We talked to Enoch Elwell of CO.STARTERS on launching proven programs to help entrepreneurs start, economies grow, and small businesses succeed and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Enoch Elwell: Thanks for asking! We are doing well. I usually am on the road a lot, so being home with my wife and three children has been a welcome change of pace.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined CO.STARTERS?
Enoch Elwell: I started out wanting to be the best guitar maker in the world. After training under an accomplished luthier and getting a business degree, I realized that small artisan business owners’ challenges are not very well addressed by traditional business resources, and many successful creatives struggle significantly in necessary business skills. That led me to begin my life’s work of building up a better community of support for nontraditional entrepreneurs everywhere. I started my Chattanooga, TN, through a nonprofit called The Company Lab (colab. co). We developed programs, events, and support networks to help entrepreneurs, artists, artisans, makers, and starters to high growth tech startup founders. As our work became recognized nationally and internationally, I saw the opportunity to package our small business support programming and expand the model globally to help starters of all kinds pursue their dreams more effectively.
We are currently supporting hundreds of emerging startup communities through the CO.STARTERS platform (co-starters. co), helping local ecosystem builders worldwide take the first steps in accelerating thousands of creative starters’ success annually. Together, these nontraditional small business owners are growing a thriving collaborative, entrepreneurial support culture in their communities. Through our CO.STARTERS Core program’s success, I’ve been able to play a vital role in accelerating the convergence of economic development and community development beyond the CO.STARTERS Community. This includes providing strategic support to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in establishing the field of “Ecosystem Building” through the ESHIP Summit Community, as a founding board member of the Startup Champions Network, and as one of the founders of the Rural Rise national network of the leading rural entrepreneurship support organizations. Driven by a passion for helping others, my goal is to establish communities where business owners work together to help each other flourish as individuals. Through their companies, they build up the people and communities they are a part of so that everyone thrives.
How does CO.STARTERS innovate?
Enoch Elwell: Our most significant innovations have been tied to reconnecting with what makes us flourish as people. We create programs that are focused on individual well-being and success, in the context of a strong support community, and keeping everything as simple as possible from there. By avoiding the distraction of “innovation” for innovation’s sake, we’ve skipped the bells and whistles and created significant experiences for people that have transformed their lives for good. Practically, this means staying closely connected to our customers and adapting our supports as needed to meet the needs they have as things evolve.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Enoch Elwell: CO.STARTERS exists to equip business owners and communities to thrive through entrepreneurship. Our primary success has been helping overwhelmed business founders who feel stuck through our peer support programs, resulting in significant increases in business sustainability, resiliency, and profitability. So when the Covid shutdown took place, it put so many small business owners in a state of panic, we were perfectly positioned to help. As soon as the shutdown was announced, we rapidly deployed a set of recovery resources to help business owners and community support organizations efficiently access information and support needed to pivot, adapt, and sustain through the pandemic. We are proud to have supported over 4000 business owners and community leaders to maintain and grow their operations through the pandemic. While we are glad to be in a position to help so many entrepreneurs in their hour of need, it has been a difficult time for us as our primary source of revenue has significantly dropped off with the nonprofit organizations we serve cutting back on spending with the uncertainty around their future funding.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Enoch Elwell: Right out of the gates, we asked ourselves how we, as an organization, could make the most significant difference in helping small businesses survive the pandemic. It became clear to us that we needed to launch a series of recovery specific support programs and make them as widely available as possible. This was difficult for us because it meant a huge investment in developing and launching a new set of products in just a few weeks, as well as temporarily giving up revenue-generating activities to offer free access to our support resources for thousands of business owners around the world. While the impact we were able to see was worth it, with countless businesses and jobs saved, we did learn that we could have significantly reduced our product development investment by offering more live facilitated micro-content to discover what was most needed before we entirely produced a more polished package of support.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and CO.STARTERS in the future?
Enoch Elwell: For me, I need to remember that my best is all I can give, and that is enough. I am not responsible for single-handedly saving the world, and I need to be satisfied at the end of each day that I have given my best effort and that I can sleep knowing that the rest is not up to me. While that’s a nice thing to say, it’s hard to live genuinely, and I believe it is more of a spiritual journey than just a matter of discipline.
For the future of CO.STARTERS, we are adjusting our model not to be solely reliant on grant-funded nonprofits to prevent future interruptions in revenue when that sector is immobilized.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Enoch Elwell: With the national spotlight on the plight of small businesses across the country, many organizations are claiming to be “experts” in small business recovery and economic revitalization, so there are a lot of resources being sold as solutions to the problem that we solve. However, we’ve been doing this work long enough to know that it is hard to get right and requires a very nuanced approach to get the results desired. So we will continue with a more outstanding commitment to what we know works–deeply relational community efforts that build up trust through facilitated peer support programs, helping local business owners and community leaders build up strong businesses and a thriving community together.
Your final thoughts?
Enoch Elwell: We are still providing free resources to help communities recover through Covid. If you want to help small businesses in your community, please share and use these resources at costarters.co/roadtorecovery