilton County's incubator and 42 businesses now operating in the incubator currently employ 177 workers.

"The Business Development Center remains a source of great pride for us as we continue to nurse businesses as they can be successful to go to main street," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said.

As it evolves, the site's development will be supported by community partners, said Charles Wood, vice president of economic development for the Chamber.

"We're grateful to our sponsors and funders, local partners, who will help us keep the site going with the marketing and the ongoing maintenance this type of website requires," he said.

Chattanooga's entrepreneurial scene has grown rapidly over the last decade as high-speed internet raised the community's profile, expanding collaborative efforts such as LampPost Group, CreateHere and CO.LAB nurtured diverse businesses, and successful startups including Bellhop, FreightWaves and Branch Technology attracted attention.

(Read more: Three Chattanooga small businesses score grants totaling $20,000 during virtual competition.)

"Chattanooga is dedicated to helping small businesses thrive in our community," said Lynn Talbot, vice chair of entrepreneurship for the Chamber, in a release announcing the new website. "Giving entrepreneurs access to free or low-cost business resources makes it easier for small businesses to put down roots in our city."

One benefit of the site will be offering an online home base for business owners from outside the city who might want to relocate, Willis said.

"I'm excited about the fact that it taps into that entrepreneur who we've seen quite often, folks who come here to visit and they want to stay and start a business," she said. "This is a resource for them, too."

Contact Mary Fortune at mfortune@timesfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.

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