On September 20, Sheldon Grizzle (’03), co-founder of CO.LAB, a nonprofit supporting entrepreneurs in the area, published a blog post titled, “We Come from the Mountain…and Start Things.” In the post, Grizzle includes a long list of businesses and organizations started and run by Covenant students and alumni. Grizzle argues Covenant fosters the desire to be real world problem solvers.
Whether Grizzle is right about Covenant’s effect on students or not, Covenant alumni and students are starting businesses in and around Chattanooga.
Marshall (’08) and Katherine Teague (’06) started EdenThistle Land Stewardship Co. after a friend at a dinner party told Marshall as a Christian, he should care about what he ate. At first Teague thought there were bigger, more important issues to worry about, but he came to agree with his friend.
“There’s actually a robust theology behind caring for the earth,” Teague said, and that theology shaped EdenThistle. The Teagues seek to sufficiently steward both their land and animals.
Teague majored in Community Development, and although he’d had some experience in the agricultural world, starting EdenThistle was a learning process. “I never took a business class in my life, and I didn’t grow up farming,” Teague said. The Teagues had to learn everything from accounting to marketing. “Now we have a basepoint, but [learning everything] would take a lifetime.”
Even though the Community Development major didn’t teach Teague how to be a farmer, he said, “Community Development shaped my mind around the core reasons why we do what we do.”
As a Community Development major, Teague learned about four key relationships in our lives: a relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. Sin causes these relationships to be damaged, which results in brokenness. Holistic reconciliation is the restoration of these relationships.
Now, Teague says, that perspective helps shape his mission at EdenThistle. “We’re taking a stab at making something better in the agricultural world.”
Maggie Duncan (’18) saw a need for more activities for children in the Lookout Mountain area and started Ms. Maggie’s Gymnastics shortly before she enrolled as a Covenant student.
After being in business for about two years, Duncan went through CO.STARTERS, a nine-week program supplying entrepreneurs with tools to create a sustainable business. In November 2016, she competed in Covenant’s sixth annual Seed Project Pitch competition and tied for second place, winning a grant of $2,500.
“It was really helpful to get feedback and professional advice,” Duncan said. “The grant has been really helpful in growing my business. I’m grateful for what I learned, and the equipment I was able to buy.”
Duncan said Grizzle’s blog post was encouraging, and she thinks Covenant graduates are making an impact in Chattanooga through the businesses they start because they have a different worldview.
“‘Christ Preeminent’ shows through,” Duncan said. “I think that the way we learn to have community changes the way we interact with people, the way we treat employers and customers.”
The year after Morgan Sharpe ('15) graduated, she lived with the Baldschuns, who own a wedding venue. Sharpe built a small greenhouse on the property to grow flowers. After Jill Baldschun suggested she start a flower farm on the property, Sharpe competed in the Seed Project Pitch competition, and her business, Creekside Flower Farms tied with Ms. Maggie's Gymnastics for second place.
Though Sharpe majored in psychology and has had to learn horticultural and business knowledge as she goes, she said her college education helped teach her how to learn. "I learned how to research and find answers to many of my questions in college, whether that was in books or online or by asking others," Sharpe said. "I don't think that my psych major has directly helped with my business, though I would say being analytical has helped, and there is a surprising amount of psychology in marketing."
Sharpe says she has enjoyed making connections with other Covenant entrepreneurs. "Hearing how people started their business or got to where they are in life is always intriguing to me—it’s hardly ever a straight shot and it’s almost never what that person expected—including myself!"
Covenant alumni aren’t the only ones starting businesses in Chattanooga. In May, Fortune called Chattanooga “one of America’s most startup-friendly cities,” in part because it was the first city in the U.S. to offer municipally-owned, super-fast 10-gigabit-per-second fiber internet, drawing tech startups to the area.
Chattanooga is an encouraging environment for startups, such as CO.LAB. Additionally, Chattanooga’s annual Startup Week celebrates startups and offers workshops and events for entrepreneurs. The Enterprise Center promotes Chattanooga’s Innovation District, where entrepreneurs and innovators can collaborate and grow new ideas. The INCubator provides entrepreneurs with training, services, and workspace, and there are still more Chattanooga organizations that share the mission of helping startups grow.
"One of the struggles that I experienced as a Covenant student was the lack of involvement I had in the city of Chattanooga," Sharpe said. "I am still not all that involved in the happenings in Chattanooga, but over the past year I've become acquainted with the many resources and business that Chattanooga has to offer."