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June 04, 2013 | Tom Ballard

CO.LAB’s Mike Bradshaw embraces mentoring in his adopted hometown

CO.LABIt’s challenging to find an individual more excited about his current undertaking in a city that he loves than Chattanooga’s Mike Bradshaw.

During a couple of recent visits to the city, we have connected with the new Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) at the city’s well-known CO.LAB. The most recent was during the second week of the “Gig Tank” accelerator, the city’s signature start-up event that is now in its second year.

Bradshaw became connected with the CO.LAB last year when a student in the entrepreneurship class that he was teaching at the University of Tennessee’s Chattanooga campus (UTC) recommended that he visit the facility.

“We started working together then, and I never looked back,” Bradshaw said. It’s been one thing after another since then.

“As summer (2012) approached, Charlie (Brock) asked me if I would be a lead mentor in the inaugural ‘Gig Tank,’” Bradshaw explained. “I accepted and became Banyan’s lead.” The latter won the inaugural competition last August.

“I told my wife it was only two hours a week,” he recalls. “I thought it would be a nice way to spend the summer. She just laughed.”

The projected two hours a week actually reached 25 to 30 hours a week, but Bradshaw said they were “the best hours of the day. This (experience) ranked right up there with the best times I’ve had in my life.”

Working as the Lead Mentor for Banyan had a significant impact on Bradshaw. “They think I helped them, but they actually helped me,” he says.

“After ‘Gig Tank,’ Charlie asked if I would help as EIR to the next accelerator teams, which I accepted on a volunteer basis,” Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw’s involvement has significantly increased to his current position as Co-Director, Chief Operating Officer and EIR when Brock left CO.LAB to become President and Chief Executive Officer of LaunchTN. CO.LAB’s other Co-Director is Sheldon Grizzle.

Describing himself as the “new guy,” Bradshaw praises Brock, Grizzle and Enoch Ewell for the foundation they established at the CO.LAB and with the initial “Gig Tank.”

Our initial interview occurred in the very open main room at CO.LAB’s storefront on East Main Street, a facility Bradshaw described as “the most wonderful room I’ve walked into in 20 years.”

Assuming the role as Entrepreneur-in-Residence seems like a natural progression that started in his native Middleton, Virginia. Bradshaw says both of his parents were entrepreneurs – his father started a “string of banks,” while his mother ran a dress shop.

The younger Bradshaw spent more than 15 years directing software development projects across the world. The work eventually brought him from Boston to East Tennessee, specifically Knoxville, in 1997 as Executive Producer and Director of Software Operations for The Learning Company.

After the company was sold, Bradshaw and his wife visited Chattanooga and “fell in love” with the city. They moved to Chattanooga in 2003 while he consulted, played some golf, started a company or two, and eventually decided to pursue his Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) at UTC.

“I was the old guy, so I had to do better than everyone else,” he laughingly said. Bradshaw earned his MBA in 2007 and was immediately asked to teach a course in “Successfully Launching a New Venture” in the UTC program. He continues to do so, bringing in legendary Chattanooga executives like Gordon Davenport and Tom Decosimo to share their experiences with the class.

Bradshaw remains involved in the entrepreneurial world himself, serving as General Manager of Next Knowledge.

In terms of the role of a mentor, Bradshaw has a model in his long-time mentor, a man named Bob Ellis. “He’s a very quiet and private man,” Bradshaw said. Ironically, he was leaving the day of our initial interview to visit Ellis on the west coast.

As he approaches his leadership role with CO.LAB, he is guided by advice he heard from Banyan’s CEO, Toni Gemayel, who was reflecting on the role Bradshaw played in their team’s success. “Decisions are a lot easier to make if you know what the options are,” he says. It is the role of a mentor to help the mentee identify and understand those options.

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