Chattanooga’s Entrepreneurial Roots
One hundred years ago, Chattanooga was the entrepreneurial hub of the South. Located on the Tennessee River near several major Southern cities like Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and Knoxville, it was an ideal place for businesses to launch and thrive. Since then, Chattanooga has seen many changes, and has gone from being the most polluted city in America in the 1970s, to being one of the top “Outdoor” US cities today. The low cost of living and recent tech developments are just a couple of factors that contribute to a high quality of life for the citizens of Chattanooga making this city well-poised for significant growth in the next decade.
We believe that true, sustainable growth will once again spring from the entrepreneurial community of Chattanooga. As home to a number of initiatives geared towards start ups, Chattanooga has recently seen projects such as InnovateHere, Electric Power Board’s Smart Grid and Gigabit Fiber Optic network, and the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund gain considerable traction.
History of CO.LAB // The Company Lab
CO.LAB originally began as a project of CreateHere. Its original purpose, as a part of CreateHere’s mission, was to make Chattanooga a more creative and vibrant city that would attract and retain creatives and entrepreneurs alike. To initiate growth in the local creative economy, CreateHere launched a business planning course called SpringBoard.
In March of 2008, SpringBoard’s first class launched with 20 participants ranging from potters to furniture makers to hammered dulcimer players. While the first two classes were filled with entrepreneurs exclusively from the creative sector, it is common to find artists sitting next to developers working on a mobile app or restaurateurs. We have now taught over 25 rounds of SpringBoard consisting of more than 350 entrepreneurs!
The evolution of SpringBoard continued as word spread about the creative spin it was providing to the small business and start-up community. We began to see new kinds of entrepreneurs approaching us for help as well. These start-up hopefuls were trying to build industry changing innovations and were trying to figure out how to raise Angel or Venture Capital. They had no idea where to turn…and at that point, we weren’t exactly sure either.
After months of talking with successful entrepreneurs about their road to success and looking at other models for supporting high-growth start-ups, certain themes began to emerge: the importance of mentorship, access to capital for all stages of growth, access to talented specialists among others.
CO.LAB was finally launched in September 2010 to take the entrepreneurial programs from CreateHere and combine them with a couple new programs: the SpringBoard Accelerator, a mentorship-driven accelerator and CO.STARTERS, a mentorship-driven seed accelerator fund.
We have come a long way since April of 2008, which has been driven by entrepreneurial thinking. We must think like entrepreneurs if we are going to be helping them! This is a hallmark of our brand and we hope to continue making Chattanooga and Southeast Tennessee the most robust and dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem in the South.