SpringBoard grads infuse city with creative startup energy

The freshly opened Pallet23 in Northside is anything and everything you want it to be, according to its owner and founder, entrepreneur and SpringBoard graduate Laura Chenault. 

She took the abandoned garage on Spring Grove Avenue and transformed it into a customizable space to support everything from filming indie documentaries and music videos to hosting cooking classes, dinner parties and dance parties, too. 

But she didn’t do it alone.

Chenault's business is a showcase of talent-fueled, small-business dreams turned into realities. And most of the small businesses that form the very backbone of Pallet23 got their start, like Chenault did, at SpringBoard—the nine-week course from ArtWorks that trains artists and artisans on how to run their own businesses. 

Long after their days in the classroom together end, SpringBoarders hold on to the relationships they formed and the lessons they learned. They meet to share support and encouragement; they pass on business leads; they team up on projects. 

"I saw immediately after the first course that the entrepreneurs made lasting connections with one another," says Sarah Corlett, Artworks’ director of creative enterprise, who moved to Cincinnati to run the SpringBoard program. "Since they became intimately familiar with each classmate’s businesses, they were eager to see their fellow peers succeed."

Chenault promotes Pallet23 as a "SpringBoard Showcase;" her space's Facebook page lists eight Springboard collaborators and seven Springboard contributors whose imprint can be found throughout the 4,100-square-foot space.

From the architecture and design by Lucius Limited to logo and branding by Visualingual, dining tables by E13 and installations and design by Basermatter, the SpringBoard alumnae reach is deep. 

Fellow Springboarders Once Blind Studios helped with brand development and Pallet23's opening night art exhibit, while Dulcet Designs supported art installation. Such+Such was part of the original design team, while Laura Elaine Photography digitally documented the space.

"These are my people,” Chenault says. “I couldn’t be here without them.” 

So far, SpringBoard boasts 103 graduates who have filled six new storefronts since the program's launch in June 2011. This new army of business-trained artisans has created a depth in the city's entrepreneurial eco-system, which allows space for illustrators and woodworkers, for doll makers and chefs, for media-makers and designers. 

"Creativity is a hot commodity for cities right now," Corlett says. "Pallet23 is a great example. Here was an abandoned garage in Northside on a stretch of the business district that badly needed some investment. Without the manpower, ideas and energy of her peers, it may have taken Laura much longer to realize her dream."

As a destination for events, the space will attract new visitors to the neighborhood and its already eclectic commerical landscape as well as encourage more growth around it. "Pallet23 suddenly becomes an inspiration and potential home for other small business owners considering opening a space in Northside," Corlett says. "This is exactly why we say creativity is the new economy. Our entrepreneurs are fueling economic growth."
And it's not just in Northside. SpringBoard grads' wares fill shops along Main and Vine streets in Over-the-Rhine and across the city. Other small businesses become their clients and flourish because of their help.

Though the business development course lasts just nine weeks, it's clear that SpringBoarders don't stop learning from and with each other once the official classes end. Since its second session, the program has offered refresher classes, roundtables and happy hours for alumni. While roundtables focus on business topics like social media marketing and crowd funding, happy hours and less formal dinners with SpringBoard friends keep the energy, and ideas, flowing.

"When you become part of SpringBoard, you instantaneously have a dozen or more advocates and sales people who believe in your product or service," Corlett says. "And once you start to meet SpringBoard entrepreneurs outside of your own class, you suddenly have dozens of more connections that will lead to more customers, more exposure and therefore, someday, profit."
Alicia Kravitz, founder of Dulcet Designs, started her design business in 2009. When she became a SpringBoarder in 2011, though, she gained a competitive edge that helped her grow and expand her network. 

“I have it in my back pocket; I’m part of the community,” Kravitz says.

As Chenault basks in the successful launch of her own business dream at Pallet23, her SpringBoard peers are right beside her, cheering her along on her opening night reception and partnering with her as they work to build off of each other's momentum. 

More than a series of classes, more than a how-to program, SpringBoard, it seems, is a way of life. If you have any doubts, just ask Chenault what she'd be doing with her business idea if not for her time in the program.

“I would probably still just be talking about it to my friends,” she says.

Want to join the club? There is still time to register for the March 2013 session of Springboard. Applications are due Feb. 8.

Gina Gaetano is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati, where she excelled as a member of the campus' award-winning mock trial team. She played an often ornery witness. This is her first feature for Soapbox.
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