The Impact of LIFTOFF

By Ethan Tarpley

December 20, 2021

“Everybody has a dream,” says Susanna Thomas. “Lots of people don’t know how to

achieve it.” A 2020 graduate from the CentreWorks LIFTOFF program, Susanna has learned

how to achieve her dream of creating a life-coaching business. As a life coach, Susanna helps

clients conceptualize their goals--from publishing a book to reconnecting with family--and

serves to hold them accountable. After graduating from LIFTOFF, Susanna enrolled in the

Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, and is now a certified life coach. With the help

of intern Sarah Foropoulos from CentreWorks in creating a website for her business, she’s now

building a clientele.

LIFTOFF, a 10-week program where students and entrepreneurs meet once a week, is

more than just a business seminar. Featuring guest speakers with expertise in the various areas of

starting a business (finance, social media, etc.), the course teaches its budding entrepreneurs the

skills they need to get started. But more importantly, it instills the entrepreneurial mindset--a

non-linear approach to problem solving that helps aspiring entrepreneurs develop ideas for

successful businesses that will enrich the community around them. The goal of LIFTOFF is to

aid entrepreneurs throughout the Bluegrass region. It’s free and open to everybody.

Also in the LIFTOFF program was Kate Snyder, who now runs a children’s bookstore.

Located at 116 N 3rd St in Danville, Plaid Elephant draws in customers from as far as Lexington,

but primarily stands out as the only bookstore in Danville, aside from the college bookstore. As

an avid reader, Kate says that owning a bookstore had been on the back of her mind forever, but

until LIFTOFF, she hadn’t seriously considered what opening one would actually take. Kate likes

all sorts of books, and enjoys selling art; but LIFTOFF caused her to hone her interests towards a

specific goal. “I love children’s books,” she says. And it’s better to do one thing well than to try

to do everything for everybody.” While Amazon has been replacing brick and mortar stores, Kate

says that, especially with children’s books, there’s still a pressing need for physical stores; on top

of the convenience of customer service, “It’s important to be able to check out the book in person

to see how it feels and actually look through it,” she says. “You can’t do that online.”

At the core of the entrepreneurial mindset is the empathy interview; both entrepreneurs

mentioned this as the most helpful tool that LIFTOFF taught them. Empathy interviews are a

chance for entrepreneurs to learn directly from members of the community whether or not their

business idea meets a genuine need; and if not, helps them formulate an idea that does. By asking

open-ended questions to ordinary people about their wants, needs, and challenges, the

interviewer gains a genuine understanding of the needs of that community, and how they can

create a business that addresses them.

“You don’t go out and create a business based on what you want to do,” Susannah says.

“You can, if you have a trust fund--but there’s no guarantee that there’s a need for it.” The most

important thing she learned from LIFTOFF was that in order to build a successful business, “you

have to identify a need.” Kate had a similar comment. When she started her empathy interviews,

she wanted to make an art gallery, until she realized through talking to people that there was

simply no demand for an art gallery in Danville. Facing this fact was the first step in building a

business that both stoked her passion and satisfied a need within the community.

Through programs like LIFTOFF and others, CentreWorks is continuing to engage Boyle

County and the Bluegrass region by teaching these tools to budding entrepreneurs. If interested,

you can check out the LIFTOFF program here. You can also give the Plaid Elephant bookstore a

look, or check out Susannah’s website

Photograph of Kate Snyder at the opening of Plaid Elephant (Summer 2021).

Kate Snyder at the opening of Plaid Elephant (Summer 2021).

Photograph of Susanna Thomas (Summer 2021)

Susanna Thomas (Summer 2021)