CO.LAB began in 2008 as Springboard, an entrepreneur training program of CreateHere. That first program proliferated into a host of activities that began branding itself as CO.LAB in 2010, incubated 15 months within CreateHere, then graduated to independent status when CreateHere ignited its scheduled "supernova" on Dec. 31, 2011. CO.LAB now occupies CreateHere's old storefront offices on Main Street.
Springboard (which still exists and has now trained about 700 entrepreneurs) was joined by a series of Peer Roundtables for leaders of more established high-growth companies. Representatives of foundations and nonprofits, together with entrepreneurs and investors, met to review applications from high-growth startup companies that wanted to tap new incentives for them to relocate to Main Street.
CO.LAB became the "pot stirrer," according to Grizzle, "the people in town who were constantly saying 'This is important, how can we help, who can we help,' then making the connections happen that enable these new companies to be more successful."
Since nothing says pot stirring like a party, CO.LAB held a public business-plan competition called Will This Float? in November 2010, but Grizzle was floored when 250 people showed up to watch a entrepreneurs give PowerPoint presentations. In 2011, 48HourLaunch was added, with teams competing to create a company in a weekend, and both have become annual events.
Gig Tank began last year and is the 800-pound gorilla of pot-stirring, bringing teams and individuals here for a summer accelerator program.
The companies that emerge from this vigorously churning pot seldom grow in a straight line. Instead they wander like vines from one program to another.
Don't Forget the Money
The Chattanooga Renaissance Fund angel venture capital fund was created in 2011 by investors who’d been involved in some of the pot stirring to invest in and mentor new startups. The Lamp Post Group began in 2010 as a venture incubator, offering venture funding, but also bringing its startups into a common office, and providing business guidance to take them from planning to startup and rapid growth.
Chamber: Digital & Physical
Although recruiting high flyers like VW is its most high-profile activity, the Chamber's 12-year-old “Spirit of Innovation” was the first community innovation award in the nation to recognize innovative companies and its INCubator—the third-largest business incubator in the country—does a lot to help both digital and manufacturing startups grow.
Enterprise Center: Tech Transfer
The Enterprise Center's technology transfer program has a different angle on growing companies. Year-round and at two annual events—a business-plan competition and a technology transfer conference—it plays matchmaker between entrepreneurs and technologies developed by national laboratories and federal research programs, especially the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge.