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