(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series based on a recent visit to the CO.LAB in Chattanooga.)
One does not have to spend very much time at Chattanooga’s CO.LAB to understand the passion that Sheldon Grizzle feels for the entrepreneurs who currently call the Main Street storefront home or who have graduated in the past few years.
During a less than one hour discussion, he talked about a number of the start-ups that are part of the client group that has earned CO.LAB a strong reputation in the state for its innovative and aggressive approach to growing new companies. These include activities like “SpringBoard,” “CO.LAB Accelerator,” and “GigTank.”
We had met Grizzle previously, but this was our first opportunity to have a more in-depth conversation. We quickly learned that CO.LAB’s Founder and self-described Air Traffic Controller came to his current role with his own wounds and lessons learned after a promising, but ill-fated start-up.
As people frequently say, “Grizzle is not from around here.” He grew-up in Florida and came to Chattanooga to attend Covenant College.
Soon after graduation, Grizzle co-founded SupportThisMinistry.com and poured about two years of his life into the venture. His vision was to help non-profits raise money via the Internet.
“I ran into every classic challenge and made every classic mistake,” he said of his start-up experience. “The company died on the vine,” primarily due to lack of capital and good mentorship.
Fast forward to today, and Grizzle has devoted the last five years to helping aspiring entrepreneurs avoid the very traps and pot holes that he faced. It was not exactly what he had in mind, however, when he pulled the plug on SupportThisMinistry.com.
“We put our house on the market and planned to move to Colorado,” Grizzle explained. It was a time when the housing market was tanking, so he agreed to help Create Here launch a new initiative called “SpringBoard” while the family waited for the house to sell.
“SpringBoard” was an eight-week course focused on helping “creative and small business owners become more durable in their business ventures.” It included some of the very experiences that we have now come to expect as standard fare in organizations like CO.LAB – developing a viable business plan, building valuable connections or networks, and learning management and marketing tools.
“SpringBoard” evolved into CO.LAB which today manages the Southeast Tennessee regional accelerator and launched last year’s highly successful “GigTank” initiative to build companies that take advantage of Chattanooga’s gigabit to the home Internet bandwidth. Recruitment is already underway for companies to participate in the second year.
“SpringBoard is focused on lifestyle, locally-focused start-ups, while the accelerator program and ‘GigTank’ are designed for high growth companies,” Grizzle explained. CO.LAB just launched its sixth 100-day accelerator cohort.
“Four of the six start-ups in the last 100-day accelerator made it out the other side,” Grizzle proudly noted.
In addition to the companies that participate in the concentrated accelerator activity, he said that “we are working with another 10 to 20 start-ups at any one time.”
For Grizzle, it’s all about successful start-ups, so it was only natural that he pitched three of CO.LAB’s clients to us during our discussion.
- Nudge (www.NudgeYourself.com) has developed an app designed to motivate a company’s workforce toward healthier lifestyles by tracking a variety of health indicators such as miles walked or run a day, hours of sleep, and amount of water drunk. “If you’re tracking something, it increases or decreases behavior,” Grizzle said. “It’s a good team and a really interesting product.” A company can subscribe to it for only $2 per employee per month.
- Variable Technologies, Inc. (www.variabletech.com/products/) is “a fun company to follow,” Grizzle said. George Yu, the company founder, developed a device for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that was too costly to commercialize. Fortunately, he dropped-in on a CO.LAB “Demo Day” and left as a client. Today, Variable Technologies has taken the core idea and redesigned it as a sensor device for a variety of markets and applications.
- WeCounsel Solutions is a cloud-based platform connecting mental health professionals to their clients via telecommunications. Founded by three individuals just out of college, Grizzle describes it as positioned in “no brainer space that is going to explode.”
Looking forward to this year’s “GigTank,” Grizzle espoused a monumental vision. “It’s not what you do with the gig, but how you leverage low latency, high throughput capability to change the world,” he said.
Is it little wonder why CO.LAB enjoys the reputation that it does?