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Success Stories from TheCO in Jackson, TN

Coworking & makerspace empower entrepreneurship

By Kayla Walden on July 31, 2018

Jackson, TN
Jackson / Steve Jones

Defining itself as the front door for entrepreneurs in West Tennessee, theCO has seen a great deal of success since it launched in July 2014. theCO provides a place and environment for co-working, makerspace, events, social interaction and incubator-type assistance, bringing together like-minded people who are itching to bring their creative ideas to life. 

“We help people develop their ideas for new businesses, provide them with resources and support, and surround them with other folks who can help them grow,†says co-founder and chief technology officer William Donnell.

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In addition to providing a physical space where entrepreneurs can gather and learn from one another, theCO offers a nine-week boot camp for its members called CO.STARTERS. Aspiring entrepreneurs meet together once a week for three hours in a collaborative environment to learn practical tools for growing their ideas into a profitable and sustainable business.

“At the end of the nine weeks, one of two things will happen,†says Donnell. “People will either have a plan for how to grow their business, or they will realize they have a hobby, not a business.”

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Stix N’ Smoke Cigars

The organization is only five years old, yet it has already seen tremendous success in co-working spaces, maker programs and the CO.STARTERS boot camp. One camp graduate is Will Lovelady, who in July 2018 opened Stix N’ Smoke Cigars – Jackson’s first cigar lounge. 

“I learned a lot about running my own business through the CO.STARTERS program,” Lovelady says. “Aspects like identifying my customers, insurance, legal structures – all components of what to consider when starting a business.”

Stix N’ Smoke Cigars is a mobile trailer lounge that Lovelady brings to customers who want to relax, smoke a cigar and enjoy good conversation. 

“The lounge is 7 feet by 16 feet and equipped with leather seats, LED lighting, climate control and a 70-inch humidor holding about 2,000 cigars, and you can bring your own alcoholic beverages,” he says. “I bring the lounge to festivals, fairs, tailgate parties, golf outings, corporate gatherings, weddings and family functions and can be found on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.”

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Jackson Escape Rooms

Lee Wilson is also a CO.STARTERS program grad, and today he is founder/owner of Jackson Escape Rooms. More than 50,000 people have visited Jackson Escape Rooms since his business opened in March 2015.

“Escape Rooms are like stepping into a mystery movie set, with six to 15 people solving puzzles and riddles to escape that room in 60 minutes or less,” Wilson says. “When I first opened, I didn’t know how many people would be interested but had 700 customers the first week. I learned a lot through CO.STARTERS, really honing my business with advice from accountants, marketers, planners and lawyers who speak at the sessions.”


Also finding success following his involvement with CO.STARTERS is John Bentley, owner of ProbityTec. Bentley began working on an idea for his tech-based company in October 2017, then enrolled in the program and went full-time with ProbityTech in June 2018.

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“I learned how to price, how to sell my services, how to put together my product catalog, and how to market,” Bentley says. “Today I am a managed service provider, providing IT services and making sure the IT infrastructure at my customers’ businesses is where it needs to be.”

Jackson, TN Enjoying a Strong and Diverse Economy

To date, Bentley says all his IT jobs have come from referrals, and once he really gets into the marketing aspect for his business, all his IT customers will originate from within the Jackson area and about a 70-mile radius.

“I am pleased to say that only months into launching ProbityTec, I already have enough customers to keep me very busy right now,” he says. “Jackson is a growing region, with more and more businesses dependent on having a strong, managed IT infrastructure. That’s what ProbityTec is all about, with probity being a synonym for integrity.”

Onwards and Upwards

theCO plans to continue providing quality resources to entrepreneurs in the community, as well as offering opportunities for the public to learn and grow alongside them through several free events.

Jackson, TN Program Offers Businesses, Community Opportunities

“We believe we’re better together,†says Donnell. “There’s something wonderful about surrounding yourself with other people who want to build and grow something new. It’s valuable to the people here, and it adds value to the greater community of Jackson because it brings new businesses and ideas to the city. Everyone here is going to benefit from this, even if they don’t [yet] know theCO.”

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