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theCO Drives Innovation in Jackson, TN

Resource center fosters entrepreneurship

By Brett Smith on December 14, 2017

Jackson, TN
Jackson / Steve Jones

Innovation helps to build a community, but it also takes a community to drive innovation.

That paradox becomes apparent when you learn the story behind theCO – a co-working and maker space in Jackson.

Opened in 2014, theCO offers workshops on everything from screen printing to writing code, in addition to facilities for fledgling businesses. Members at theCO can also take a nine-week course called CO.Starters that helps them take their vision from conception to business reality.

Founding member William Donnell says theCO started because five budding entrepreneurs wanted to invigorate the startup culture in Jackson and become a resource they didn’t have when they were first starting out.

“So we met together and talked for about a year over tacos and starting forming this idea which eventually became theCO,†Donnell says.

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Cultivating Collaboration

Co-working and maker spaces like theCO provide resources that startups need to thrive, and they also provide a professional setting for these fledging companies to conduct business. At theCO, entrepreneurs can meet with potential clients or give presentations. Otherwise, these companies might be pitching ideas at their kitchen tables or the nearest coffee shop – settings that might not inspire a lot of confidence in would-be business partners.

CO.Starters, the training program, is a great way for entrepreneurs to learn business skills they may not already have but need to succeed. Navigating thorny issues like setting prices and marketing can be tricky, and CO.Starters is meant to address issues that may not be top-of-mind for those designing software or prototypes.

With technology and resources being two big reasons for joining theCO, the organization’s biggest asset appears to be the community of like-minded individuals that serves as a resource for ideas, business consulting and even a bit of group therapy.

Kevin Adelsberger directly credits theCO’s community and connections as a big boost for his company, Adelsberger Marketing.

“It could be very lonely being an entrepreneur or freelancer as you are getting started, and this gave me a network of people that had dealt with the same things I had dealt with,†he says. “They had been through the ‘trough of sorrow’ as Seth Godin refers to it.  They have dealt with that and come through the other side, they have made mistakes and can teach me about those things.”

Referrals coming from theCO have been such a key part of my success,†Adelsberger adds. 

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Added Job Growth

In addition to providing support for entrepreneurs in West Tennessee, theCO is also looking to increase tech talent that can be found in West Tennessee and throughout the country through a coding program for high school students, Dev Catalyst.

The program uses a web platform to teach popular languages like HTML, CSS, PHP and JavaScript. Students’ short-term goals might be learning how to build a website, create a web application or learn maker technology.

“We are growing a group of developers here locally that we know our (startup) ecosystem wants and needs,†Donnell says. “There are so many jobs that are going to be available in the coming years.  There is already a gap in the number of programming jobs that are needed and the number of people that are qualified for these jobs. The thing I always say is that we want West Tennessee to be the Gonzaga of computer programming.”

That spirit of giving back filters down from theCO’s founders to its members. Adelsberger says he regularly goes to bat for the organization and preaches its virtues.

“I have gone to conferences for theCO. I’ve spoken to government officials on behalf of theCO as an example of what theCO can do,†he says. “And that is great marketing for me. So it is a really symbiotic relationship.

“It’s also one of the coolest things happening in Jackson and I get to be at the center of that every day. There are not too many things more exciting than that to me.”

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