There’s kind of an infamous group of five at theCO, a couple of which share the name Ben, but mostly they’re people who had a hand in the opening of theCO. We call them CO:founders.
Ben Harris, COO of theCO, is also a CO:founder, and has been an integral part of theCO’s function and operation since the beginning.
theCO was originally in the New Southern building in downtown Jackson, and opened at the Wiley Parker location in July of 2014 with the hope of bringing innovation and entrepreneurship to Jackson and West Tennessee. At first, theCO was called the “Entrepreneur Development Center of Southwest Tennessee,” and many people are surprised to hear that this entity had been in Jackson for two years before the CO:founders first arrived.
Since the start of the non-profit’s rebranding of theCO, Harris has been a part of helping to develop theCO to what it is now over the course of the past four years.
“It’s nice to be able to steer theCO where it needs to be, and to have some authority in decisions that are made,” Harris says. “I’m very proud of theCO, and that it’s come to mean something to the people of Jackson.”
Harris says he has seen for himself the impact and influence that theCO has had in the West Tenneessee area. For example, theCO’s program, Dev Catalyst, was started in 2013 with the mission of improving technology education and growing tech talent among West Tennessee students, and five years later the city is starting to see the results.
“When we started theCO, I knew one developer in Jackson. We started the Dev Catalyst program, and last year we started getting requests for internships from students that were calling themselves developers and programmers,” Harris said. “Now, that’s actually starting to make a difference. Sure, it took four years, but now we’re having people asking for jobs in computer programming, when before it just wasn’t that way.”
It has been encouraging for the team at theCO to see the growth it has inspired both in the state and within its own four walls. In the start of September, theCO added four new board members that are also CO:members, to offer a fresh perspective and bring innovative ideas. Since this addition, the board is now made up of CO:members, or people who run their companies out of theCO, CO:founders, people who helped start theCO, and leaders of other companies or businesses in Jackson.
Harris says, “The thought process behind adding CO:members to the board is that we think it’s important to put people on the board that the decisions affect. We want the perspective of actual members at theCO. That seems like the best way to get an ear to the ground to make sure everything is working well.”
Two of the newest board members are familiar faces to those who spend time around theCO. Kevin Adelsberger is one of them and he has run his business, Adelsberger Marketing out of theCO for the past four years. Joining him, is Austin Thompson, CEO of Thompson Industries and Random Pieces of Wood, both of which he conducts out of theCO.
“Kevin and Austin are day one members. They always argue about who came first,” laughed Harris. “They were here before we even painted the walls. I think they really feel like this is their place too. That’s what theCO is all about anyway--making everyone feel empowered to do the things that they feel are important and effective.”