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U.S. Partners Collaborate to Help Entrepreneurs Thrive

To find a sustainable way to fund their entrepreneurship and community development programs, Thrive New Orleans founder Ben McLeish got creative.

His organization started a thrift store, developed affordable housing, explored the use of freight farms—and looked into opening a Chick-Fil-A franchise.

McLeish was one of many leaders who shared their stories, and lessons learned, at the StartSpark Huddle in Grand Rapids last month.

Convened by LAUNCH—a Chattanooga-based Local Community Institution (LCI) in Partners Worldwide’s U.S. network—the huddle was a co-learning space for organizations that use LAUNCH’s training and coaching methodology to walk alongside entrepreneurs.

Organizations represented included Create U Network of Baltimore, Thrive New Orleans, Mortar of Cincinnati, Corner to Corner of Nashville, Spring GR of Grand Rapids, Advance Memphis, and Nasha Lending of Greenville, SC.

Empowering entrepreneurs was a key theme throughout the three-day huddle.

Mortar, in operation since 2014, is based in a Cincinnati community with the highest income inequality of 61,000 communities surveyed nationwide. In addition to providing business training, Mortar also has a retail space where entrepreneurs can showcase their products.

In Grand Rapids, Spring GR uses an empowering paradigm that helps entrepreneurs take control of their futures. “Ask, don’t tell” is the foundation of their approach to business coaching. Listening and asking questions—instead of giving answers—allows the entrepreneur to drive their own vision.

Empowerment was also on display at the Huddle’s opening night StartSpark National Business Pitch Competition. Eight businesses from around the country competed for a $6,000 grand prize. The panel of judges selected Felicia Jackson of Tennessee as the winner. Felicia’s product, CPR LifeWrap, is a disposable plastic guide that provides simple instructions for people with little or no CPR training.

Stories upon stories from this year’s huddle prove that the work of pouring into entrepreneurial yet often underserved communities is challenging but worth it.

“It was great to hear the creative ideas of others facing similar challenges,” said Sadell Bradley of Mortar. “The openness and vulnerability of those gathered was inspiring.”

LAUNCH will dialogue with groups anywhere in the U.S. interested in using their model for training and coaching entrepreneurs. For more information, contact Hal Bowling and Tony Watkins at