A thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem is built by individuals looking to do something different. A city committed to growth ensures these people get the resources and support needed to gain footing in the unpredictable startup landscape. The non-profit Company Lab, also known as Co.Lab, was born to mobilize entrepreneurs to take ideas and turn them into action.
Through pitch events like Will This Float? to the tech-focused, 13-week accelerator, GIGTANK365, Co.Lab has become the front door for entrepreneurs to enter the scene at any stage from idea to execution.
Chattanooga has seen tremendous growth in its entrepreneurial ecosystem largely due to the efforts of Co.Lab. Since 2010, companies that have participated in Co.Lab programs and events have raised over $21 million locally and nationally.
One of Co.Lab’s most successful programs, GIGTANK, launched as part annual think tank, part accelerator giving startups access to rich networks of industry experts, startup resources, and tech assets. GIGTANK invites high-growth ideas in all industries while focusing on 3D printing, network technologies, and healthcare.
Graham Bredemeyer, President and Founder of Collider, was recruited to Chattanooga in 2014 to help build and manage GIGTANK’s first 3D printing track. Graham’s passion for additive manufacturing lead him to launch his own venture, Collider, in 2015. Collider is a manufacturer of high-speed industrial 3D printers headquartered in here in Chattanooga.
Graham needed a team of rockstar engineers, designers, and developers to build this idea. While working with Co.Lab he began building connections with people who shared the things that sparked his interest.
He says “When it came time to launch Collider, it was obvious to me who within the region would make up my dream team.”
The lead investor of Collider was also a connection Graham made when working with Co.Lab, and the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce has connected Graham to companies interested in piloting the Collider product.
“None of that would have been possible if I had not been a part of GIGTANK. It got me hyperconnected and gave me everything I needed to launch Collider," says Graham.
One of Co.Lab’s most creative events is Will This Float? WTF is a one-night event where people can get on a stage in front of a panel of judges and live audience and pitch their business idea. The judges then vote to choose the idea that has the best odds of taking off.
Fynn Glover, Founder of RootsRated, pitched at WTF 2012 for his outdoors-focused tech company and won. Fynn says the event gave his idea legitimacy and it opened doors that he would have never had access to. From that competition, Fynn was able to sit in front of a team of venture capitalists at 500 Startups and got to see behind the veil of San Francisco investing.
Even beyond the success of graduates from their events and programs, Co.Lab is a catalyst. It is a breeding ground for idea creation and collaboration, and creates ripples into the community and entrepreneurial ecosystem that reach beyond their four walls. Co.Lab’s new Executive Director, Jack Studer, says: “Co.Lab exists to amplify the value and work of a single person beyond what they can do alone.”
Co.Lab has been a magnet for Chattanooga for innovative thinkers, talented entrepreneurs, and community leaders, and has been the inspiration for other successful business incubation programs in the city.
Mike Bradshaw, the former Executive Director of Co. Lab, says “The healthy growth of Chattanooga's entrepreneurial ecosystem requires the participation of the whole community. This includes startup businesses across the spectrum, from tech-enabled high growth companies to neighborhood businesses. Supporting entrepreneurial opportunities in lower-income communities are of particular importance to our city. CO.LAB is increasing its collaborations with non-profits serving these neighborhoods, and directing more of its programming toward start-ups serving these areas. At the same time, early stage growth-oriented companies need support from Chattanooga's investors. CO.LAB will continue its work helping Chattanooga's investment funds identify and support young tech-enabled firms.”
Our hope is that Co.Lab programs and events are the fan to the flames of people looking to strive past “the way we’ve always done it”. To engage the go-getters, inventors, dreamers to push the envelope. Through the lens of Co.Lab, people see the future of industries, the potential this city possesses, and their role to play in it.
Click here for more information about Co.Lab.