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February 03, 2020 | Tom Ballard

CO.LAB celebrating organization’s 10th anniversary in 2020

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another article in a series spotlighting 2020 plans for some of the entrepreneur centers in Tennessee that receive funding from Launch Tennessee. Today’s focus is on CO.LAB in Chattanooga.)

With two “pretty strong years” in 2018 and 2019, Marcus Shaw says he and the CO.LAB team in Chattanooga plan to build on their successes in the year ahead while also celebrating the 10th anniversary of the non-profit’s existence.

“We want to celebrate the people who have been part of this journey . . . Charlie Brock, Sheldon Grizzle, Enoch Elwell and Mike Bradshaw,” CO.LAB’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) told us in a recent interview. The celebration will be an integral part of the 2020 edition of “Startup Week Chattanooga,” building on what Shaw described as an “awesome” event this past October.

When we talked with always upbeat CEO near the end of 2019, Shaw said that CO.LAB had served 300 companies and 2,000 entrepreneurs since its founding. Those two statistics, coupled with the success of new and old programs, have provided a solid foundation going into a new decade.

Shaw was particularly proud of two specific offerings – the inaugural “HealthTech Accelerator” and the second annual “Consumer Goods Accelerator” – which he said provided “positive momentum” for the future.

What new ideas and tweaks to existing programs does he have in mind for 2020? Shaw identified four main pillars – more corporate engagement that results in enhanced programming, improved access to capital by better leveraging networks, more celebration of what is happening in the city, and data and insights to paint a better picture of the community for both local residents and those in other parts of the country.

“We’re having conversations around the next iteration of GIGTANK,” Shaw says. In that regard, he wants to build off the “Chattanooga Smart Community Collaborative” that was launched in 2019 as well as the gigabit network that EPB deployed several years ago. Both are distinctive assets that have drawn national attention for Chattanooga.

“I want to see us better leverage both the gig asset and corporate interest to better support entrepreneurship in the community,” Shaw says, citing the way that both Unum and Erlanger Health System stepped-up to support the “HealthTech Accelerator” and the start-ups that participated.

“Expanding these types of relationships (with corporate partners) is a key to what we will be doing in the future at CO.LAB,” he adds.

Access to capital is always an important topic for entrepreneur support organizations, and Shaw sees that effort receiving additional attention in 2020. He says the CO.LAB Capital Network will be an integral part of efforts to “help find financing for people. As we prove our ability to do that, there will be more interest occurring in how we might invest the funds of others.”

Attracting talent to Chattanooga is another area where Shaw says CO.LAB can build on 2019 success where it worked with Unum and FreightWaves to host two “Innovation Challenge” weekends for college students.

“Thirty-two students from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) designed and pitched new business lines for Unum during “Startup Week,’” he said. Unum is a Fortune 500 insurance company that is based in Chattanooga and was created by the 1999 merger of Unum Corporation and The Provident Companies.

In March, CO.LAB collaborated on a similar effort with FreightWaves, the rapidly growing company providing news focused on economic and innovative technology drivers for the freight transportation ecosystem. That initiative, described in this article, was called the “FreightTech Innovation Challenge: A 24-Hour Transportation and Logistics Use Case Competition.”

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