(EDITOR’S NOTE: With “Startup Week Chattanooga” underway, we thought it would be a good idea to share a recent conversation with Marcus Shaw, CO.LAB’s new Executive Director.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Marcus Shaw describes himself as a futuristic thinker, innovator, investor, and community champion.
“I have my investor hat on when I look at Chattanooga and the seeds of growth,” CO.LAB’s new Executive Director says. “When you combine with people of like mindsets, it is amazing.”
As the fifth leader of Chattanooga’s CO.LAB, the District of Columbia area native says he’ll be utilizing all of his skills to help advance the organization that he was tapped to lead earlier this summer. The organization grew out of a program named SpringBoard whose first Executive Director was Sheldon Grizzle.
“I’m focused on a mission-driven agenda around inclusivity and growth” the engaging and upbeat Shaw said during our recent conversation over lunch. At the top of his list is a strategic planning process.
“My goal is to move into 2018 with a strong strategic direction,” Shaw says.
While he does not want to get ahead of the process of stakeholder engagement, he has some key ideas on crucial elements of the plan. Shaw sees talent, capital, and acquisition of strategic partners and customers as areas of emphasis for CO.LAB because of their critical importance to the success of start-ups.
The issue of talent is clearly something at the top of Shaw’s list, and it includes not only people who want to work in start-ups, but also those who want to start their own businesses.
“We need top (local) students to think of being an entrepreneur as a primary objective,” Shaw says, adding “there’s a cultural dynamic to it.” In that regard, he’s referencing the importance of citing companies like Access America that is one of Chattanooga’s great entrepreneurial success stories.
“People don’t know about that, but they know about Mark Zuckerberg,” Shaw says of the Co-Founder of Facebook. The point he is making is the importance of young people realizing entrepreneurial success is not limited to regions like the West Coast.
For this and other reasons, an expanded communication initiative is also high on his list of priorities for CO.LAB.
“We will put a greater emphasis on sharing our opportunities and resources with the globe,” Shaw says. “If we can get more people to understand that they can innovate here, we’ll grow the community.”
Shaw and his wife, a dermatologist, moved to Chattanooga about a year ago when she accepted a local position. He says they had considered moving to the Gig City about five years earlier, but did not.
The new Executive Director also cited two others important areas of emphasis.
“We want to be sure we are leveraging our network in the best ways possible,” Shaw says, citing mentors, the city’s gigabit network, and the various aspects of the high livability rankings for Chattanooga.
Not lost on him is the importance of establishing metrics that clearly show the impact that organizations like CO.LAB and programs like start-up accelerators have. Shaw addresses that opportunity with several questions.
“How are we going to measure short- and long-term success,” he asks? “Can Chattanooga lead around that initiative?”
Prior to accepting the CO.LAB role, Shaw served as Senior Director of Business Development and Partnerships at Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a D.C.-based non-profit that helps build diversity and leadership pipelines for corporate institutions, nonprofit organizations and government agencies. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Morehouse College and a second Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. Shaw later earned an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. He started his career as a network engineer with IBM and is currently a member of the Minority Alumni Advisory Board at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.