(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth article in a multi-part series focused on Launch Tennessee’s accelerator program and the regional accelerators that operate in the eastern half of Tennessee, Today, we examine the plans of Chattanooga’s CO.LAB.)
By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Chattanooga’s The Company Lab, known as CO.LAB, has established an international brand since it launched its 100-day “GIGTANK” accelerator in 2012. The program is one of the nine regional accelerators operated in various areas of the state with partial funding from Launch Tennessee.
We asked Mike Bradshaw, who started as a volunteer with the inaugural “GIGTANK” program and now serves as CO.LAB’s Executive Director, to tell us about the accelerator’s plans for 2015.
How would you describe the primary focus of your organization and the activities that it undertakes?
CO.LAB runs three accelerators – the well-known “GIGTANK” and two others that are simply named the CO.LAB Spring and Fall Accelerators. “GIGTANK” focuses on accelerating companies around Chattanooga’s gigabit network. Participants come from around the country and beyond to take advantage of our unique bandwidth, while the others have a local focus. We held one last fall on outdoors and sustainability and an earlier one focused on the apparel industry and ways to use natural fibers. The Fall and Spring Accelerators typically have a single founder that has demonstrated a commitment to the idea. We use the agile start-up method over three months to help them determine if they have a valid company. Even after graduation, the door stays open for them to come back.
Has that been the focus since the inception of “GIGTANK” or have there been some changes? If there have been changes, what were they?
The biggest change is the context in which this gigabit world resides. There’s a big national debate today on what this future looks like and what are the opportunities. When we started in 2012, there were maybe 100 people waking-up daily thinking about the gig. Today, it is a much, much larger group. This reality will give us a much bigger pool of applicants for the 2015 “GIGTANK.” Someone is going to come-up with something that is really the answer to the question, “What’s going to happen if we don’t have a gig network?” The industry is evolving; it’s at a tipping point. Now is the time to have a meaningful response to the question, “If you had a gig, what would you do with it?”
Looking back on 2014, what was the greatest accomplishment of CO.LAB and its “GIGTANK”?
For me personally, it was the way that Chattanooga and our partners embraced 3D printing and additive manufacturing. They agreed with us that it was an idea worth exploring, and it gave us a place in the national conversation about how this industry will develop. People were willing to listen to the idea and make it (“GIGTANK”) so much better than I could imagine.
What other highlights come to mind during 2014?
I was really, really proud of Feetz moving to Chattanooga from San Diego. 3DOps relocated from Memphis. Others have seen this and are talking about moving here.
What else would you like to say?
We are really excited about this year’s “GIGTANK” Director. Alex Lavidge is an explosion in full bloom. We think this is the year that relationships we built with partners since the very beginning are really going to be leveraged to pay big dividends.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: CO.LAB recently announced that this year’s “GIGTANK” will benefit from Chattanooga’s participation in a nationwide network that can be used for testing and deploying the next generation of the Internet. Click here to read more.)