NORTHWEST TN— In mid-September, the Northwest TN Entrepreneur Center (NTEC) launched a small business building program called CO.STARTERS in Martin, Union City, and Dyersburg. Although CO.STARTERS has only just reached its halfway point, the hopeful entrepreneurs in the program have already learned valuable insights and made vital decisions for the success of their business ideas.

Every week, the 25 CO.STARTERS enrollees come together to share a meal and discuss the progress they made toward their business goals. Included in each meeting’s programming are speaking sessions by successful business owners or field specialists willing to share stories of their experiences. The remainder of each class is dedicated to engaging with the curriculum material and working together to complete hands-on activities.

To begin the course, the participants learned to evaluate themselves and determine which strengths, weaknesses, and other influential aspects of their lives can play a role in launching their businesses. The following week found the entrepreneurs discovering the ins and outs of marketing their business's message. Together, they discussed ways of identifying and growing a customer base by relating consumer problems their businesses can solve.

Since then, the course has covered such topics of starting small with their business, how to distribute goods and services to the customer, legal considerations such as business structure and protecting intellectual property.

Participating in the Martin class, the Weakley County Press’s Lynette Wagster said, “This is a course that ALL small businesses need to participate in, no matter how long they have been in business. Networking with these new, excited entrepreneurs can stimulate and rekindle the original passion of starting your own business and serve as a reminder of what is truly important.”

A major asset of the program has been the group of quality speakers making appearances each week. The list of speakers across the three locations has included Lisa Laderman of Sammies, successful entrepreneur and businessman David Reed, UT Martin marketing professor Kevin Hammond, 5 Seasons Men’s Shop owner Barry Keathley, John Warner of Union City’s Warner Law Firm, Chris Donaldson of Tencom Services in Dyersburg, attorney Judy Barker, Shanna Ferguson of Wee Britches Consignment in Union City, Dyersburg/Dyer County Membership Director Hannah Caylor, Megan Brock of Security Bank, and Center Point Business solutions co-owner Al Oliver.

The participants in CO.STARTERS represent a wide range of experiences, endeavors, and ages. Across Northwest Tennessee, those enrolled in the course range from college students researching their innovative ideas to established, successful entrepreneurs looking to expand their businesses and everything in between. Such a wide variety of backgrounds has helped to generate meaningful, invaluable discussions and a host of positive praise throughout the course.

“The CO.STARTERS program has been beneficial for me by enhancing my knowledge of the struggles and successes of starting one’s own small business or one trying to expand or revamp its image. As Membership Director of the Obion County Chamber of Commerce, it has allowed me to apply principles and ideas that can hopefully be put in to action to help as I visit each of our existing chamber members,” said Katie Keathley of the Union City class.

Dee Keeling, an entrepreneur in the Dyersburg group, said, “CO.STARTERS is helping me look at the whole picture of starting a business by looking at all the steps and ideas and coming up with the best business that would benefit the community and compliment my talents.”

The CO.STARTERS courses in Martin, Union City, and Dyersburg will conclude mid-November with a formal “Pitch Night,” giving the course members a real opportunity to present the business ideas they explored during the program.

The Northwest TN Entrepreneur Center is located at 206 White Street in Martin, TN. This project is funded under an agreement with Launch Tennessee and the State of Tennessee.