Causeway’s 9-week Co.Starters course guides socially-minded entrepreneurs through a curriculum designed to transform good ideas into action. Taught by seasoned entrepreneurs with a passion for social innovation, Co.Starters offers students a local cohort of fellow entrepreneurs, teachers, and advocates.
Molly Wilkins entered Co.Starters prepared to create an environmental education program for students in Chattanooga. She admits that she came into the class with an enormous idea, her dream for the past seven years. “My ideas had always kind of been in my head. So even just giving up that secrecy was hard,” she said. Co.Starters became a space where she could move her idea out of the future and make it more accessible, more vulnerable.
Four weeks into the course, she realized that building the program on her own wouldn’t be easy, especially as a special education teacher working two additional jobs. Now a Co.starters graduate, her sights are set on a smaller, more manageable goal for the summer—to join forces with an already established camp for children.
She says she reminds herself that her big idea is still there and that she hasn’t lost sight of building her own program. “Working with partners will establish me more and give me credibility, but it doesn’t take away from my bigger dream, which is to organize this environmental education program that accepts all students in Chattanooga.”
For Molly and her classmates, partnering with another organization seemed contrary to that entrepreneurial spirit Co.starters provided. “A lot of us [in the class] felt that our work was our own—our own independent things.” “I realized through Co.starters that there was already something happening associated with what I wanted to do. It just made more sense for me to be in a partnership.”
And, as she and her classmates worked through their concerns, hit walls, made breakthroughs, and celebrated small victories, Molly earned a nickname: the goal-setter.
Her biggest concern with goals for social causes wasn’t simply about setting them, but about measuring them. “I harped on goals every week. For something socially minded, how do you actually know you’re being effective? I think it’s scary for people to think that if their customer changed, then their entire program or model changed.” That change, she points out, is why slowing down can be an essential part of starting an organization.
“In class, when we’d talk about our customers, I felt that we had to really come to terms with understanding if what we were ‘solving’ was really a problem. The people you’re going to ‘save’—do they actually see it as a problem? And I was trying to be reflective about that in my own work.”
Co.Starters has given her a framework to address her concerns. “I want to start really scheduling my time and holding myself to that,” she says. Her Co.Starters connections brought her dream into reality. “Everybody here gets connected and supports each other. Without these connections, nothing I wanted to do would make it in Chattanooga.”