Hamilton County INCubator Builds Business, Launches Leaders

Lizzie Hickman

Passion for better, more sustainable or more transparent products and processes inspire hard-working Chattanoogans to embrace entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs are scrappy, using every resource and spare minute to propel their business forward.

These visionaries, found everywhere from coffee shops to home offices, bolster our innovative ecosystem. But what’s next when local startups outgrow those spaces? For many of them, it’s a move to the INCubator in the Hamilton County Business Development Center.

If you’re a regular Chattanooga Trend reader, you’ve heard about the stellar companies housed in the INCubator to take advantage of the program’s enriching services and partnerships.

Since the 1980s the INCubator has been home to about 600 startups and currently houses 49 businesses in industries ranging from environmental consulting and graphic design to hot sauce and candle manufacturing.

The INCubator’s three to four-year program helps entrepreneurs stabilize their businesses in an environment where they can increase their visibility and connectivity. Located on Chattanooga’s North Shore, companies housed in the INCubator enjoy convenient access to target markets and business resources.

Below market rent makes the INCubator perfect for startups and small businesses in growth mode.

Leases are one-year terms renewable for up to four years. Office suites start at $11 per square foot, manufacturing suites start at $6 per square foot and small offices start at $250 per month. All manufacturing and office space rent includes utilities. Complimentary conference and meeting rooms makes it easy to meet with potential clients.

Your company is a great fit for the INCubator if it’s an early stage business with:

  • Potential to create local jobs
  • Potential to produce significant revenue in four to six years
  • Intent to remain in Hamilton County
  • Willingness to participate in INCubator program development courses and quarterly meetings

You’ll also need:

  • Executive summary and/or business plan
  • For-profit business plan with three years of financial projections
  • Four to six months of working capital
  • Complete application for a service or manufacturing space
  • Five-minute pitch to present to Entrance Committee

“The INCubator is a gold mine. Our program is over 30 years old and we graduated our 600th client in November,” says Alexis Willis, INCubator Director of Entrepreneurship and Small Businesses. “We’re reframing the narrative of the INCubator to put people first and be less of a real estate play. We’re more than space; we’re 127,000 square feet of startup community.”

The INCubator partners with local programs and businesses to enrich clients housed in the space. The Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC) offers INCubator clients 101 programming, weekly events and workshops, mostly free. They’re located inside the Hamilton County Business Development Center alongside the INCubator, making access to their forward-looking services easy for INCubator clients.

Launch Chattanooga, also located in the Business Development Center, empowers underserved entrepreneurs by removing barriers to success. After the 2008 recession, Launch formed around the need for equal access to entrepreneurial resources. Launch has supported 261 businesses creating 331 jobs.

Recent collaboration with retail developer CBL Properties led to unique opportunities for INCubator clients to sell products inside Hamilton Place and Northgate Mall. INCubator client Shelly Cove hosted a pop-up shop at Hamilton Place during Black Friday week.

Partnerships like these enrich INCubator clients’ knowledge base and networking opportunities through exposure to local business leaders and industry experts. An upcoming addition to the INCubator’s people-first philosophy is programming for INCubator clients led by INCubator clients. Beginning this month, additional entrepreneurship programming will be available to Chattanooga’s business community.

“The INCubator is a collective community of local startups consistently connecting and learning from one another,” says Victoria Baltz, Resource Coordinator at the INCubator. “We’re growing our impact with new programming and look forward to introducing more people to our multi-use building on the North Shore.”

Public programming topics include:

  • Vision Boarding with April Corbett, Enercon Services, Jan. 8
  • Facts Not Feelings with Val Armstrong, American Water, Feb. 5
  • Small Business Finance with Tim Kelly, March 4

“Open to all, our public programming will introduce strong, stable business leaders into our entrepreneurial ecosystem and encourage new connections with our clients and other local startups,” Baltz says.

Growing a business takes a village, or at least that’s what the INCubator team believes. That’s why they’re passionate about connecting clients with resources for each challenge of building a business legacy.

The INCubator’s below market rate rent, coupled with local partnerships and programming, make it a spectacular place to house businesses as they grow.

Local Venture Legal 

Local Venture Legal, PLLC (LVL) is a boutique business law practice and social enterprise with a mission to support and promote local business growth, creating a more inclusive and sustainable local economy for the greater Chattanooga area.

Founded by local attorney Whitney Standefer-Smith last year, LVL serves its mission by offering a reduced billable rate starting at $50 per hour for small businesses, grossing less than $100,000 annually to serve startups in their first two years. Businesses outside those parameters pay market rate.

For each service, 10% of fees support local environmental nonprofits to protect local ecosystems.

As a transactional law practice, LVL focuses on the foundations businesses are built on and ensures businesses and the families who own them are shielded from legal liability.

Practice areas include:

  • Business structuring
  • Municipal, state and federal law compliance
  • Contracts
  • Asset sales
  • Commercial leases
  • Succession planning
  • Taxation
  • Trademark and copyright
  • General counsel

“An office in the INCubator was a no brainer for me as a business lawyer. I’m surrounded by local startups and small businesses,” says Whitney Standefer, LVL Founder and attorney. “People stop in and ask me questions all the time.”

Standefer is a seventh generation Chattanoogan and a 2019 Chatter Magazine and Chattanooga Times Free Press Chattanooga 20 under 40 award recipient. She previously practiced with Merrill Lynch specializing in business law and ESG investment models. Standefer practiced with Legal Aid of East Tennessee’s We Mean Business program before launching LVL.

Right Hook Creative

Right Hook Creative provides Southeastern small businesses with tools to tell their stories through creative production including commercial, portrait and editorial photography.

Other services include:

  • Consulting
  • Creative production
  • Campaign management and execution
  • Founders Raffe and Christina moved to Chattanooga from Los Angeles and New York City, awed by Chattanooga’s entrepreneurial spirit during Startup Week and Make a Mark. They started Right Hook Creative to help small business owners connect with their customers through engaging photography and marketing support. Located in INCubator suite 329, they’re ready to tell your story.

Moonbeam Printing

Chattanoogans love stickers. Have you seen the cars sporting Rock Creek logos, water bottles that encourage you to “See Rock City” or laptops sporting local business logos?

Stickers and printing aren’t only for the well-hydrated and craft coffee lovers. Local businesses print more than we realize. Whether it’s a sticker or a banner for an upcoming event, it’s important to have a printing company your business can trust.

Moonbeam Printing has over 30 years of experience. The family business is currently housed in the INCubator in the Hamilton County Business Development Center, printing everything from banners to keg wraps.

“I think the world is full of good people and when I run into those people it makes me want to be a better person myself,” says Moonbeam CEO Wayne Taylor. “In Chattanooga, I’ve always run into good businesses … Almost all of the businesses we’ve talked to in the area have adopted some kind of mission or charity. They get the pay it forward concept. Chattanooga businesses are the example we intend to follow.

For more on the INCubator in the Hamilton County Business Development Center, visit Questions or want to get involved? Contact Victoria.

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