By Tom Ballard

Originally published by

“We’re focused on using business processes and individuals to build communities,” CO.STARTERS Enoch Elwell told us when we caught-up with him recently.

The program’s Founder, who launched the initiative as part of his role as a Co-Founder of Chattanooga’s CO.LAB, recently spun-out the nine-week CO.STARTERS approach into a separate entity named Get Started.

“We were building-out the model under the CO.LAB legal structure,” Elwell said. “The growth was such that it made sense to separate the entities to let each succeed.”

CO.LAB has launched its “GIGTANK 365” initiative which is now a year-round undertaking, while Elwell plans to explore programming opportunities that are complementary to CO.STARTERS. As part of the spinout, Mike Bradshaw, CO.LAB Executive Director, says his organization will continue to offer the program in Chattanooga.

“CO.STARTERS is a pillar of CO.LAB’s service to our 10-county region,” Bradshaw explains. “This transaction allows CO.LAB to focus on our local mission while Get Started takes over the rest of the world. CO.LAB retains the exclusive right to provide this amazing program to our service area, while the transaction with Get Started provided a substantial financial contribution to CO.LAB’s operating budget.”

The success of the program that Elwell and Sheldon Grizzle undertook as part of an initiative named Create Here is something that continues to drive the engaging and committed Elwell nearly eight years later. With the spinout, he thinks there are even more opportunities.

“I was eager to see communities everywhere get resources that have been so successful in Chattanooga,” Elwell said.

CO.STARTERS was officially launched in late 2013 and has grown to more than 70 locations, mostly in the U.S. along the Michigan to Florida corridor. There are, however, licensees in California, Colorado, and Massachusetts in addition to a growing number in New Zealand as we reported in this 2015 article.

“We are continuing to develop our partnership with Chorus, New Zealand’s national broadband provider, to build-out our network of locations” Elwell explained. “We also have a lot of incoming interest from U.S. communities and other countries.”

Like any good entrepreneur, Elwell continues to both validate and refine his business model.

“We used to talk about helping businesses launch and grow, but the real value is community building,” he says. “We developed our processes with the belief that investing in individuals and supporting community growth would accelerate economic growth. Our hypothesis has been proven.”

Elwell describes CO.STARTERS as a licensing franchise model that feels more like a membership club for participating communities.

“We’re shifting from a curriculum that works to helping a community of ecosystems grow,” he explains, adding, “It’s a cultural movement. Our goal is to get to where the CO.STARTERS community sustains itself, and we’re just supporting in the background.”

Those who know Elwell, as we have enjoyed realizing over the past four years, appreciate his strong sense of community and the empowerment and success of all of its citizens. CO.STARTERS offers him that level of satisfaction on multiple fronts.

“It’s a way to make community growth sustainable,” he says of the program. “I get to do the fun stuff. I get to keep helping communities.”