(EDITOR’S NOTE: We are spotlighting two East Tennessee accelerator programs this week and the unique ties that one local company has to both “GIGTANK” in Chattanooga and “MediaWorks” in Knoxville. Today’s article is based on an interview with CO.LAB’s Mike Bradshaw.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Entrepreneurs have to be positive, self-assured, tireless, persistent, visionary and unflappable, so it’s only natural to expect those who work with them to embrace the same persona.
We were reminded of those characteristics recently during a visit with Mike Bradshaw, Executive Director at CO.LAB. After our first meeting in early 2013, I wrote an article that started with this lead: “It’s challenging to find an individual more excited about his current undertaking in a city that he loves than Chattanooga’s Mike Bradshaw.”
Fast forward a few years to his fourth “GIGTANK,” and you see even more enthusiasm, if that is possible, for the accelerator program that has drawn considerable national attention.
For Bradshaw, it’s truly a matter of love – for the city, the participants in the program, the “GIGTANK” support team, and the business community.
“The leaders of Chattanooga recognize the intangible, but significant value of the program,” he says. “There are a lot of really hard to measure returns.”
Bradshaw related to us one of those intangibles that occurred recently. Nohtal Partansky was a Georgia Institute of Technology graduate student who participated in the 2014 “GIGTANK.” We profiled the California native and Lathon Technologies, his 3D printing company, last year.
Just a few weeks ago, Partansky and his father delayed a trip to California to drive from Atlanta to Chattanooga where they showed-up unannounced at CO.LAB’s East Main Street location to thank Bradshaw and the team for the experience. They then drove back to Atlanta and headed west for California where Partansky has taken a full-time position with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The gesture to spend more than three hours on the road just to say thank you really moved Bradshaw, but it also underscored one of those important intangible benefits that “GIGTANK” brings to Chattanooga.
“When you are looking at hard to measure effects, you need to understand that we are sending out these viral agents to spread the message of Chattanooga,” Bradshaw explains, adding, “You know you’ve had an effect.”
Of course, there are the easier to measure impacts such as the investment Lucy Beard of Feetz, another 2014 “GIGTANK” participant, secured from legendary venture capitalist Vinod Khosla.
Bradshaw is not surprised to see Chattanooga rally around the programs at CO.LAB.
“The community alignment (around initiatives) goes back three decades,” he notes. “We are a lot better when we work together.”
That spirit of cooperation will reach new levels with the 2015 “GIGTANK” accelerator currently underway. Bradshaw describes it as unprecedented financial investments as well as personnel resources.
“Our local mentoring groups have really stepped-up this year,” he says, citing Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel and Miller & Martin, local law firms; Elliott Davis Decosimo and Henderson Hutcherson & McCullough, local accounting firms; and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee.
The “GIGTANK” is all about helping start-ups capitalize on Chattanooga’s first-of-its-kind gigabit network.
“To reach gigabit space, it’s going to take a scale partner,” Bradshaw says of the need that each start-up has. That’s why it is so important that the local business community has bought-in on the tangible and intangible benefits of the program.