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January 29, 2023 | Tom Ballard

EC Outlook #4 | CO.LAB

Tasia Malakasis spent several months understanding Chattanooga's competitive advantages.

Tasia Malakasis, the new Chief Executive Officer of Chattanooga’s CO.LAB, describes herself as a product person. After all, she spent 15 years of her life scaling a goat cheese company named Belle Chevre before selling it in 2021. Prior to then, Malakasis was Vice President of Product and then later Vice President of Product Marketing at PointRoll that was acquired by Gannett.

As such, it was only natural that a key question that she felt needed to be answered after assuming the organization’s top executive position in July was: “What is it that is our competitive advantage? What do we have that differentiates us?”

So, over the next three months, Malakasis spent time understanding CO.LAB’s partners, assets, resources and history. It was in many respects mind-opening for the relatively new resident of the city. She describes the effort as “100 days, 1500 meetings.”

Malakasis concluded that the community has a diverse and well-recognized set of assets that include its strong philanthropic history, EPB that rolled out the nation’s first gigabit network, Volkswagen’s sole U.S. manufacturing plant and its increasing focus on electric vehicles, the emergence of the freight and logistics industry, and the smart community initiatives that are led by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Her thinking was further crystallized in late November when EPB and Qubitekk announced a new initiative – the EPB Quantum NetworkSM – to launch America’s first industry-led, commercially available quantum network designed for private companies as well as government and university researchers to run quantum equipment and applications in an established fiber optic environment.

The result of understanding that history, evolution and new initiatives led Malakasis to decide CO.LAB needed a brand refresh, revised messaging, and a new accelerator focused on sustainable mobility.

“We could become our own lab,” she says, a tip-of-the-hat to a part of the organization’s name.

Plans are still evolving for the accelerator which she announced in a speech recently (see article here), but Malakasis says several decisions have been made. Partners are still being recruited for the program that is expected to open applications in May for an eight- to 12-week accelerator that would begin in August or September.

“We would like to cast our net pretty wide for participants,” she says. There will be a stickiness factor that will tie the companies that accept funds to Chattanooga for a period of time after the accelerator ends.

CO.LAB is temporarily without a home after its lease in the Edney Innovation Center expired. The organization will soon occupy part of a brand new building on the North Shore that will also house a second location for the Society of Work.

“There will be a ton of co-working, plenty of space for start-ups to expand, an amphitheater, and micro-living space,” Malakasis says, adding, “It’s fresh new space for our fresh new start.”

Like the other entrepreneur centers, CO.LAB will also continue to provide many of the services that it has historically offered. Those include CO.STARTERS, office hours for entrepreneurs, support for the nine counties in its service area, utilization of Kiva as a capital tool, and a referral source.

That said, Malakasis adds, “We want to own our lane,” noting that the focus is on scalable businesses.

On the matter of local funds that could be used as match for the federal State Small Business Credit Initiative that is expected to bring more than $110 million to the Volunteer State, she says that CO.LAB is not likely to launch its own fund. Instead, she points to new initiatives such as Brickyard and a chapter of Greenville, SC-based VentureSouth as better options.

“We have a rich environment surrounding us to draw from,” Malakasis explains. “We want to help create further innovation that builds a strong hub here.”

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