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Think INC: INCubator Graduate, Shelly Cove

This month, Shelly Cove joins companies like Hoff & Pepper and Branch Technology who have graduated from the Chattanooga Chamber’s INCubator program.

Shelly Cove is a Chattanooga-based clothing brand with a mission for rescuing and rehabilitating sea turtles. A minimum of 10% net profits are donated to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, with more than $250,000 donated to date.

Matt Schroeder, CEO, grew the company from his parents’ garage, through the Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC) and to their own fulfillment center. 

Trend: You started Shelly Cove in your parents’ garage. What did they think when you started your own business?

Schroeder: I’ve had [their] support since the beginning. When I moved Shelly Cove to Chattanooga and the INCubator, my parents were still there. They rented an apartment right across the street and would come over to help a lot. Eventually they said, “Okay. We’ll let you go and do your own thing.” They were totally supportive of me doing this full-time.

Trend: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are curious about bringing their business to the INCubator?

Schroeder: There are a lot of resources at the INCubator. There are businesses that you can utilize and partner with or the TSBDC.

The TSBDC found us a grant that we’re applying for now, aimed at moving our operations and hiring new employees. It’s stuff like that that’s helpful. [The INCubator] can get you connected with a good lawyer or a good graphic designer. They can find local people they’ve already used or personally know.

Image courtesy of Shelly Cove

Trend: Is there anyone in the INCubator you admire or have learned from?

Schroeder: I would say Hoff & Pepper. When we moved in, we were comparable in size. They very quickly landed an Ace Hardware deal along with a bunch of others and blew up very quickly. It only takes one moment like that – one good cold direct message, one connection – to get your foot in the door and change your life. That was inspiring for me – not only that they did it, but also how they handled it and how they were able to actually support that growth.

The biggest thing for business owners is putting themselves in the right position to get lucky. If you throw enough hail mary passes, you’ll eventually catch one. Eventually someone will say yes.

When we first started growing, after I was able to quit my full-time job at TVA and do this full-time, one of the first things we did was make a list of mid-size chains. We knew we couldn’t get into a place like Target or Kohl’s or something like that, but we just made a list of mid-size chains and just cold direct messaged them. There were a lot of ‘No’ and ‘We’ll get back to you’ but eventually someone was like ‘send us some samples’ and five days later we got a call that they wanted to carry Shelly Cove. We were put in a chain of 37 stores (Von Maur) and an hour later we got a call from another chain of 60 stores, 100 doors just like that. It doubled our business in one phone call. It’s luck but at the same time it’s just odds.

Trend: What did you think when you first started seeing Shelly Cove merchandise being worn around Chattanooga?

Schroeder: I saw someone wearing one of our shirts in a doughnut shop in Hamilton Place and I did stop her and say something. I also get pictures from my friends of random strangers in public and it’s like “check it out it’s somebody wearing a shirt.” It’s definitely a weird feeling, but it’s cool. It came out of where we’re standing right now. I hope to see more one day, out in the wild.

Trend: What is something you wish more people knew about Shelly Cove?

Schroeder: The entire team here truly cares so much about every element of the business, from connecting with the customer to the mission that we have to the quality of our work. We have more meetings where we’ll discuss a new product like a hoodie or shirt and we’ll say, “No, this isn’t good enough for them.”

We’re a group of 20-somethings who just really care and really enjoy what we do and that’s creating and providing good services to our clients and customers across the board.

Shelly Cove is just one example of the great success stories coming out of the INCubator. Whether you need the support of our three-year incubation program or just need a space to work alongside other startups for a few days, the INCubator is here for you.

Visit our website or contact Bill Lupia, Director of Small Business and Entrepreneurship to learn more.


Think INC is a series of success stories from INCubator companies past and present. Chattanooga’s INCubator — the largest business incubator in the state of Tennessee and the third largest in the United States, with 127,000 square feet of space for entrepreneurs — is located in the Hamilton County Business Development Center (BDC) in Downtown Chattanooga, TN.

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