Walking the halls of Chattanooga’s INCubator – the third largest business incubator in the U.S. –delights the senses. Across 127,000 square feet of startup space, you’d feel the hum of machinery from manufacturing suites and hear a chorus of clicking keyboards from the offices of app developers. Then, on the second floor, you’d be met with a different sort of sensation, perhaps unexpected: the sweet smell of moonshine cakes.
Sweet Success at a Bitter Time
Such was the scene in 2011, when Tennessee Moonshine Gourmet Products set up shop in the INCubator to perfect their gourmet recipes using their key ingredient: genuine Tennessee moonshine. After losing their jobs during the 2008 recession, owner Ann Dickerson and her husband Bill Zack bounced around looking for new work. When nothing stuck, they decided to go their own route – despite having no previous entrepreneurial experience. They began as a cookie company, selling custom cookies with team logos at sporting events. After licensing issues and revenue challenges sent them back to the drawing board, they finally hit the sweet spot with their flagship product, the moonshine cake – a Southern twist on a rum cake – and eventually a whole product line of moonshine-infused jams, honeys, hot sauce and barbecue sauces. With their growing inventory they also grew in size, initially occupying a 1,054-square-foot suite and expanding to a total 2,617 square feet by the time they left the INCubator in 2018.
An Expert in Baking and Business
These days, the same nimbleness that allowed Ann to make the leap into gourmet food during the last recession is what’s keeping Tennessee Moonshine Gourmet successful during the coronavirus pandemic, having made several quick pivots in 2020: ending their lease at their retail location, shifting marketing efforts to social media and focusing on the upcoming holiday season instead of state fairs this fall. The company’s time in the INCubator also helped Ann develop her business smarts – she made a point to attend every class on offer, and bounce ideas off other business owners she passed in the hallways – so much so that now, she’s sharing that knowledge with others as a Small Business Specialist at Cleveland State Community College’s Tennessee Small Business Development Center, and on her way to an MBA.
Trust the Test Kitchen
If you’re thinking about starting a business amid a global economic crisis, you don’t necessarily have to file that away under “pipe dream” – Tennessee Moonshine Gourmet is living proof. Ann’s advice? If you have an idea, run with it, and leverage programs like those at the INCubator that help you determine if it can be made a reality. And if it needs work, it’s only a question of finding that key ingredient.
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.