Mike Bradshaw reflects on nearly four-year CO.LAB tenure

mike-bradshawBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

“I’ve got a lot to be proud of because of my team,” Mike Bradshaw told us as he reflected on his almost four-year tenure as Executive Director of Chattanooga’s CO.LAB.

The always engaging and upbeat transplant who has called Chattanooga home since 2003 stepped down from the position a few months ago to become Director of the JENSEN HUGHES Academy. Ironically, Bradshaw is joining a company that acquired a start-up with which he once consulted, and he’s even housed in an office in the Edney Innovation Center that is just a few floors above CO.LAB.

As he thought about his time with the entrepreneurial support organization, Bradshaw recalled a conversation he had with David Belitz, then CO.LAB Board Chair, that occurred shortly before he took the job.

“We have something great going on here,” the straight-talking Belitz told the incoming Executive Director. “Add organizational structure, but don’t mess-up the secret sauce.”

During the years that followed that conversation, Bradshaw says that he was driven by a belief that “our team should always punch above its weight,” something he said manifested itself with a one-word description – scrappy.

“I think we accomplished that,” he says. “We were able to do everything we did . . . more and more each year with the same budget. We did it with structure and organization. We had the very best people.”

Bradshaw specifically called-out Allison Reedy, Chief Operations Officer; Tia Capps, Communications Director; and the CO.STARTERS team of Enoch Elwell, Director, and Rebekah Marr, Program Strategist while also singing the praises of the new staff that joined CO.LAB in 2015.

“I have been incredibly fortunate to lead this team,” he said. “They are the pride and joy of my time at CO.LAB.”

As a result of their collective efforts, Bradshaw cited a number of accomplishments – from new regional partnerships to an emphasis on 3D printing and additive manufacturing, support for the emerging Innovation District while also emphasizing outreach beyond downtown Chattanooga, the spin-out of CO.STARTERS, and the development of new metrics.

“The Innovation District is hitting on all cylinders, and the role CO.LAB played was critical,” he says, but quickly adds, “The promise of prosperity that entrepreneurship offers is for anyone. The opportunities should not be place-bound.”

As such, Bradshaw is proud of the roles CO.LAB played in working with other counties surrounding Chattanooga as well as neighborhoods within the city. Much of that effort was accomplished by the ever-expanding reach of CO.STARTERS which, as reported in this August teknovation.biz article, was spun-out into a separate organizational structure.

“I was really proud of getting that deal done,” Bradshaw says.

During his tenure, CO.LAB also established partnerships with organizations across the Southeast – from Atlanta to Huntsville to Knoxville and Nashville. These partnerships connected entrepreneurs and investors to Chattanooga and vice versa, something that underscored Bradshaw’s belief in working with and empowering others.

One of his personal passions has been 3D printing and additive manufacturing. Acknowledging that there were naysayers to his ideas, Bradshaw says his goal was not about establishing Chattanooga as an R&D center in those technology sectors, but rather to help start-ups and established companies take advantage of the rapidly emerging technology.

“We have several start-ups that have achieved a level of national recognition,” Bradshaw noted. Two of those are Branch Technology and Feetz, although the latter relocated to the West Coast due to access to capital considerations.

On the metrics front, he cites funding from the Lyndhurst Foundation that is building on work that began at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill to study Research Triangle Park’s evolution from 1950 forward.

“This effort will advance the understanding of how start-up communities develop, leading to more informed economic development policy decisions,” Bradshaw explained. “Entrepreneurial ecosystems have to be measured in a different way than traditional economic development.”

As far as the last four years, he has nothing but great memories.

“It’s been an honor to have been there,” Bradshaw said. “I’m happy to handoff CO.LAB to someone who can take it to the next level.”

In terms of his new role, Bradshaw says, “I’ve gone full-circle in a decade.”

JENSEN HUGHES Academy is part of a new enterprise that grew out of the mid-2014 merger of Hughes Associates and RJA Group. Bradshaw served as a consultant to Hughes from 2006 until 2009 when he became General Manager and served until late 2012 when he went on sabbatical to take the CO.LAB position. Since the merger, he says the new company has made 15 acquisitions and grown to about 1,200 employees, leading to JENSEN HUGHES bringing him back.

He’ll be overseeing the online safety training company as well as identifying ways to leverage the totality of assets of the JENSEN HUGHES organization.

It sounds like a perfect role for a scrappy guy!

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