Enoch Elwell's entrepreneurial streak started in elementary school with homemade Popsicle sales. As the story goes, he and his brother did such a bang-up job of making ice pops from juice, using paper cups and sticks to hold the treats' form, that they put the ice-cream truck out of business.
Considering that cultivating community and counting on it to keep startups strong is dear to Elwell's heart, it's ironic that he put his competitor out of business. His many Chattanooga-area pursuits have counted on community, Co.Starters and The Treehouse Project, among them. Community, Elwell says, is "something that I think we have lost in our culture and I think that's something that we're all kind of dying for and really, really hungry for."
It's not the potential for high growth or financial windfall that Elwell finds most compelling about startups, but the birth of ideas and linking of people. "My biggest love is helping the creative small businesses," Elwell, 28, says.
Co.Starters, which launched in Chattanooga and has spread across the nation, helps communities take ownership for getting local entrepreneurs to grow ideas into businesses (or not, in some cases, which could be just as helpful). Elwell founded the program in 2014 as an arm of Co.Lab, which he and Chattanooga entrepreneur Sheldon Grizzle launched about five years ago. Elwell, along with Grizzle, developed events for Co.Lab such as "Will This Float," which has helped companies such as Granola get noticed and take off.
Co.Starters has grown to more than two dozen locations across the country, and a rural version launched early this year. The nonprofit program reports having helped launch 1,068 active businesses and create 2,752 jobs. It estimates its economic impact at $165 million.
Elwell, one of eight children, was home schooled, a flexible arrangement that allowed him to get involved with startup-type pursuits. First came the ice-pop sales. In middle school, he made guitars. During high school, he helped develop and install automated control systems for the corrugated board industry, traveling around the country to retrofit machines in factories.
"All growing up I was doing entrepreneurial stuff, but just didn't know it," he says. After high school he made his way to Covenant College, from which he graduated in 2010 with a major in business.
This year, the Young Professionals Association of Chattanooga honored Elwell with the Corporate Innovator award. He has stayed busy not just with Co.Starters — which in April picked up its first international location, New Zealand — but with his own startup, The Treehouse Project, which raised funds through Kickstarter. The vacation treehouses are being built at the foot of Lookout Mountain.
Continuing the thread of community, Elwell and his Treehouse business partner Andrew Alms, said several investors were interested in their venture, but the duo opted for crowd-funding instead. They also have invited anyone who's interested to help them build aspects of what they hope will be the world's first treehouses to be certified as "living buildings" through the International Living Building Future Institute.
"I want that to be a way to bring people together and learn some cool skills," says Elwell, who built treehouses in his younger days. "We've gotten away from being creative and actually making things with our hands."
This story appears in June issue of Edge magazine, which may be read online atwww.meetsforbusiness.com