Phoenix, Arizona

Co-founder and CFO Courtney Newell’s company is helping housing advocates improve the success of their programs with convenient kits for formerly unhoused individuals and families.

Before Newell co-founded Life Startup Essentials with her husband and his brother, the three worked together for a company that provided subsidized housing and housing assistance. While Newell managed the housing applications and walked tenants through the housing process, the other two conducted inspections of subsidized apartments.

“Through our time at the company, we saw the need for home supplies,” Newell says. “A lot of agencies will provide housing subsidies or assistance to folks who are transitioning out of homelessness. But then once people move into an apartment, more often than not, they move in with absolutely nothing because they’ve been unhoused for an extended period of time. They may have a nice [place to live], but they don’t have a bed to sleep on, any way to cook food, or shampoo to take a shower.”

It was recognition of this need that inspired the creation of the Phoenix-based apartment and housing starter supplies organization. “We saw that piece that was missing, and the needs people have in order to be able to maintain their housing long term,” Newell says. “We figured if we could put that one piece of the puzzle in it, these housing programs would be a lot more successful.”

The company has grown rapidly and now operates out of an 8,000-square-foot warehouse. “We’ve been expanding as the company grows,” says Newell. “We’ll probably be moving into something larger once our current lease is up.”

The Life Startup Essentials team has assembled and shipped more than 67,000 Welcome Home, Point in Time, and Custom kits since they got rolling back in 2016, and Newell notes that they’re currently shipping tens of thousands of kits annually.

The Welcome Home Casa kit includes everything needed to set up a one-bedroom apartment for one person. “The majority of our customers order that kit because a lot of people that are housed are single,” says Newell. When housing couples or families, customers may add on to the Casa or create a custom kit from scratch. Custom kits are particularly suited to customers furnishing entire apartment complexes with hundreds of units.

“For the most part, [our customers] are social service agencies of some sort,” says Newell. “That could be government housing authorities, behavioral health entities, or just a general social service agency that provides wraparound services through case management. But they’re all in that social service sector.”

Newell says that her company recently upgraded — and is currently implementing — its ERP system to better track orders through the manual assembly, packing, and shipping process. A professional referred by the AZ MEP helped Newell and her team choose the software. The Arizona Manufacturing Extension Partnership has also assisted Life Startup Essentials with finding Lean manufacturing training for its supervisors as well as creating job descriptions and a formal employee handbook. “They’ve been extremely helpful,” she adds.

Photos courtesy AZ MEP and Life Startup Essentials

Challenges: “We’re constantly looking for employees to hire as we continue to grow,” Newell says. “Just getting our processes and procedures in line, getting new employees on board, and getting them trained. But I feel like, at this point, we have a good foundation, and we’re just ready to grow up on it.”

Opportunities: The need for Life Start Essentials’ kits continues to grow — and it’s a trend Newell does not see changing anytime soon.

“Housing is always an issue, and it’s a growing issue nationwide,” she says. “You can get into lots of politics regarding housing, but affordable housing is really important no matter what city or state you’re in. It’s something that a lot of people struggle with. And like I mentioned before, while it’s important to provide housing — the actual dwelling unit — it’s not just about housing somebody. Once you house someone, you want to make sure they can maintain that housing long term. Agencies are finding out that if they’re able to provide a few home goods to clients along with their housing, the odds of their program being successful increases.”

Newell notes that as cities create new housing programs, many are considering options outside the typical apartment.

“We’ve recently done some work with a tiny house community,” she continues. “And others are looking at dorm-style units. They’re just coming up with creative solutions to house people, and as we grow, we’re able to be part of those opportunities.”

Needs: “At this point, it’s just people,” says Newell. “Getting the right people in the right seats so that we can grow. We’re having our busiest year to date, and it has been super-busy recently.”