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Knoxville Area Urban League awards $16,000 to local entrepreneurs, receives $10,000 investment

June 7, 2022

The conclusion of the Knoxville Area Urban League’s CO.STARTERS training and business pitch competition ended in celebration June 7. Mark Isom, president and CEO of Premiere Building Maintenance, presented checks totaling $10,000 to the top three winners and surprised the other six participants with $1,000 each. Verizon also announced a $10,000 grant  to support the program’s positive impact in the community.

“The CO.STARTERS program once again has guided an impressive cohort of entrepreneurs as they launch new ventures and join the valuable network of motivated business leaders in the Knoxville area,” said Phyllis Y. Nichols, president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League. “We appreciate Verizon’s shared commitment to empowering small business owners and encouraging job growth in our community.”

Carol Johnston, Verizon’s client executive for East Tennessee, said, “The Knoxville Area Urban League’s CO.STARTERS program is a premier training opportunity in East Tennessee, and Verizon is proud to help expand its impact in the community. Small businesses are the bedrock of our communities, and we are happy to partner with the local Urban League to help equip entrepreneurs with the skills to thrive and succeed in the digital economy.

The nonprofit’s 10-week CO.STARTERS program allows entrepreneurs to build and test small business ideas while gaining feedback from their class peers and instructors and input from local, successful business owners. At the end of the program, participants pitch their business to a panel of judges for a chance to win. CO.STARTERS has expanded in recent years, empowering more entrepreneurs and offering more financial assistance to launch small businesses.

The spring 2022 winners are Chris Weaver of Goodi Digital, first place, $5,000; Aly Taylor of Another Chance Realty, second place, $3,000; and Lalina Thompson of 3 Little Curls, third place, $2,000.

Weaver’s Goodi Digital is a digital content production company. He plans to use the CO.STARTERS funds to build websites, animate logos and shoot marketing videos for small business owners, helping them establish a solid foundation in online spaces.

“CO.STARTERS taught me not only how to be an entrepreneur, but also instilled the confidence in me to make my idea a reality,” Weaver said. “The majority of the businesses I serve are minority-owned and do not have a digital footprint. My mission is to change that, so they can improve their customer experience”

Taylor started Another Chance Realty, a supportive community housing nonprofit. Her vision is to rent housing to women who are pregnant or recovering in postpartum.

“The CO.STARTERS program and pitch competition was a great benefit to me and my nonprofit,” Taylor said. “My winnings will allow me to hire a grant writer and host fundraising events to generate additional funds and secure property for the many local women who need assistance during and after pregnancy. I look forward to changing lives and am thankful for the Knoxville Area Urban League, which enabled my ambitions.”

Thompson’s 3 Little Curls is a Knoxville-based, all-natural hair care line. Her products are designed for individuals with curly or coiled hair. Thompson’s biracial background inspired the business, and she hopes her products will fulfill the hair care needs of others who have trouble finding effective solutions.

“As a biracial woman, my hair type has consisted of a combination of traits,” Thompson said. “I have researched and finally found a solution to dry, brittle hair. When I brought my idea to the Knoxville Area Urban League’s CO.STARTERS program, I was skeptical about my capabilities, but I learned through the classes and pitch contest to believe in myself and my business.”

The Knoxville Area Urban League’s business programs, including CO.STARTERS, are part of the organization’s efforts to fulfill its mission of economic empowerment and stability for people of all backgrounds. Through these programs, as well as a lending program, the nonprofit supports entrepreneurs at all stages in their business development.

For more information or to apply for one of the Knoxville Area Urban League’s business programs or capital loans, visit

About the Knoxville Area Urban League
Since 1968, the Knoxville Area Urban League has assisted disadvantaged people attain social and economic stability and self-sufficiency through direct services and advocacy. The League works to provide a skilled and diverse workforce; to increase homeownership; to support economic and small business development, and to enhance education efforts for our youth. The Knoxville Area Urban League is a United Way partner agency and affiliate of the National Urban League. The League’s work and results are evident in the lives of the over 8,000 people it impacts each year. For more information, call 865-524-5511 or visit