By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
CO.LAB’s Mike Bradshaw always has a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes, but there was an additional air of effervescence when we caught-up with him just days after the announcement of something called “GIGTANK 365.”
It’s a significant change that CO.LAB’s Executive Director has been describing to us over the last year as his thinking has evolved. The change from a single accelerator to three a year is a reflection of the needs of and opportunities related to Chattanooga’s rapidly maturing entrepreneurial ecosystem.
After all, entrepreneurs start companies every day of the year, and entrepreneurial support organizations provide services throughout the year. That reality, coupled with an ever-growing “Start-up Week Chattanooga,” provided impetus for the new model.
“Tiffanie Robinson came back from Denver two years ago where she saw a start-up week,” Bradshaw said. The President of Lamp Post Properties and General Partner in The JumpFund championed the idea of a similar event in Chattanooga.
“The first year of ‘Start-up Chattanooga’ (2014) was really good and the second year (2015) was even better,” Bradshaw said of the event in which CO.LAB is a key partner. “Would year three (2016) have the same wind behind it?”
Ensuring the answer was “yes” was a key driver for Bradshaw and the CO.LAB team.
Concurrently, the original “GIGTANK” accelerator, launched with a focus on start-ups that take advantage of Chattanooga’s first-in-the-country gigabit network, completed its fourth year in 2015.
“It (‘Demo Day’) was becoming more of a ritual we did every July,” Bradshaw said. “Instead of a separate event, why not move the ‘GIGTANK Demo Day’ into the week-long celebration?”
The best way to describe the change is a baseball analogy – the minor leagues (i.e., the individual accelerators) develop talent with the best of them (i.e., graduates) being called-up to the big leagues.
“GIGTANK 365” will sponsor three accelerators – one each in the spring, summer and fall – that will be feeders to what Bradshaw describes as an “All-Star Demo Day” set for October 4 during “Start-up Week Chattanooga.”
Three industry verticals – 3D printing, software defined networking, and healthcare – are the primary focus for the accelerators, but “GIGTANK 365” will support other inventive start-ups.
Even as he explained the evolution of “GIGTANK,” Bradshaw also talked about another initiative he described as a “triple bottom line accelerator.” It is being launched in conjunction with two other Chattanooga organizations – Causeway, a social entrepreneurial initiative, and green|spaces, a non-profit focused on sustainable living, working and building.
This newest addition to Chattanooga’s accelerator mix will work with companies to produce a triple bottom line – financial returns, social responsibility, and environmental sustainability.
“Some analysis shows those types of businesses outpace others,” Bradshaw says.
The CO.LAB Executive Director also has begun developing the concept for another accelerator focused on low income and disadvantaged citizens. Those plans are still evolving, so we’ll spotlight that initiative in a later post.
As Chattanooga’s ecosystem evolves, Bradshaw is positioning CO.LAB to be a key contributor and partner. He’s clearly open to new alliances and new approaches.
“The only criteria to be involved with us is you’re willing to do the work to start a business,” he says of the entrepreneurs who will be invited to participate in the programs.