by Mitra Malek

Originally published by the Chattanooga Times Free Press

Not even two years old, CO.STARTERS is expanding overseas.

Five New Zealand municipalities are licensing the business development program, said Enoch Elwell, who founded CO.STARTERS under Chattanooga nonprofit organization CO.LAB.

“We’ve had an incredible response for CO.STARTERS across New Zealand,” Elwell, 28, said. “We are looking forward to sharing the Chattanooga way … which has gotten the attention of an entire country because of our collaborative support for emerging businesses.”

Representatives from New Zealand learned about CO.STARTERS last October, when a delegation from the country visited Chattanooga to learn about EPB’s fiber-optic network and gigabit-per-second Internet service. Chorus, New Zealand’s largest telecommunications provider, organized the trip ahead of offering similar service in February to the city of Dunedin. The New Zealand city won Gigatown, a competition that Chorus created to spark community development that showcases how gigabit infrastructure and ultra-fast broadband can be activated for social good. Dunedin also got CO.STARTERS as part of its prize.

But other cities, including the finalists, decided to bring on the program too: Gisborne, Nelson, Porirua and Wanaka.

“Pretty much everything I’ve seen I can implement back home,” said Josh Jenkins, a representative from Dunedin, in October, regarding the many strategies he discovered on the visit, including CO.STARTERS.

Nelson “is very excited to bring on the program,” said Matt Peacey, a representative in the city. Nelson is hoping that the program will be “the starting point for a startup community … and equip people with the practical skills needed to act upon their business and enterprise ideas,” Peacey wrote in an email. “We love the flexibility CO.STARTERS affords and the community involvement.”

Indeed, CO.STARTERS won’t happen without community underpinning. Representatives from the program train local representatives, who then administer the curriculum. Elwell and two other Chattanooga staff members, Will Joseph and Rebekah Marr, head to New Zealand in June to set up the program.

“We are very much looking forward to Enoch’s visit and are very excited by this opportunity,” Peacey wrote.

A sixth city and also a Gigatown finalist, Timaru, won’t be ready to adopt the program this summer, Elwell said. Sam Callander, CO.STARTERS’ contact for the program in Timaru, said in an email that he couldn’t comment.

CO.STARTERS has grown to more than two dozen locations across the United States, and a rural version launched early this year. The program reports having helped launch 1,068 active businesses and create 2,752 jobs. It estimates its economic impact at $165 million.

It has a $5,000 annual licensing fee per location, and one location can have as many cohorts during the course of a year as it wants. Also, other organizations can run the program under the same license for $3,500 each.

“We want organizations to collaborate,” Elwell said. “We try to make an incentive to save money by doing it all under the same license.”