Despite the widespread economic disruption the pandemic launched, forcing thousands of small businesses to shut their doors, American entrepreneurship has skyrocketed. Americans are starting new businesses at the fastest rate in more than a decade, per the Wall Street Journal, and we're seeing that play out locally too, especially in our Hamilton County INCubator.
According to a Business Formation Statistics Report published on Oct. 14, the South has scored the highest total uptick in business applications, with a total of 737,622 applications by Q3. Chattanooga's INCubator, the third largest business incubator in the U.S. and the largest in the state of Tennessee, is at 81% occupancy, and has attracted 13 new startups to their program since March.
The pace of new launches comes amid a wave of layoffs and business closures, leaving large voids for new entrances. In the first week of Q4, new business applications were up 38.9% year-over-year nationally according to the Census Bureau, and for many of those new companies, the key to growth was finding a space designed to get them off the ground.
A Growing INCubator
Chattanooga's INCubator dedicates 127,000 square feet of startup support on Chattanooga's NorthShore. Through their resources, clients gain access to shared administrative services, manufacturing and office space, training workshops, use of a state-of-the-art Technology Conference Center and access to free onsite business counseling from the Tennessee Small Business Development Center. As many entrepreneurs dipped a proverbial toe into the uncharted waters of starting a new business, especially during a pandemic, the INCubator provided them the support they needed to launch.
Among those businesses is Ecophene LLC, a startup dedicated to climate change reversal. Ecophene manufactures industrial- grade graphene from atmospheric carbon dioxide for integration into consumer products, at a cheaper price than conventional fiberglass.
As business slowed during COVID, the Ecophene team needed a space to regroup, organize and plan next steps for when the economy fully reopens, and the INCubator provided the resources to do that.
"We have heard great things about the INCubator and Chattanooga as a small-business-friendly area, as well as tech-friendly, which works in our favor," says Stephanie Soto, Ecophene COO. "We know that so many successful businesses start at the INCubator and we're excited to grow with them."
Hoop Junky, a custom hula hoop company, lost a previous space without much notice at the beginning of the pandemic, when the landlord had to sell the building. Affordable rent drew Hoop Junky to the
INCubator, coupled with an ideal location in downtown Chattanooga, as well as the business development assistance at a time when breaking even will be crucial.
"As a small business owner and entrepreneur without a lot of experience or extra money to spend, the INCubator was especially appealing because of the potential assistance and opportunities," says Jaime Hayes, owner of Hoop Junky. "Also the location and the rent were extra bonuses."
In joining the INCubator, Datably, Inc., a company that builds custom software integrations to automate workflows, became part of a community of entrepreneurs and mentors. Within days of moving in, the team had already begun making connections with others in the building. As a new business, the space is essential in growing Datably's network.
"We are excited to see what's to come and to see more meetups, and new ways of communicating with business owners here so that we can continue to grow our network," says Taylor Hall, President and CEO of Datably.
The August Sisters, a sister team (both born in August of course) selling fun accessories and offering product/portrait services, were in need of studio space, and found that the INCubator had all of the resources they needed to boost their business, including coaching. Sarah-Anne and Hannah Waggoner are a dynamic duo, with their vibrant fashion sense, creativity in making handmade goods and photography chops.
Once The August Sisters moved in, they dove into the INCubator's vast pool of resources, from bookkeeping and Facebook marketing classes to networking with their neighbors.
"We now have a creative space to design our best work," the August Sisters say. "The community at the INCubator is incredible. We have met so many amazing people so far and we know there are so many more to meet. We love all the resources and business help. It's what made us decide to move in."
Crisis creates opportunities for people and businesses to become more innovative. With their daily routines already disrupted, many are stepping out and embracing their creativity. Entrepreneurs and businesses are drawn to the INCubator for the safety net provided in order to grow, space to spread out and plan and the opportunities to network and have access to resources.
"The INCubator offers flexibility and physical space for our business to grow," says Greg Compton, co-founder of Chatt365, a local media company. "The community of other business owners adds another layer of accountability that is missing when working from home. We are looking forward to taking advantage of (and providing) programs when things 'get back to normal.'"
"I learned that a good business can be started even during hard times like wars, pandemics, recessions," says Dr. Herman Odens, founder of Aquasurge Technologies, LLC, a local production company of dishwashing detergents. "People still need products to survive. We just have to try to get those products out there."
Goldfinch of the Year
On October 22, the INCubator celebrated Chattanooga’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at the Seventh Annual Chattanooga Startup Awards.
The INCubator Goldfinch of the Year award celebrates INCubator clients who have excelled in their industry and implemented innovative designs and strategies for growth, all by embodying the entrepreneurial spirit. This year, the Goldfinch Award went to The Bitter Bottle, a cocktail solutions company bringing quality herbal products, sustainable practices and inspiring education to the hospitality industry.
Like many of us at the beginning of 2020, Kaleena Goldsworthy, founder of The Bitter Bottle, spent the start of the year strategizing for an event-packed spring and summer.
The Bitter Bottle grew quickly due to Goldsworthy’s strong restaurant and bar network both locally and in New York City. When the pandemic hit in March, Goldsworthy grew concerned as she watched local bars and restaurants close. Her signature cocktail events and wholesale market came to a screeching halt.
Like all small businesses navigating this new, complicated climate, Goldsworthy needed to quickly shift and adjust her business strategy to stay afloat and sustain her income. She focused her efforts digitally, growing her social media presence and brainstorming how to reach consumers virtually. In the meantime, she also worked with The Chattery to host virtual cocktail classes.
Currently, Goldsworthy sells customized Bitter Bottle cocktail kits for her Chattery classes and private events like virtual birthday parties and happy hours. Despite supply chain shortages, she found 1-oz. bottles for her bitters and other non-alcoholic ingredients for the cocktail kits. Goldsworthy has been working with INCubator alum Gabrielle Blades, of Blades Creative, to create a memorable experience for her cocktail class participants.