In recent years, Chattanooga, Tennessee, has made itself known for its creative potential and burgeoning innovations. The Company Lab Accelerator, located on the first floor of the Edney Innovation Center in the the heart of Chattanooga’s Innovation District, has played a major role in creating the city’s estimable entrepreneurial ecosystem. Since 2010, CO.LAB has accelerated more than 100 companies with their various programs and advising offerings. The CO.LAB and the revitalization of Chattanooga’s economy and community, however, did not become what it is today overnight—CO.LAB arose out of a process of growth and adjustment to the community’s unique needs.
In the rise of our post-industrial economy, the Scenic City was among the many industrial cities left struggling to maintain their place in the economic ecosystem. While known early on as a hub of entrepreneurship, the shift towards a creative, technological and knowledge-based economy brought trying times for the city. The decline of Chattanooga’s industrial economy in 1960s and ’70s resulted in air pollution, vacant and deteriorating infrastructure, and widespread suburban flight. Chattanooga was faced with a crippling need for creative innovation to revitalize its economy and community.
In 2007, Helen Johnson and Josh McManus recognized Chattanooga’s need to attract and retain talent and started CreateHere, “a nonprofit project to infuse cultural and economic life back into the city of Chattanooga by supporting the arts and creative enterprises.” In addition to artistic promotion, Chattanooga experienced technological improvement with the implementation of its one-gigabit-per-second fiber-optic internet service. In 2010, Chattanooga became America’s first “Gig City,” generating attention from investors and entrepreneurs around the world and connecting efforts within the community to global networks.
The artistic and technological uprising in Chattanooga helped pave the way for a full entrepreneurial revival by enabling both creativity and innovation. While teeming with ideas, entrepreneurs in the region found trouble manifesting, scaling and maintaining their ventures. The Company Lab (CO.LAB) was launched in 2011 to absorb and mobilize CreateHere’s projects and promote high-growth potential.
To support ventures at all stages of growth, the regional accelerator supplies networks of mentorship, talented specialists, funding and capital within their various programs.
For aspiring entrepreneurs looking to get their ideas off the ground:
CO.LAB offers various pitch competitions and in-house events. Will This Float? is an annual event that gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to present a 3-minute pitch for a chance to earn cash prizes and business service packages. Talk Shop Tuesday is a monthly lunch where community members are invited to listen to speakers among the region’s top entrepreneurs to network, learn and exchange valuable business knowledge. The Chadev Lunch hosts a weekly gathering for a community of developers, combining a wide range of expertise in software, technology and design. CO.LAB also participates in a nationwide program called 1 Million Cups, where 1-2 early-stage startups have the chance to present their company to a network of community members every Wednesday. Check out the CO.LAB event page for other opportunities to help entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground.
For a more extensive opportunity for startup ideas:
CO.LAB offers CO.STARTERS, a nine-week program that helps to develop, critically examine and fine-tune ideas to “turn a passion into a sustainable and thriving business.” Since its beginning in 2013, CO.STARTERS has graduated more than 1,350 individuals from the program and now helps startup communities nationwide. Find more information and apply for the next cohort beginning June 5 click here.
For entrepreneurial ventures in need of scaling and funding:
The CO.LAB Accelerator offers resources such as workspace, mentorship and connection to potential investors. The 100-day program consists of “meetings and daily interactions with CO.LAB’s Entrepreneur in Residence to help you identify goals and connect with the resources needed to achieve them.”
For entrepreneurs developing ultra-high-bandwidth business applications:
CO.LAB offers GIGTANK 365, an annual program utilizing Chattanooga’s ubiquitous 1-gig fiber network to “help startups invent new business models for the hyper-connected world.” The accelerator has graduated 58 companies and raised $23 million in capital.
CO.LAB is taking the summer to assess and better serve regional and nationwide demands, but entrepreneurs can apply for the Accelerator and GIGTANK 365 to receive information regarding future programming.