Founded in 1997, the Edge Connection is a microenterprise and small business training organization committed to launching, growing and sustaining businesses. The Edge Connection, located in Kennesaw, Georgia, promotes economic self-sufficiency for low-to-moderate income women, minorities, veterans, and persons with disabilities and is committed to equipping individuals with the skills, information and support they need to become self-sufficient business owners and employers. The organization also operates a Small Business Administration Women’s Business Center.
The Edge initially provided training and technical assistance to individuals looking to start small businesses through a variety of community entities. As the demand for their services grew, so did their need for a dedicated space for small businesses to operate out of. Thus, the idea of the social enterprise business incubator was born.
In 2008, the Edge Connection and its partners including the City of Kennesaw and Kennesaw Development Authority had identified a site on which to construct a new 30,000-square-foot, environmentally certified Enterprise Center offering office space, a commercial kitchen and event space for small businesses. To build the facility, the Edge Connection needed at least $2 million, including $1.6 million to finish the environmentally certified building, and $800,000 for first-year operating costs. In 2009, the Edge applied for and was awarded a Grants to Green Implementation Award for $50,000, to be applied toward the construction of the green facility.
Unfortunately, the recession hit and the Edge was unable to secure the funds needed to construct the facility. “Because of the economic downturn, we heard a continuous flow of ‘we can’t help you until the economy improves. The grants we were expecting did not come through. Nobody anticipated the bucket falling like it did.” said Patricia Harris, former Executive Director of the Edge Connection.
In the meantime, the land that the Edge had identified had been taken off the tax rolls by the city unbeknownst to the county. A political battle over who owned the land ensued and the Edge sought a different space in which to construct their incubator. Given the economic constraints, the Edge scaled back the project and decided to focus on only constructing a kitchen incubator for food-related businesses.
In 2009 and 2010, the Edge worked hard to secure funds for its new location and project. The hard work paid off and the Edge was able to acquire a $431,296 challenge grant from the Marcus Foundation to fund the renovation of their new space and cover the rent subsidy for three years. The total cost of the project, however was $1.2 million dollars, which was funded by the City of Kennesaw, Kennesaw Development Authority, the Tull Foundation, UPS, Georgia Pacific, Cbeyond, Grants to Green and personal donations. There were also significant in-kind contributions for furniture, computers, and other miscelleanous items. The Edge Connection is proud to report that there is no outstanding debt or loans on the kitchen incubator.
Determined to be a leader in sustainability, the Edge renovated the new space with energy efficient features including:
- High-efficiency lighting and controls
- Energy Star equipment and appliances
- Low flow plumbing faucets, toilets and other equipment
- A high efficiency HVAC system
After making some required regulatory changes to accommodate gluten free bakers and food service entrepreneurs, the state of the art, energy efficient kitchen incubator opened in the summer of 2011. As the only not-for-profit shared kitchen in the Atlanta area, the Edge has helped many individuals turn their visions into reality.
Several very successful small business owners such as Toula Argentis, owner of 2B Whole, and Tad Spencer of Tad’s Tasty Treats started their business at the Edge. Given the dearth of available products in her community, Argentis had long since been baking gluten and dairy free breads and other products for her family who suffered from allergies and food sensitivities. Having worked in the corporate world for over twenty years, Argentis knew how to operate a successful business and she aspired to apply her passion and talent for making gluten free products into a business. Yet she did not have the means to invest in the necessary equipment and space.
After coming upon an article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle about the Edge, Argentis knew that she was going to be able to pursue her dream. Just one year later, Argentis now has three employees and is looking to sell her products to retailers such as Whole Foods and other natural food stores. “If it weren’t for the kitchen, I wouldn’t be here,” Argentis said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Similar to Argentis’, Tad Spencer decided to leave the banking industry and pursue his love of desserts on a larger scale. He too learned about the Edge and applied to become a member. Recently, Tad’s Tasty Treats was selected by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce as a Startup to Watch. Spencer credits the Edge with his success. “The Edge provided me with an incredible commercial kitchen at a most reasonable cost. It would be foolhardy for a new business like my own to attempt to replicate this kitchen at my own expense.”
With over 25 active members currently, Harris is proud of the kitchen’s success and the Edge’s dedication to energy efficiency. Harris and her staff knew very little about sustainability before participating in the Grants to Green Initiative. As a result of the Initiative, the Edge has adopted several green practices and policies including monitoring of energy usage and resource consumption, recycling and use of green cleaning products.
Harris is eager to share her experience with others looking to construct energy efficient kitchen incubators. “I want to share with others the lessons I learned through this project and I want to encourage them to make a conscious choice to do this in an energy efficient way.”