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September 19, 2021 | Tom Ballard

Two East TN entrepreneurial support organizations win awards under SBA competition

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced late last week that two East Tennessee entrepreneurial support organizations were among 92 recipients who will share $5.4 million in awards in one of two categories.

CO.LAB in Chattanooga and FoundersForge in Johnson City received $50,000 each under SBA’s “Growth Accelerator Fund Competition (GAFC)” to support start-up accelerators and incubators working with underrepresented entrepreneurs. That’s where the majority of the awards were made. There were eight recipients in the second category – “Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Catalyst” competition, a new component aimed at spurring investment in underrepresented communities within the innovation economy at scale.

“This year’s cohort of winners emphasizes our commitment to equity,” said SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman in this news release. “Our awardees have innovative plans to support underserved entrepreneurs, including women, people of color, and individuals from underrepresented geographic areas. The ‘Growth Accelerator’ prize funds will ensure a wide range of start-ups and innovators working on cutting edge STEM/R&D ideas have access to technical support and capital. The success of the first-ever ‘SBIR Catalyst’ track will ensure newly piloted regional collaboratives represent the diverse potential of the U.S. innovation ecosystem.”

For CO.LAB’s new Chief Executive Officer, it is another important building block for the Southeast Tennessee venture development organization.

“The value of this money prize shouldn’t be understated,” Lindsey Cox said. “It will allow us to focus on supporting women founders by connecting them with mentors and resources through our ‘GIGTANK 365’ program, which is relaunching this fall as a year-round network. CO.LAB is committed to helping close gaps in access to innovation and resources, and these funds will help us do that.”

David Nelson, Executive Director at FoundersForge, echoed the importance of the federal funding.

“FoundersForge is honored and very excited to be chosen for this award,” he said. “We’ve been working hard to build multiple programs that provide incredible support and a positive impact on the entrepreneurs at each stage of their ventures. Our plan is to utilize this award from the SBA, along with our other partners, to jumpstart “The Foundry” at FoundersForge. It is a growth stage accelerator program with custom-tailored coaching, services, financial assistance, and mentorship. The program is targeted towards rural and diverse entrepreneurs in NE Tennessee and beyond.”

CO.LAB and FoundersForge were the only winners in Tennessee in either category. A complete list of winners can be found here.

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